What if the 2023 Men’s Sweet 16 was played by football programs?

By Amy Daughters -

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wonderous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

The NCAA Men’s bracket is down to 16 teams, and you tune in on Thursday night expecting to see a basketball court but instead find a football stadium on your screen.

Leaping to your window, you are comforted to still see signs of early Spring. Yes, it’s March, not December. Surely you must not have seen what you thought you saw.

Unplugging the television, because you are a techno-wizard, you reboot your electronics. Setting the remote back to TBS you, again, experience sheer shook-ed-ness as the soothing tones of hardwood have been replaced with lush green turf and instead of bouncing round balls pigskins fly magically through the air.

Your next stop, the Twilight Zone.


Football meetings: Six

The Wildcats and Spartans haven’t met in 65 years, or since 1958. The entirety of the series, thus far, was played in East Lansing with K-State’s only non-loss coming in the very first meeting, a scoreless 0-0 tie in 1933. MSU outscored the Wildcats 168-39 in the next five contests.

(4) UCONN vs. (8) ARKANSAS

Football meetings: Zero

Despite their combined 256 seasons of football history, the Razorbacks and Huskies have never crossed paths on the gridiron. Beyond UConn, Arkansas has also never faced the three other Independents going into the 2023 season – Army, Notre Dame, and UMass – but played two opponents that were league-less at game time as recently as last season scoring a win at BYU (which joins the Big 12 year) and suffering a loss vs. then (23) Liberty (which moves to C-USA). UConn is 2-6 all-time vs. the current SEC, with the only wins coming within 12 months of each other: vs. South Carolina in the 2009/10 PapaJohns.com Bowl and vs. Vanderbilt in a 2010 home game.

(4) TENNESSEE vs. (9) FAU

Football meetings: Zero

The Owls first fielded a football team in 2001 and are 0-12 vs. the current SEC, most recently falling 35-14 at then (13) Florida in the 2021 season opener. The Vols are 18-2 vs. C-USA (FAU’s conference home from 2013 through last season) and 42-4 vs. the American (the Owls’ new home next year). The pair of losses to C-USA clubs came to Rice (an 8-0 defeat in the 1946/47 Orange Bowl) and North Texas (a 21-14 decision in 1975) – both of which will join FAU in the AAC this fall.

(2) UCLA vs. (3) GONZAGA

Football meetings: Zero

Gonzaga’s football program kicked off in 1892 and disbanded due to World War II in 1941, never to return to the field. The 1922 team capped off its season with a narrow 21-13 loss to West Virginia in the San Diego East-West Christmas Classic (the Mountaineers finished the season 10-0-1 outscoring their opponents 267-34). The Bulldogs are the only non-FBS program in this year’s Sweet 16 to have representation in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame – Tony Canadeo (RB/QB/HB, Class of 1974) and Ray Flaherty (HC/E/HC, Class of 1976).


Football meetings: Zero

Alabama is 7-1 all-time vs. the current football membership of the Mountain West, with the only loss coming in 2003, a 39-27 defeat at Hawaii which closed out a 4-9 campaign in the first season of the Mike Shula era. San Diego State is 0-3 against the current SEC ranks, with all three losses coming to Missouri between 1979-2010, or before the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012.

(1) HOUSTON vs. (5) MIAMI FLA.

Football meetings: 18

Boasting the most gridiron history of any Sweet 16 matchup in 2023, Houston and Miami Fla. met at least once during each decade between 1950-2000 with seven meetings coming back-to-back from 1970-76. The Hurricanes lead the all-time series 11-7 and have won seven straight including the most recent game, a 14-13 decision in 2006 in Miami with Larry Coker on one sideline and Art Briles on the other. The Cougars last win came 47 years ago, a 21-16 victory in H-town in 1976.


Football meetings: Zero

Creighton (located in Omaha, Nebraska) fielded a football team from 1900-42, playing from 1922-27 as members of the North Central Conference and from 1928-42 as members of the Missouri Valley Conference. It won the NCC in 1925 and 1927 and the MVC in 1936. Both football and basketball were suspended for World War II with only basketball making a return. Princeton – which played in the first-ever college football game vs. Rutgers in 1869 – is an FCS Ivy League program with 28 claimed national championships. Though the NCAA only recognizes 15 of the Tigers’ titles that number includes 11 of the 28 championships awarded before 1897.

(2) TEXAS vs. (3) XAVIER

Football meetings: Zero

Xavier was represented on the gridiron from 1900-43 and again from 1946-73 but in all those years never crossed paths with the Longhorns. The Musketeers went 18-2 from 1949-50 (just 24 years before dropping football) with the only losses coming vs. Kentucky in ’49 and at Cincinnati the next season. The 1949 squad capped off its campaign with a 33-21 win over Arizona State in the Salad Bowl, a post-season game played annually from 1948-55 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.

Comments (5)

I’m really surprised that Arkansas has never faced Notre Dame in football. I could easily see future scheduled non-conference games of UConn at Arkansas, FAU at Tennessee and San Diego State at Alabama – especially if the SEC teams happen to lose next weekend and want some kind of revenge.

Arkansas would have played ND in 2020, but Covid. I’ve deemed it the Lou Holtz Bowl for the series.

ND @ Arkansas in 2025

Arkansas @ ND in 2028 (2020 replacement)

In 1971 Marshall beat Xavier 15-13 for their first win after the 1970 team was decimated in a plane crash.

You would also think that Kansas State and Michigan State would have bumped into each other at least a few times since 1958. Big Ten and Big 8, back when Big 8 teams needed 5 NC games to complete their schedules.

I am a Connecticut fan (I hate UConn moniker) and when I say that, I include football. I think they can make as an independent in football. I didn’t think that when they did so, but the Big East brand means a lot to the fans, alumni. The women’s team has—in a way–come back to down to earth because The American conference just didn’t “suit.” Love that they’re back in the Big East.

I like how they schedule in football. They play teams that they believe are 50/50 games. Better to play Duke at home, then Alabama away (they are going to Knoxville this year, but they also scheduled Sacred Heart).

You’re seeing the basketball team get its mojo back after treading water in the American. I like the American, but it wasn’t good for Connecticut athletics.

This was a nice piece! Great website!