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Is there a clear winner for best college marching band? And if so, is it Ohio State?

In college football this season, two teams that have been clustered near the top of the on-field rankings all year have also done some interesting things with their bands. Ohio State is the main one — they take a good deal of pride in their band — as you can see in the embed above; that’s a tribute to Michael Jackson from their Iowa game this year. It’s somewhere north of 8 million hits on YouTube. Then you have this, also from OSU:

That’s a tribute to Hollywood blockbusters, from the PSU game this year. If you’d like some more info on how OSU’s performances come together, this is a solid read. Jonathan Waters is the director of the marching band, and they use an app called Drillbook Next to figure out exactly where everyone needs to be on the field.

Clemson wasn’t to be outdone. Their marching band paid tribute to Super Mario and Legend of Zelda in their game this past Thursday vs. Georgia Tech:

They made Goombas.

Here’s one list of the best college marching bands in America; most of these lists are, with fairly good measure, topped by OSU. One of their biggest competitors for this fictional crown might be down at Ohio University. This September, they went big with “What does the fox say?”

USC was No. 3 on that list above; they did a medley last September against Cal that featured “We Found Love” and “Titanium.”

Some of the medleys and physical arrangements of the band members are awesome, but there’s a second tier to this discussion simply involving what they choose to cover. For example, University of Idaho — Idaho! — did “Thrift Shop” last year:

Interesting sidebar to the U. Idaho story: the first time they did it, at a basketball game in December 2012, was only a day after the song had reached the top 10. In all likelihood, they were the first marching band to ever arrange it.

Temple football’s — yes, Temple football — marching band went grandiose with Kanye’s “All Of The Lights” back in October 2012:

The Diamond Marching Band at Temple has now grown to 212 members; it only had a little over 100 back in 2008. They’ve also appeared on Good Morning America.

Jackson State is usually cited as a top-10 national marching band. Here they are going big with “Blurred Lines.” I showed this to my wife and she classified it as “adorable.”

Interestingly, when OU (Ohio) covered “The Fox” above — part of the reason they arranged that is because they were banned from playing “Blurred Lines.”

Two more important rips for you before we try to determine who deserves this crown.

First off, Western Washington University doing an entire, and very complex, Daft Punk tribute:

That was a big one for WWU.

A band that’s probably used to more national notoriety would be this final (for now) example: the University of Michigan. Their band is fairly well-regarded (they have to be, because the OSU-Michigan feud needs to extend to every possible corner of the universe) and this September, they did an entire medley around Queen B herself, Ms. Beyonce Carter-Knowles … or whatever her exact name is. Mad kudos for getting Beyonce to appear at the top.

Beyonce loved it.

So, who wins? To be fair, everyone f’n does. Society does. Remember when being in a marching band simply meant you were a nerd who was OK at music? Now it means you could be among the most creative people in your school. There’s a line in The Program where one of the dudes says, “80K people don’t show up to watch a science experiment,” and … while that’s true to some extent (stripping context here), 80K do show up to be entertained, and while the smashing of 20-something heads is no doubt part of that, so is the band aspect. (20K or so for hoops, probably smaller.) Regardless, the creativity and entertainment value of collegiate marching bands is off the charts these days. I just filtered a YouTube search for “marching band” by today, and came up with this, posted only a few hours ago — Southern University (another highly regarded band) doing “Holy Grail.”

OSU is creative, great, and they practice and revolutionize some aspects of this genre. So yes, they might be the best damn band in all the land. But we might be seeing the golden age of collegiate marching right now, and that’s a W for all of us. And you know, while I’ve been writing, watching, researching and embedding all this, I keep screaming “The band is on the field!!” in my head, so … here goes nothing with a final embed. God, I love music and sports intersecting in any way.

Ted Bauer

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