clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MARCH MADDEN-ESS: NCAA Tournament First Round Predictions, but Football instead of Basketball

What if a Big Ten football blog actually wrote about football? Kind of?

Michigan St v USC

We’ve been reminded that we are a “football blog” or something. Sorry, I forgot.

In lieu of listicles ranking the 5,000 best Big Ten football recruits in the 2023 cycle or looking ahead to which 8th grader in north Texas really “showed out” in the 7v7 leagues this spring—my name’s not Ed Bulliot, after all—I have nonetheless resolved to bring you RED-HOT BIG TEN FOOTBALL CONTENT!

Simple conceit: we take all the (B1G-related) NCAA Tournament first-round matchups and turn them into a football match. Same teams, same everything, but playing football instead of basketball. I call it: March Madden-ess!*
***Better title needed.

The writers are going to handicap the matchups, give their thoughts, and give their picks. We’ll weight this three ways: writer vote (simple majority), reader vote (simple majority), What-If Sports simulation of the game (tiebreaker, if needed). All your votes, readers, will be due by midnight CT the day the article is posted (for this one, midnight on Thursday, March 16) – feel free to play this straight-up or bet against the writers’ consensus for the shenanigans of a What-If Sports simulation!

Got it?

Purdue Boilermakers vs. Texas Southern Tigers

Texas Southern plays Fairleigh Dickinson in the First Four, but since the Knights do not have a football team and we thought it unfair to make D-III Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham (go Devils!) compete, we’re giving the Tigers an auto-win to face the Boilermakers.


  • #53 in Sagarin
  • 8-6, 6-3 B1G

Notable Wins

  • Def. #21 Minnesota (away), 20-10
  • Def. #21 Illinois (away), 31-24

Notable Losses

  • Lost Big Ten Championship to #2 Michigan, 43-2
  • Lost Citrus Bowl to #17 LSU, 63-7

Thumpasaurus: The starters for Purdue are going to get a lot of rest here in a win

Jesse: I went into this looking for stats to show Purdue might struggle here, but it’s not happening. They’re going to win by a whole bunch, probably not unlike their basketball team. More fun thought exercise. What position would Edey play and why would it be the most entertaining thing to watch?

BoilerUp89: Edey would be a WR or TE and you would have him jog 10 yards down the field, throw him the ball up high and make the catch. He would also be injured halfway thru the season. Regardless Purdue by even more than in basketball.

MNW: Edey takes one or two helmets to the knee and we never see him again, unless he’s that 6’10” Gophers TE from a few years back who was plagued with the whole “couldn’t catch” thing. Boilers rest the starters and put in Mason Gillis at QB for a couple drives.

Buffkomodo: I’ll actually take Texas Southern on this but it’ll be close. I think Edey would be a liability and I don’t find the Purdue guards to be very athletic. Should give Texas Southern a real advantage.

Kind of:...Purdue’s frosh guard tandem strikes me as very Charlie Jones. They would give Texas Southern fits working through the route tree. I also think TE Caleb Furst would be sneaky good. Boilermakers roll.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Kent State Golden Flashes


  • #86 in Sagarin
  • 4-8, 2-7 B1G

Notable Wins

  • Def. Illinois, 23-20
  • Def. Idaho, 35-22
  • Def. Western Kentucky, 33-30 (OT)
  • Def. Michigan State, 39-31 (2OT)

Notable Losses

  • At Nebraska, 35-21
  • At Rutgers, 24-17

Thumpasaurus: You know I hate to do it, but Kent State’s offense is just so explosive between Marquez Cooper, Dante Cephas and Devontez Walker. I’m assuming we have the base Bazelak version of Indiana, not the brief Dexter Thrilliams version. Kent State wins a shootout.

Jesse: I’m giving Indiana the edge here. Sure, they lost to Nebraska and Rutgers last season, and sure, they’re mostly only so so at the whole playing teams with pulses thing. BUT, I would like to think that their offense can put up enough points on Kent State who SRS tracks as a not good football team at all.

BoilerUp89: Kent State was a middling MAC school which means they probably weren’t beating Indiana last season. It would have been close though. Way too uncomfortable for the Hoosiers.

MNW: Pre-Lewis’s departure, I would strongly consider the Golden Flashes. Indiana under Bazelak was so ‘meh’ to start the year that I don’t know if the Hoosiers are escaping even a shitty MAC team. Give me the Golden Flashes in this one.

Buffkomodo: I actually think sticking Race at QB might be an option that could get you by Kent state. JHS and Galloway as receivers and I think you’d have Kent struggling with Indiana’s athleticism. Give me the Hoosiers.

Kind of...: JHS at WR? He’s an RPO nightmare, no? But what about Miller Kopp? I see his as a free safety good for two PIs a game. Hoosiers, but they’re sweating for 55 minutes.


Football: Indiana or Kent State?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    (14 votes)
  • 54%
    Kent State
    (17 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now

Northwestern Wildcats vs. Boise State Broncos


  • I don’t want to talk about it

Notable Wins

  • Def. Nebraska (Dublin), 31-28
  • Fired Jim O’Neill

Notable Losses

  • Duke, 31-21
  • FCS Southern Illinois, 31-24
  • Miami-Ohio, 17-14
  • Did not break double-digits in final four games

Thumpasaurus: Oof. Boise State may be in decline from their perennial top 15 status, but they can still smack Northwestern around on the way down. Big win for the orange and blue over Northwestern sounds about right.

Jesse: The “Notable Wins” thing feels dubious considering there was one win, but I guess you could double up and say ‘beating Nebraska’ and ‘essentially getting Frost fired’ is a two-fer. Boise State by a WHOLE bunch.

BoilerUp89: Very important question before I pick a team: where is the game being played? In Ireland - home of the Irish national champions Northwestern? Or literally anywhere else?


…but there’s an interesting hypothetical here of if this game is played with Hank Bachmeier still at QB for Boise, before they benched him and fired their OC and Bachmeier transferred early in the season. Give us those Broncos, and Northwestern loses by 7. Give us the late-season Broncos…and yeah, Northwestern probably loses by 30.

Buffkomodo: Wait…is this basketball players playing football or the perspective football teams playing football? Doesn’t change the answer to this question, but I feel like I might have done things wrong.

Kind of...: In theory, the Wildcats can muddy things up a bit and keep it close, but Boise State is clearly better. Broncos by 17 or so.


Football: Northwestern or Boise State?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Purple Cats
    (3 votes)
  • 90%
    Blue Ponies
    (28 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now


Football, but in Ireland:

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Purple Cats
    (23 votes)
  • 28%
    Blue Ponies
    (9 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now

Michigan State Spartans vs. USC Trojans

Michigan State

  • #54 in Sagarin
  • 5-7 (3-6 B1G)

Notable Wins

  • Wisconsin, 34-28 (2OT)
  • At #16 Illinois, 23-15

Notable Losses

  • Indiana, 39-31 (2OT)
  • At Maryland, 27-13
  • At Washington, 39-28

Thumpasaurus: This one is not the blowout it may seem on paper, because if you have any way of putting up points, USC is not going to make any adjustments to stop your offense. Keeping up with Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley’s high powered offense seems like a daunting task until you see the power-up your offense gets against them. Payton Thorne throws three picks, but also tosses six touchdowns and rushes for another as the Spartans win a 5+ hour shootout.

Jesse: USC will score all the points. Michigan State’s secondary is getting absolutely shredded by Williams and the WRs at USC. The Spartans allowed the 11th most passing touchdowns per game, which seems less than ideal. SP+ put them at like the 86th ranked defense. What I’m trying to say is that no matter how bad the Trojans are also at defending, Michigan State is worse and also doesn’t have the offensive firepower that USC does.

MNW: Sparty can’t keep up in this one, even if USC should be relegated to paper-tiger status on further analysis of the 2022 season. Maybe the Notre Dame win is impressive. The rest? Uh…

Buffkomodo: I’ll be honest. I didn’t read the directions. But I actually like sparty in this one. Izzo would probably be chucking deep balls to Hauser up the seams and I think he’d do well.

Kind of...: You know the announcers will be slobbering over themselves to sing the praises of Boogie Ellis, even if only to say “Boogie” a few dozen times. Is Joey Hauser an All-American TE, or is he just so in theory? USC in one of those 55-38 games Big 12 fans seem to like so much. [Never forget Percy Snow, though, and the ‘88 Rose Bowl MSU won while completing four whole passes.]


Football: Pick your mythical* figure.

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    (10 votes)
  • 67%
    (21 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now

Maryland Terrapins vs. West Virginia Mountaineers


  • #37 Sagarin
  • 8-5 (4-5 B1G)

Notable Wins

  • SMU, 34-27
  • Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. #23 NC State, 16-12

Notable Losses

  • Anyone with a pulse

Thumpasaurus: J.T. Daniels vs Taulia Tagovailoa could be compelling until such time as the steadier hand emerges…and that will be Maryland’s boy

Jesse: Fun game in theory? West Virginia seems like a team who plays every single game close, and even wins some! Maryland isn’t dissimilar but seemingly had a slightly less disastrous version of that in 2022. Give me West Virginia in the upset here, with the Terrapins finding a way to throw like 3 INTs in the 4th quarter.

MNW: Neal Brown-era West Virginia is so damn boring I can’t stand it. Give me Locks and the Terps, who did not lose to a non-Big Ten team in 2022.

Really starting to feel like the Terps should find a new conference where they could potentially win a few games…

Buffkomodo: West Virginia because this probably isn’t a home game for Maryland.

Kind of...: Will this game be played in September? If so, Maryland by a lot. Actually the Terps beat WV in the 2021 opener, so let’s just go with that. Major Harris isn’t walking through that door. Marc Bulger isn’t walking through that door...


Football: Maryland or West Virginia

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    (28 votes)
  • 15%
    West Virginia
    (5 votes)
33 votes total Vote Now

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Arkansas Razorbacks



  • #26 in Sagarin
  • 8-5 (5-4 B1G)

Notable Wins

  • Virginia, 24-3
  • At wisconsin, 34-10
  • Iowa, 9-6
  • Minnesota, 26-14

Notable Losses

Thumpasaurus: Oh okay, this is where the idea for the article came from. I wanted this matchup in bowl season to be perfectly honest. I think at full strength the Illini can stifle just about any offense as long as we’re clear about what constitutes defensive pass interference. It won’t be the haymaker contest that was the Liberty Bowl, but the Illini can pull this one out by a touchdown.

Jesse: Genuinely interesting game. I think Illinois’s defense is the best single unit on the field and while Arkansas can score points obviously, it won’t be able to defend at a high enough caliber to stop Chase Brown. Give me the Illini by 4.

MNW: This wasn’t the idea of the article (it was “Jesus, how badly would Boise State beat that ass”), but it’s certainly the most compelling game of the bunch, if just for BERT BOWL implications. Arkansas lost a little bit of its luster as the year went on, though the Liberty Bowl over Kansaw (them’s the rules) was the dumb fun we all deserved – but I think Illinois plays the disciplined football that could get it done.

Actually, screw it: cancel this game and make it Bert vs. Pittman in mud wrestling.

Buffkomodo: Give me Arkansas because I’m sure the football team could coach up the basketball team fairly easily.

Kind of...: I just can’t see K.J. Jefferson having a good game against the Illini D. Steady diet of Chase Brown, trust the D, and walk away with a win as ugly as many that come from Bert’s first school, Iowa.


Football: Illinois or Arkansas?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (26 votes)
  • 18%
    (6 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now


Mud Wrestling: BERT or Pittman?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    (37 votes)
  • 9%
    (4 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Auburn Tigers


  • #21 in Sagarin
  • 8-5 (5-4 B1G)

Notable Wins

  • #2 (FCS) South Dakota State, 7-3 (two safeties)
  • At Minnesota, 13-10
  • At Purdue, 24-3
  • Music City Bowl over quarterbackless Kentucky, 21-0

Notable Losses


Thumpasaurus: Here’s a truly difficult one. Iowa will play anyone to a three point game. I think Iowa wins this but spends the whole game feeling like they’re about to lose.

Jesse: I’m sorry, Iowa lost to Nebraska and that’s the last thing I remember about them (I didn’t watch the Kentucky bowl game where there were literally not QBs or RBs left). That offense is literally the most embarrassing unit in the Big Ten (and by a fairly decent margin) and I think Auburn eventually accidentally scores enough points to win this game.

MNW: Man, you look at Auburn’s performance against a Texas A&M and I’m not confident the Tigers can score enough to keep the Hawkeyes at bay – Auburn struggled to stop the run, and I might just tip Iowa to win this one in a 10-7 donnybrook.

Buffkomodo: Ah. A setting where Fran can yell and be a prick with limited repercussions. The Hawkeyes simply have the speed at the skill positions and I honestly think Bruce Pearl would trip in his flip flops on the sidelines.

Kind of...: Is it Hugh Freeze or Bryan Harsin coaching Auburn? My most recent memory of Auburn is Penn State mashing them into past. Gimmee the Hawks and don’t ask me to feel bad (I already do.).


Football: Iowa or Auburn?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (19 votes)
  • 40%
    (13 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Texas A&M Aggies

Penn State

  • #6 in Sagarin
  • 11-2 (7-2 B1G)

Notable Wins

  • At Purdue, 35-31
  • At Auburn, 41-12
  • Minnesota, 45-17
  • Rose Bowl over #8 Utah, 35-21

Notable Losses

Thumpasaurus: These Aggies were checked out by October. Penn State rolls.

Jesse: Penn State looks the part on paper, but Texas A&M does still have just so much talent to mess around with. I think the Nittany Lions win this game, but it’s a lot closer than it should be, and because of it, we get to see all of the graphics about how much Jimbo is on the cusp of breaking through. Penn State by a touchdown.

BoilerUp: So since I don’t see Ohio State or Michigan anywhere on here, Purdue plays Penn State for the conference championship in Indy? I’ll take another shot at them.

MNW: Yeah, no problem with this one – Penn State was a solidly “next tier” team in both the Big Ten and nationally, as those wins over Auburn and Utah demonstrated. Lions roll.

Buffkomodo: Shrews for president! Give me the football Booty Ball equivalent and I’ll take the Lions!!

Kind of...: Man, between Jimbo Fisher and Buzz Williams, the Aggies sure have a coaching tandem, huh? Do you remember who ATM’s QB was? Penn State big.


Football: A&M or Penn State?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Texas A&M
    (2 votes)
  • 94%
    Penn State
    (32 votes)
34 votes total Vote Now

Vote in the polls! We’ll have winners and simulations tomorrow.