The old survive-and-advance adage, the football version anyway, has us down to 16 teams.
Yep, the Sweet 16 awaits in ESPN’s 2023 fictional NCAA football tournament.
The early rounds have already provided a few shockers, not to mention some memorable moments and games. Both veterans and freshmen have stepped up to steer their teams to this point. All four No. 1 seeds are still alive: Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama. The lowest remaining seed is No. 10 Pittsburgh.
To recap, the original seeds were based to some degree on ESPN’s latest SP+ projections entering the 2023 season. We’re long past seeds meaning anything. All that matters now is how a team plays on game day. So let’s finish football’s version of a 64-team tournament.
We’ll dedicate it to the late Mike Leach, who suggested a decade ago when he was at Texas Tech that college football should go to a 64-team tournament like basketball.
(1) Georgia 34, (4) Ole Miss 24: Back in the day, Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin used to go at it on the Alabama practice field when they were working under Nick Saban. Both had elite players, too. Kiffin has significantly upgraded the Rebels’ roster, but the Dawgs are still too strong on the defensive side of the ball and get a two-sack performance from Mykel Williams to thwart Ole Miss drives in the fourth quarter.
(3) Washington 38, (2) Oregon 35: Kalen DeBoer and Washington take a massive step in DeBoer’s second season in Seattle. The Huskies’ balance on offense and defense is on full display against longtime rival Oregon, which takes the lead midway through the fourth quarter on Bo Nix‘s 67-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Kasper. Michael Penix Jr. answers, though, in the final seconds with his fourth touchdown pass of the game to send the Huskies to the Elite Eight.
(3) Washington 24, (1) Georgia 23: Georgia’s quest to win a third straight national championship comes to a bitter end when Washington defensive end Bralen Trice bats down a fourth-down pass at midfield inside the final minute to keep the Dawgs from moving into field-goal range. Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has a huge game with a pair of touchdown catches, but Washington receiver Rome Odunze has the biggest catch of the game, a 24-yard touchdown in traffic that puts Washington ahead to stay and keeps the Huskies’ dream season alive.
HOW WE GOT HERE
First round: (1) Georgia over (16) East Carolina, (2) Oregon over (15) Syracuse, (3) Washington over (14) Washington State, (4) Ole Miss over (13) Houston, (12) Nebraska over (5) TCU, (6) Mississippi State over (11) Michigan State, (10) Maryland over (7) Oregon State, (9) Oklahoma State over (8) Arkansas
Second round: (1) Georgia over (9) Oklahoma State, (2) Oregon over (7) Maryland, (3) Washington over (6) Mississippi State, (4) Ole Miss over (12) Nebraska
(4) Notre Dame 30, (1) Michigan 27: Would love to see these two Midwest blue bloods still playing every year, but a marquee postseason showdown will do for now. Blake Corum and the Wolverines’ running game set the tone early, and the Irish don’t get many offensive possessions. But then Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman heats up, and with some excellent protection from his offensive line, he picks apart the Michigan secondary and leads the Irish into the Elite Eight.
(2) LSU 37, (6) Wisconsin 20: One of the hottest teams in the tournament, LSU does a little bit of everything right in racing past Wisconsin. The Tigers pass for more than 300 yards, rush for more than 200 yards and hold the Badgers to just one offensive touchdown. If that’s not enough, defensive tackle Maason Smith comes up with a strip-sack touchdown to give LSU a cushion too steep for Wisconsin to overcome.
(2) LSU 31, (4) Notre Dame 27: Brian Kelly left Notre Dame after a highly successful tenure in South Bend to chase national championships at LSU. As fate would have it, Kelly has to go through his old school in Year No. 2 on the Bayou to get to the Final Four. It’s not easy, either, as Marcus Freeman’s club plays with confidence and swagger, and even with some early mistakes, Notre Dame manages to hang around. LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels isn’t sharp to open the game, but he’s clutch when it counts and leads a game-clinching touchdown drive in the final minutes.
HOW WE GOT HERE
First round: (1) Michigan over (16) Western Kentucky, (2) LSU over (15) UTSA, (3) Clemson over (14) Kansas, (4) Notre Dame over Wake Forest (13), (5) Oklahoma over (12) Cincinnati, (6) Wisconsin over (11) Miami, (7) North Carolina over (10) Baylor, (8) Missouri over (9) Minnesota
Second round: (1) Michigan over (8) Missouri, (2) LSU over (7) North Carolina, (6) Wisconsin over (3) Clemson, (4) Notre Dame over (5) Oklahoma
(1) Ohio State 40, (4) Texas A&M 31: Ohio State’s defensive secondary play has received its share of heat the past couple of seasons, and the Buckeyes again give up too many big plays in the passing game. The Texas A&M combination of Conner Weigman-to-Ainias Smith is especially effective, and Smith does a lot of his damage after the catch. The Buckeyes are able to withstand the Aggies’ offensive onslaught with a running game that wears down Texas A&M’s defense with a rotation that goes four deep.
(2) Tennessee 44, (3) USC 41: It’s always fun when a football game turns into a tennis match, and that’s what happens with these two high-powered offenses as they go back and forth. USC quarterback Caleb Williams is dynamic (as usual), and Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III plays like he has something to prove with everybody hyping Williams before the game. A special teams play, however, turns the game in the Vols’ favor. Dee Williams returns a punt 66 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
(1) Ohio State 37, (2) Tennessee 31: The Vols have come a long way in three years under Josh Heupel, and their offense is a daunting challenge for any defense to stop. The Buckeyes don’t necessarily stop the Vols, but they’re successful in limiting their possessions on offense. One of the ways they do that is by feeding the ball to running back Dallan Hayden, who runs for 131 yards and churns out one first down after another to keep drives alive. It’s a big day for the entire Hayden family. Dallan’s dad, Aaron Hayden, was a star running back for Tennessee in the early 1990s.
HOW WE GOT HERE
First round: (1) Ohio State over (16) South Alabama, (2) Tennessee over (15) BYU, (3) USC over (14) Duke, (4) Texas A&M over (13) West Virginia, (5) UCLA over (12) Iowa State , (11) Illinois over (6) Kentucky, (10) Louisville over (7) Iowa, (8) South Carolina over (9) Texas Tech
Second round: (1) Ohio State over (8) South Carolina, (2) Tennessee over (10) Louisville, (3) USC over (11) Illinois, (4) Texas A&M over (5) UCLA
(1) Alabama 29, (5) Texas 21: These two teams played a year ago in the second week of the season with Alabama squeaking by on the road. Now, it’s win or go home, and with Bryce Young taking his wizardry to the NFL, the Crimson Tide go back to their roots with a bruising running game under first-year coordinator Tommy Rees. Three different Alabama runners rush for more than 60 yards, led by Jam Miller‘s 130 yards, to keep the Tide’s national championship hopes alive.
(3) Florida State 38, (10) Pitt 17: Pittsburgh’s impressive run into the Sweet 16 comes to an end, and even though the game isn’t close, it’s a reminder of the job Pat Narduzzi has done with the Panthers’ program. It’s also a reminder that Mike Norvell has Florida State back in the national discussion. Trey Benson rushes for a season-high 184 yards, and the Seminoles are three wins away from their first national title since 2013.
(1) Alabama 33, (3) Florida State 28: Quarterbacks make their names in big games, especially when championships are at stake. Ty Simpson, following in the massive footsteps of Bryce Young, goes from a good player to the best player on the field in an epic game that sees the two teams trade leads, game-changing plays and memorable moments. Simpson’s ability to scramble out of trouble and find open receivers is the difference, and Alabama’s running game helps open up some things for Simpson and the passing game.
HOW WE GOT HERE
First round: (1) Alabama over (16) Colorado, (2) Penn State over (15) SMU, (3) Florida State over (14) Troy, (4) Utah over (13) Purdue, (5) Texas over NC State (12), (6) Kansas State over (11) UCF, (10) Pitt over (7) Florida, (8) Auburn over (9) Tulane
Second round: (1) Alabama over (8) Auburn, (10) Pittsburgh over (2), (3) Florida State over Kansas State (7), (5) Texas over (4) Utah
(1) Alabama 31, (3) Washington 23: Coaching turnover has been nothing new for Nick Saban, and with two new coordinators this season, everyone was watching to see how the changes would impact the offense and defense. On defense, the Crimson Tide force more turnovers under Kevin Steele and create more negative plays. Outside linebacker Dallas Turner makes a living in the Washington backfield, and tackle Jaheim Oatis stonewalls anything the Huskies try to get inside and collapses the pocket. Defense has defined Saban’s career, and it’s the defense that spearheads Alabama’s trip to the national championship game.
(1) Ohio State 30, (2) LSU 28: The last time LSU won a national championship, it did so with a quarterback that started his career at Ohio State, a guy by the name of Joe Burrow. The Tigers again have a transfer quarterback. Jayden Daniels came to the Bayou by way of Arizona State, and he’s up to the challenge against an Ohio State defense that rolls the dice with its pressure. The Buckeyes don’t give up any big plays, but Daniels moves the chains with short passes and key conversion runs. Ohio State gets one last shot after a short LSU punt, and the Buckeyes’ best player reminds everybody why he’s the best receiver in college football. Marvin Harrison Jr. turns a slant route into a 56-yard touchdown, and Brutus Buckeye breathes a huge sigh of relief.
(1) Alabama 35, (1) Ohio State: 28: We’re down to two of the true powerhouses in college football, two programs that have defined excellence for a long time. Some of the names have changed, but new ones emerge at the most important time of the season. Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord takes the Alabama defense’s best shot and just keeps getting back up and making plays. The list of great receivers who’ve come through Alabama over the past few seasons is staggering, but it’s a junior college transfer, Malik Benson, who makes the play that changes this game. He gets behind the Ohio State secondary for a 72-yard touchdown, and Alabama ends its “lengthy drought” with its first national championship since the 2020 season. It’s Saban’s seventh national title at Alabama, and under his leadership, the Tide have never gone more than two seasons without a title.
Yanks’ Germán says he’ll probably use less rosin
NEW YORK — Yankees pitcher Domingo Germán said Sunday he probably will use less rosin on his hands when he returns from a 10-game suspension for using a foreign substance on the mound.
Germán was suspended by Major League Baseball on May 17 and will return to the Yankees’ rotation for Monday’s game in Seattle.
“You have to do something different because what I did before got me ejected from the game,” he said through an interpreter. “Probably go back to previous years before where I used it way less.”
Germán was disciplined after being ejected in the fourth inning of New York’s 6-3 win in Toronto on May 16. He retired the first nine hitters before his hands were checked by first-base umpire D.J. Reyburn as Germán headed to the mound for the fourth inning.
After the game, crew chief James Hoye said Germán had “the stickiest hand I’ve ever felt.”
Hoye’s crew also examined Germán’s hands during an April 15 start against Minnesota, when the right-hander retired his first 16 batters, but allowed him to stay in that game. Hoye had asked Germán to wash rosin off his hand and some had remained on his pinkie.
Germán said Sunday he has not gotten a direct explanation of what is the appropriate amount of rosin to use.
“As far as like a direct explanation on how much to use or not, I haven’t gotten a better explanation from MLB or the umpires,” he said. “To me, I have to keep using it, understand how much to use and keep a balance, but at the same time I’ve got to keep preparing myself to pitch and keep my routine in between starts to get me in the right shape for the next start and just keep using the rosin bag and try to keep executing pitches.”
Germán was the fourth pitcher suspended since MLB began cracking down on foreign substances in June 2021 and the second this season. New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer also served a 10-game suspension after being ejected April 19 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
In 2021, Seattle’s Hector Santiago and Arizona’s Caleb Smith served suspensions for sticky substances.
“He has to avoid that and that’s us being more vigilant and check and make sure we’re in a good spot,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Germán. “We should be fine, but I think that’s the one thing about this: What is the line, there is no defined line, you can’t have sticky [substances] on your hands. So he’s got to be mindful of that.”
German is 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA in nine starts this season. He is 28-24 with a 4.31 ERA in 101 career appearances (79 starts) since making his major league debut in 2017 with the Yankees.
Hendriks to rejoin ChiSox after cancer treatment
Chicago White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks will be reinstated to the active roster on Monday, the team announced, after he missed the first two months of the season while being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The White Sox posted a video montage to their Twitter page on Sunday that featured messages from White Sox players and coaches welcoming back Hendriks.
“See you soon Southside,” Hendriks posted on Instagram, along with Monday’s date, 5-29.
Hendriks, 34, was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early December and completed his final round of chemotherapy in early April. He began a rehab assignment earlier this month, appearing in six games for Triple-A Charlotte.
Hendriks threw several batting practice sessions over the past 10 days against teammates before declaring himself ready on Sunday.
“As of now I have a clean bill of health,” Hendriks said this month as he began his rehab assignment. “I’m currently in remission.”
Hendriks announced his diagnosis on Jan. 9. His return comes just shy of six months since his diagnosis.
“As soon as I found out the regular treatment timelines, I thought, ‘OK, how can I beat it?'” he said in May. “It was those days on the couch, not being able to move much (after chemo), those were the days you needed to dig deep and find that positive mental attitude.”
The White Sox bullpen has struggled in Hendriks’ absence, though they’ve been better in May after lefty Garrett Crochet returned from Tommy John surgery and righty Joe Kelly went on a scoreless streak that lasted 10 appearances. But overall Chicago has struggled through the first two months, heading into Memorial Day with a 22-33 record.
Hendriks is in the final season of a three-year, $54 million contract, with a $15 million club option for 2024.
The White Sox host the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night.
Lewis to come off 60-day IL, rejoin Twins Monday
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have lost eight of 10 series in May, with a lineup that’s been limping along lately with a spate of injuries and too many strikeouts.
They could use a boost. Royce Lewis is on his way.
Lewis will join the Twins in Houston, where they’ll start a three-game series Monday. The first overall pick in the 2017 draft will be reinstated from the 60-day injured list and return to action exactly one year from the date of the torn ACL in his right knee that limited his major league debut to 12 games.
Manager Rocco Baldelli announced the move after a 3-0 loss to Toronto on Sunday. Outfielders Kyle Garlick and Matt Wallner will be sent down to Triple-A St. Paul, where Lewis has been playing on a rehab assignment. Outfielder Max Kepler will also be reinstated from the 10-day injured list, after missing 14 games with a strained left hamstring.
“This is a culmination of a lot of hard work from Royce. I’m excited to see Royce back out on the field. He can jolt you with the enthusiasm and all of the exciting things that he can do, but he’s a good young player and he’s had a long road to get back to this point,” Baldelli said.
Lewis batted .333 with four homers and 10 RBIs with a 1.098 OPS in eight games on his rehab assignment with the Saints. Manager Toby Gardenhire delivered the news, Baldelli said.
“All the reports have him in a good place, and he’s done a good job following through on everything he’s needed to do,” Baldelli said. “Now, he’s ready.”
Lewis batted .300 with four doubles, two home runs — including a grand slam – and five RBIs in 12 games for the Twins last season. He was drafted as a shortstop, but since the arrival of Carlos Correa last year he has made the transition to third base and will likely be a fixture there for the foreseeable future.
Second baseman Jorge Polanco (strained left hamstring) and outfielder Trevor Larnach (pneumonia) are two other regulars who remain out. Polanco went through a pregame workout and is eligible to return anytime, but Baldelli said he’ll continue to be evaluated daily before a decision is made. Kyle Farmer and Edouard Julien can play second base in the meantime.
Wallner was sent back to Triple-A in a roster-management game despite reaching base eight straight times.
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