It's often considered the most wonderful time of the year if you're a sports fan and certainly the NCAA Tournament rarely fails to live up to that billing. It's the time where Cinderella is born and buzzer beaters are aplenty.
And while Utah fans won't be cheering on their Runnin' Utes in this year's tournament, it's without fail that we often find another team to hitch our wagon to and watch as they vie for history.
Last year, for many fans, it was Butler. The Bulldogs, as a five seed, went full-on Cinderella as they rolled to the national championship game. Though they eventually lost, Butler's story was one of the best in recent tournament history and showed that even the mid-major programs could come within a minute of the national title.
Isn't that why we watch the Big Dance? Unless it's our team facing an underdog, almost universally fans will side with the program that's not supposed to win - the program from a little named school in an unknown town that plays in a small conference. The Butlers, Davidsons and George Masons of the world make the tournament worth it.
So who will do it this year? Which program, with a bad seed, will push on through to the Sweet Sixteen and potentially beyond?
That's the golden question. But you can be sure it will happen. There will be a surprise team (if not more) that does what many consider the unthinkable. It could be the Belmont Bruins, who finished the regular season 30-4 and received a 13-seed, where they'll play Wisconsin.
The Badgers have historically struggled against mid-major programs. In their last four tournament appearances, Wisconsin has lost to a non-Power team in every one. That includes Cornell last year, Xavier the year before that, Davidson in 2008 and UNLV in 2007.
So if history continues, it's possible the Bruins pull the upset and advance to the second round - where anything can happen.
But what about the local teams?
Every year I think Utah State just may be that program to string together enough impressive victories to make a run deep into the tournament. And every year, without fail, they get beat in the first round. Yes, they've received horrible seeding and this year really isn't much different, but that's what makes these Cinderella stories. They're rarely programs that received good seeds.
The Aggies are a 12, which is actually good news because as Utah found out in 2009, the 12/5 match-up is often the most difficult for the favored team. If there is going to be an upset early in the tournament, it almost always happens between these two pairings.
So if the Aggies can continue that history, they'll finally advance beyond the first round for the first time in a decade. There they are in good position because the Badgers, as I've established above, have struggled against mid-major programs. If Wisconsin does advance to the second round, their past demons could resurface and Stew Morrill is looking at his first ever Sweet Sixteen. If it's Belmont, you still have to like the Aggies' chances because the opponent is probably not as talented or as deep as Wisconsin.
Because of that, I believe this is the year Utah State makes a mini-run in the tournament. I have faith they'll upset Kansas State and the winner of the Wisconsin/Belmont game and advance to the Sweet Sixteen - where they'll probably fall to Pittsburgh.
Then again, the Aggies have been in this position before and each time, they've lost.
Unlike Utah State, the BYU Cougars received a good seed. Unfortunately, I don't think they received a good bracket. Yes, they are a third seed and very well could put together the wins necessary to push through to the Sweet Sixteen and even further, and yes, they should defeat Wofford - but once they get out of the first round, things become interesting.
Their next opponent will either be Gonzaga or the very experienced and talented St. John's Red Storm. Neither team will be an easy opponent. If there is one good thing with BYU's position, it's that they play their first two games in Denver. That means they'll have a good number of fans there and that could be the difference in a close contest.
So can the Cougars make a run? It comes down the role players. Jimmer Fredette can't do it all. He proved that Saturday evening when BYU was run out of the gym by San Diego State. It's difficult sustaining a high-intensity for consecutive games, especially when they're clumped together. Gonzaga and St. John's are not good match-ups for the Cougars and if BYU is going to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they will need more contribution from the remaining roster or they'll lose in the second round again.
The other team of interest will be the Aztecs. They've never advanced beyond the first round and unless there is a total meltdown, it's hard not to see them at least making the Sweet Sixteen. They open against Northern Colorado and then take on the winner of Temple/Penn State. After that, it toughens up considerably, as they face UConn. I don't know if they can beat the Huskies - who just might be the best team the Aztecs have played this season.
If they get by UConn, though, look out.
I'm excited to see how this all plays out. But I won't lie, it's pretty bittersweet. I hate that Utah isn't in the tournament. I just hope we're there again in the future and that it isn't just for a brief one year window.
That would certainly make March Madness more enjoyable.
But until that happens, I guess we'll have to pick a team and cheer them on. Who you got?
Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/