OTE's Best B1G College Town Round 1: The College Town Underdogs

Awesome Excel Bracket? Awesome Excel bracket.

The Cities have been seeded and the brackets are set. Yesterday we introduced OTE's Best B1G College Town Championship Tournament. While there is some argument of seeds 2-11, there is a general consensus among the writers and even the commenters that the B1G has some pretty awesome cities. For me, of the best parts of Nebraska joining the B1G has been the opportunity to learn about what makes each campus awesome. Now, to this point I have not had a chance to do a lot of traveling to other cities, but upon reading comments, talking to fans, and even just watching games, I can tell that these trips will be pretty awesome.

With that in mind, I have enlisted the OTE Staff and various SBNation writers to help defend their cities. If you missed out on our criterion, you can go ahead and click here for what we're judging this all on. This is a pretty straight forward tournament for you all to follow. We asked the question, "Which city is more awesome as a college town?" Remember, this is not a fight over what city is the best to raise a family in or what city you can grow your wealth in the easiest. This is all about the things that make you say, "Oh yeah, that really is a cool college town!"

Today we're tackling Round 1. If this were the NCAA Tournament, we'd probably call this round the play-in round and talk about how watered down the field is. However, we're better than that here at OTE and we'll give these cities their rightful place as the best around. Like I said before, after the seedings were announced yesterday, the OTE team got to more arguing and voting. What follows is the breakdown of the four first round matchups, some good pitches for each city, and the results. Who is taking home the title of Cinderella? Who made a run at an underrated seed? Who gets the 'RISE AND FIRE' award for last second heroics? These questions are (more or less) answered after the jump!

8. Columbus vs. 9. Minneapolis

The Matchup:

In what is always an entertaining matchup, the 8 and 9 seeds battled it out for the right to take our runaway top seed, Madison. The biggest knock on both of these 'towns' is that neither really seems to be a town. On one hand, we can all name about 1,000 things to do in both Columbus and Minneapolis, but do any of them have to do with it being a college town or is it more just by virtue of being a huge metropolitan city?

So, we asked the writers...

JDMill: Minneapolis - Sure it's a major metropolitan area, and sure the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus lies smack dub in the middle of that major metro area, and because of that everybody always talks about how many distractions there are in Minneapolis.

But the distractions are what makes Minneapolis special... you have choices. The best Brewpub in the Twin Cities (Town Hall Brewery) is in 7 Corners. THe best breakfast in the Twin Cities can be found in Dinkytown at the iconic Al's Breakfast. In Stadium Village, you've got Sally's: How many bars do you know that are named after the fictional girlfriend of the team mascot? Not to mention the fact that you've got downtown MInneapolis less than a 10 minute bus ride away... dance clubs, music venues, NBA basketball and MLB baseball, lawn bowling on the roof of Brit's Pub anyone?

And in defense of Columbus, our very own Jonathan Franz:

Jon - In many ways Columbus is non-descript because it masquerades as both metropolis and small town. As one of my law school classmates, who hailed from Seattle, described the experience of driving into the city limits for the first time: we drove and drove, and watched as the mile markers describing the distance to downtown dropped into the single digits, and still, we were surrounded by cornfields. Where's the city, my friend had asked?

Many first time visitors to Ohio's capitol have experienced a similar phenomenon. But what Columbus (or C-Bus, as the city is affectionately known by the locals that inhabit the Short North and Brewery District neighborhoods) lacks in urban density, it more than makes up for in culture and quality of life. Some casual visitors to the city might see a suburban atoll; an expansive mass of strip malls, chain restaurants, and big box developments. What I see, is an affluent archipelago; a neat, orderly, even handsome, community that is large enough to offer the benefits of a big city, but quaint enough to feel inviting. It's no surprise that so many people come to Columbus for college and stay for life.

What I'm suggesting is that Columbus is the best of both worlds. It's a college town, with more than its fair share of co-eds, bars with bucolic charm, and late-night eateries, but it's also a grown up haunt, with more to do on a Friday night than play beer pong. Like eat. And I mean eat well. I live in L.A. and my wife grew up in Chicago, and both of us swear the food scene in Columbus is just as good as either of those two world class cities. Don't believe me? Ask the editor's at The Washington Post. They called the city a "culinary powerhouse."

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, Columbus is a city that worships college sports. Unlike Minneapolis, where pro sports dominate the collective consciousness, Columbus suffers from no such delusions. It isn't unusual to find half a million people outside of the Horseshoe on gamedays. That's more than most other B1G cities combined. And let's face it, in a sport that has evolved into a glorified popularity contest, there is strength in numbers.

When all was said and done, Columbus looked like the favorite and played like it for most of the matchup... But just like every other 8 vs. 9, the underdog wasn't going to be outshined easily and when the votes were tallied up, Minneapolis snuck away with a victory.

Winner: Minneapolis


5. Bloomington vs. 12. Champaign

The Matchup:

In the Big Dance, this is usually an upset waiting to happen. For most of our readers and writers, this seemed like a mismatch. Still, it wouldn't be fair to write off Champaign without its own chance at a defense, and so we enlisted Joe Kutsunis from the Fighting Illini site Hail to the Orange to give his piece. He was pitted against both our own Hilary Lee as well as John M from The Crimson Quarry to give their two cents on which city deserves to move on to face Iowa City.

Champaign is up first:

Joe Kutsunis - I lived in Champaign for four years and frankly had a fantastic time living there. It is a true college town, two and a half hours from Chicago, about 90 minutes from Indianapolis and 90 minutes from Peoria. The University is pretty much the only game in town for miles and miles and it is, in my opinion, a real college town experience. Unlike places like Madison or Minneapolis, Champaign/Urbana is a small enough community, that frankly the students are nearly a third of the population in the fall and winter.

I've spent times at commuter schools, where half the students head back to Chicago every weekend, but Illinois has a vibrant night life and massive Greek system. As far as parties go, there was never a shortage on campus.

No, Champaign is not beautiful. Its smack in the middle of the prairie, surrounded on all sides by corn fields. But it is also a blast going there.

And for Bloomington:

Hilary Lee - Oh Bloomington. I first visited this city in late 2010, way later than I should have. I say later because the truth is, Bloomington is a fantastic town. And outside of some of the true heavyweights of the Big Ten, it's one of the best college towns out there.

Before going to IU for a Northwestern game, I'd always sort of assumed Bloomington would be like the rest of Indiana (I'll leave the game of negative adjective free association to y'all). I'd seen pictures, but it just did not compute that a town in Indiana could really be that awesome. I'm now here to say that I was wrong. Bloomington is great. It reminded me of one of my favorite places in the entire country, Madison. The campus has beautiful architecture, the surrounding town has an adequate number of cheap-but-delicious restaurants and places to caffeinate. And of course, like Madison, it has bars in spades. Bloomington is where I first saw Hairbangers Ball, and then ate some truly... satisfying... pizza at Rockit afterwards. Where I was introduced to Sink the Biz. Where I learned that showing up half an hour late for the game can sometimes mean the tailgate was all the more awesome.

Of course, that last part is the one where Bloomington takes the most knocks in the eyes of other Big Ten fans. The "fan atmosphere" factor. Look, IU football isn't good. They haven't been good for a while. You aren't going to go to Bloomington to watch a great football game (unless you're cheering for the other team). But so what? As a college town, Bloomington is like a football team that has everything but a perfect kicker. Which still makes it pretty damn awesome.

John M - IU's overall scene is hard to beat. The campus is beautiful, and the heart of the old campus is literally on the footstep of downtown Bloomington, with block upon block of bars, restaurants, shops, etc. The town is small enough that you can walk nearly anywhere, and there is a surprisingly great bus system if you don't feel like it. The town and the school have a great relationship. Like the arts when you aren't watching football or basketball? IU's excellent music and fine arts programs mean that you can find a cultural experience nearly any night of the year. I'm not sure the awesomeness of Bloomington can be put into words effectively. You just have to be there. The best thing I can say about Bloomington is that no matter the time of year or the occasion, I am happy to drive into town and sad to drive away from it.

I would match the heart of IU's campus against any campus in the nation, Big Ten or otherwise. It is the sort of campus that makes visitors want to go to school there.

While Joe and Champaign gave it their all, Bloomington walked away with this matchup. Campus beauty always seems to win out, and despite there being some definite upsides to Champaign, it just wasn't enough.

Winner: Bloomington


6. East Lansing vs. 11. West Lafayette

In the 6 vs. 11 matchup, we have the B1G's directional cities battling it out. This ends up being kind of an interesting matchup. East Lansing could definitely have been a higher seed, but its just a little lower on the totem pole than the schools ahead of it. As for West Lafayette, it gets kind of a bad wrap at 11, but it still deserves a chance to defend itself.

[ed: so, we thought we had a full fledged EL defense... turns out you're getting Graham + Wikipedia. MSU fans will probably see this as another OTE act of aggression. It's not. It's more a reflection on trying to push this out in a timely manner, so deal with it]

In defense of East Lansing:

Graham - East Lansing is a charming little town, but the real treat here is the old part of the Spartan campus. If the whole campus looked like that, East Lansing would be seeded higher. A win for East Lansing nonetheless.

Wikipedia- The city has several neighborhoods of detached, single-family houses within a mile of the Michigan State University campus.Under a 2004 city zoning ordinance, several of those neighborhoods have used a petition process to establish zones that prohibit or severely restrict renting. The net size of the area where renting is prohibited has increased since 2004.

East Lansing has a very large student population; in 2006 the city's population was about 45,931, while the university's 2006-07 enrollment was 45,520. Granted, all students enrolled do not live in East Lansing or on campus.

Michigan State University has the reputation of having a very passionate fan base. Spartans followers have attracted notoriety with public celebrations that periodically erupt throughout the year. The celebrations are often associated with the mens basketball team's perennially deep runs in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, such as an incident in 1999 in which students and visitors rioted after a loss to Duke University in the NCAA Final Four. Although generally peaceful, the East Lansing police department has sometimes responded to those events with force, invoking emergency powers and hiring extra police from neighboring jurisdictions to clear streets.

And for West Lafayette (seriously, we had East vs. West here. I think that's awesome):

babaoreally:

1) General Awesomeness of of the Campus: I tend to like the brick buildings that make up most of the campus. A couple of big fountains and a clock tower add some variety. Housing is nearby and the campus has plenty of green space and it is easy to walk to any class. The Co-Rec is a great place to find a game of pick-up bball, play some racquetball or pump some iron.

2) Facilities: Ross-Ade is pretty nice, but it doesn't rank among the elite of the conference. It's a nice place to watch a game and there are plenty of good tailgating spots around the stadium. Finding a seat lately hasn't been much of a problem.

3) Fan Personality: It's hard to speak on this as a Purdue fan, but I think we are generally pretty nice to opposing fans (IU excluded).

4) Natural Beauty: The Wabash River is nearby and there are a lot of trees around. There is plenty of green space and the campus golf courses are pretty nice.

5) Overall College Town Experience: If you can't find something to do in West Lafayette, you are either not trying or you don't care to. Breakfast Club is a pretty college thing to do on gamedays. The Piano Man at the Neon Cactus puts on a pretty good show, and there are plenty of bars just off of campus. If you are into officially sanctioned campus events, Grand Prix is pretty neat. I don't know of too many people that went to Purdue and regretted their time there.

While the West Lafayette defense is pretty legit, especially in comparison to what we have going for East Lansing, East Lansing still won out when the votes were tallied. It was close, but West Lafayette couldn't hit the buzzer beater and East Lansing is going to the Elite 8.

Winner: East Lansing


7. Lincoln vs. 10. Evanston

We're down to our last matchup of opening day. At well over 2,000 words for this post, I'm sure you are just wanting to hear who moves on so we can do some more arguing (you know, because if there's one thing OTE is good at doing, it's inciting arguing on our comment threads). Still, it was fun to see how the new guy stacks up to a town that really got mixed reviews both internally and externally.

For Lincoln, I actually could speak to this one, and so I did.

KennardHusker - Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you all that Lincoln is the best College Town in the world. Still, when it comes to a pretty legit college town with a decent looking campus, cool campus town, a plethora of bars, and ridiculously awesome facilities, Lincoln manages to exceed expectations. Memorial Stadium is one of the most beautiful fields in the nation, and our baseball stadium is a gem that any college baseball fan should check out.

As for specifics, gameday at Nebraska is an absolute treat for anyone on campus and anyone coming into town. While it isn't necessarily as big a production as others, there is plenty of food and beer to go around, no matter who you are and root for. Our fans are legitimately nice, and while some might see that as some smug act, we honestly just like to be friends. Football is kind of our thing and we want everyone to be a part of that.

While Lincoln cannot compare to a 30 minute ride to Chicago, Lincoln does a great job of surrounding you with a community. When you are a part of the school, you feel like you are the town. O Street has some awesome bars, and Haymarket is such an amazing district with shops, food, and the normal fare. It has an old town feel with some amenities of a larger metro area, and if you're really bored, you are only 45 minutes away from Omaha. Lincoln is truly an awesome setup for a College Town.


With that in mind, here's Chad's take on Evanston:

ChadNUDJ - Location, location, location.
Evanston may not have a fanbase as large as its Big Ten brethren (although the fact that 2/3 or more of the entire student body shows up for football games shows they may be small in numbers, but they're passionate). And while they're soon to be upgraded, both Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena are definitely lagging in the amenities/charm department. But damn, is that campus beautiful.

When you can take the El for 30-45 minutes and be drinking Old Styles at Wrigley Field, or eating deep dish pizza smack dab in the middle of Chicago, your college town is pretty damn awesome. When your campus has its own private beach (for students/university folks only), you've selected a great college town. When your 6-time national champion women's lacrosse team plays on a picture-perfect field overlooking Lake Michigan and with the city of Chicago in the backdrop, you have evidence that the facilities can/will be amazing.
And keep in mind, while Nebraska's fans may be the nicest in the Big Ten, Northwestern's fans aren't far behind (at minimum, we're accommodating -- we leave plenty of seats for y'all when you visit.....and I myself have welcomed many an opposing fan for food at my tailgates... oh, and did I mention that we have a Goose Island tent that offers free beer to tailgaters before every home game?). Throw in the world-class education, the great arts/theater/music scene on campus, fun campus traditions like Painting the Rock, Dance Marathon, and Dillo Day.....oh, and did I mention you can go to Chicago anytime you want if you're sick of living in a college town?

Look, Northwestern's probably not going to win this competition. But they're a 10-seed that should be scaring everyone, just a little bit. They might just cut through the bracket like....well, like a f*$#saw.

Honestly, it's hard to argue with Chad on this one. I love Chicago and I really was impressed by Northwestern's campus when I visited way back in high school... While Chicago is more of a large city, I definitely have to agree it has a distinct college flavor with all of the top notch universities and opportunities to get in trouble. Still, when the voters put the two against each other, fan personality and facilities won out.

Winner: Lincoln

Tomorrow we will get to Round Two where our top seeds take on the little guys. Also, we'll see if we can't keep tomorrow's piece under 3000 words!

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