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The more I have thought about it, the more I have come to believe that Nashville is the perfect bowl destination. Not just for Nebraska and not just in the context of this season, but for all teams in all contexts. If Power 5 autonomy were to ever become a thing and whatever that group came to call itself needed a home office that office should be in Nashville.
Why? Because college football is country music. That’s not me the columnist telling you that, it’s the people in this sport who make decisions designed to appeal to the broadest swath of college football fans possible telling you.
The PR team of the College Football Playoff recently sent out a press release that Dierks Bentley will provide the pregame entertainment before this year’s championship game in Tampa. Of course he will. Before him it was Eric Church and before him it was the Zac Brown Band. It’s always country. Little Big Town is performing the national anthem and Lady Antebellum did it two years ago, which sandwiched what now seems like a totally outré choice of alt-R&B star Ciara in 2016. Big & Rich have played us into ESPN’s “College GameDay” each Saturday for I don’t know how many years now. Let’s just leave it at “too many.”
This connection isn’t surprising of course. If professional sports are the domain of big cities then college sports, particularly football, carry the flag for the rest of the country. To follow this sport is to follow it to places like Boone, N.C., and Huntington, W.V., and Laramie, Wyo. It makes total sense then that the music that best mythologizes small-town life will be pretty popular in those same small towns.
It is far from a forced relationship. When ESPN asked every FBS head coach to list his favorite musician or group earlier this season, country was the decisive winner. Thirty-three percent of the 125 coaches – three abstained – listed a country artist as his favorite. Kenny Chesney was predictably (and sadly if you ask me) popular, as was George Strait, which I wasn’t totally expecting to see. The two best picks here came from the Big Ten West, with Kirk Ferentz listing Pat Green and Mike Riley listing Gary P. Nunn. I wonder if they ever talk about the Red Dirt movement, a Texas-bred version of country that typically has less sheen than the version emanating from Nashville. It seems like a telling detail.
Rock, a genre that is all but dead on the charts, came in second with 27 percent of responses, thanks in large part to the Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. What I lumped together as R&B and Soul finished a surprising third at 11 percent.
There were not a ton of surprises here – Bill Snyder picked Frank Sinatra – outside of one mind-blowing selection. Dave Clawson, the head coach at Wake Forest, said his favorite band is the Talking Heads. I would have bet any amount of money that no current college football coach would have listed a bunch of art-school grads from the Rhode Island School of Design as his favorite band, but now I will forever imagine Clawson drawing up plays in his office as “Love -> Building on Fire” plays over the speakers. This might make Clawson the most interesting coach in college football. I suddenly want to know his opinion on everything.
Except, I guess, the Music City Bowl. Maybe Nashville isn’t the best destination for Wake Forest in the immediate future. For everyone else, however, I remain convinced that Nashville is the place to be, the site of the most cross-cultural symmetry for the majority of college football fans.
Enjoy it while you can, Husker fans. Until we get every bowl game moved to Music City, it will be Nebraska’s last trip to Nashville for quite a while.