Hot Reads: The Capital of College Football
Photo Credit: John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: The Capital of College Football

August 21, 2017

When you think of the “capital of college football,” which city do you think of? There are plenty of options with familiar sounding names — Tuscaloosa, South Bend, Ann Arbor — but the locations of schools almost have to be eliminated. Those are state capitals, not the nation’s capital.

I have long thought college football’s capital is Birmingham, Alabama. Any time ESPN sends out a release on TV ratings, Birmingham is always the top market. It has been the top TV market for college football every year this century, and we’re not just talking about Alabama games. Any game of national importance does best in Birmingham. (Note to self: Maybe I should go there to see what a college football Saturday is actually like.) I think it’s hard to argue for any other city.

But Atlanta is trying. It is the relatively new home of the College Football Hall of Fame (ton of fun if you ever get the chance to go). It has become the place where college football “starts” thanks to its annual kickoff games featuring traditional powers. Atlanta typically figures into the end of the season as well as the host of the SEC Championship Game, where at least one school involved is usually playing to keep a national-title chase alive.

The 2017 season is that basic model, amped up to 11. The season opener — Alabama-Florida State — could be a national-title game. It could be the national title game this year, which is also in Atlanta. The Peach Bowl is gaining steam. The stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is brand new. It will be impossible to follow college football in 2017 without seeing and thinking about Atlanta, and that was all part of the plan, as detailed in this story from Barrett Sallee of

Gary Stokan, CEO of the Peach Bowl, is one of the major players in Atlanta’s rise, and it all sort of happened because the Peach Bowl had been somewhat forgotten.

“We thought that we could get into the BCS in 2006, but they went to a double-hosting model instead,” [Stovall] told CBS Sports. “When that didn’t happen, we set out to create the BCS on the front side of the season when they legislated the 12th regular-season game.”

Initially billed as the “Daytona 500 of college football,” Stokan’s vision to create a signature event at the front end of the season played a big part in the Peach Bowl itself becoming a major event on the back end. The success of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game — which had Clemson-Alabama, Virginia Tech-Alabama and North Carolina-LSU in its first three years of existence, proved to the college football world that Stokan’s group was prepared to take its postseason Peach Bowl to the next level.

Last year, the Peach Bowl hosted one of the CFP semifinals (Alabama’s win over Washington). This year it will merely get a “good” game, but Atlanta gets the big game at the end. And it has the biggest game at the beginning.

While I’ll always be somewhat partial to Birmingham, if you want to call Atlanta the capital in 2017, I’m OK with that. I’m OK if Atlanta continues to be that, too.

I love Atlanta. It has the one thing I require for any city to be great — a signature feel. When you’re in Atlanta, you don’t feel like you’re anywhere else.

Add an insane passion for college football on top of that and it might have to become my favorite city.

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