You'll find no shortage of companies trying to cash in on bracket concepts this time of year. But we have to say: Betty Crocker has found a way into our heart with a snack-based bracket combining two things near and dear to our heart: food and basketball.
Sixty-four concoctions (with recipes) -- and only one can win. Indiana Pacers guard and former Texas standout T.J. Ford is backing his Tex-Mex enchilada recipe; many of the other entrants are regionally inspired dishes that coincide with this year's tournament teams. Minnesota, you will note, does not have an entrant -- didn't even get into the NIT (Noshing Invitational Tournament ... OK, that doesn't exist).
Voting started Tuesday and runs through April 4 at bettycrocker.com/bettybracket. But we've taken a spin through the four regions and 64 food items to give you a head start. Call it Snacketology. Or don't. Yeah, please don't. And remember, these are their region names:
The whiskey and beer barbecue chicken sliders out of West Lafayette, Ind., are a strong contender here -- just like Purdue. But don't overlook the fightin' jalapeno poppers out of South Bend. The cheesy margarita pizza out of Boston seems destined for an early exit. Dough, cheese, tomato, basil and olive oil are a solid five ingredients, but where is the depth? This snack is going to wear out in the second half right when you need it most.
As much as it might pain us to say it, the blue cheese deviled dogs look very strong. Straight out of Durham, N.C. -- home of defending national champion Duke -- the recipe had us at all-beef hot dogs, blue cheese, Sriracha hot sauce and hard-boiled eggs. Conspiracy theorists will also note that there doesn't appear to be a great challenger to go with it in the upper half of the bracket. Lower down, we like the chili dog tacos (University Park, Pa.). Maybe we're just craving some heartburn?
Another painful admission, but the kielbasa pizzas here out of Milwaukee sound delightful. Tell you what, too: We'd eat about 15 of the sausage-cheese balls out of Athens, Ga., without a tinge of regret. Just watch us. But the Kentucky bourbon bacon Chex mix (Lexington) has a one-and-done feel. Seems like a superfluous use of perfectly good bacon, a star player miscast on a losing team.
Grilled reuben brats (New York City)? Yes. Spicy fish tacos (Gainesville, Fla.) also have a strong presence in this bracket. A deep run is not out of the question. Lemon shrimp California rolls (Santa Barbara) would class up a party. Unfortunately, this is not the time for class.
If this sports season holds form, we'll see the deviled dogs vs. the kielbasa pizzas in the finals. Could you stomach a entrant from Wisconsin vs. one that hails from Duke? Maybe not, but we'll take the deviled dogs to win.
-- MICHAEL RAND