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OTE Best B1G College Town Elite 8: When Cigars and Scotch Make Decisions

Okay, let me start with an apology. I did not intend to create an all-inclusive OTE Best B1G College Town piece because my fear of open voting is that you never really have a good gauge of the cities, just a show of what fans are best at flooding polls. Case in point, the WWL's little media stunt with EA over NCAA 2012's launch. Look, I love what Nebraska does at the beginning of its games, but I really have no idea what it was doing as one of the best intros in college football. Final Four perhaps? Sure, but I think there are some more iconic tunnel walks out there. The reason it was there alongside Michigan? Because when you have fan-driven polls, you just get the teams that flood these sites.

Now, does that mean we're experts? Well, everyone else went to AAU schools, so maybe they are. Me? I'm just the guy who thought it was an excellent idea to do as many brackets as possible in a one week span. The result? Realizing you have something like 5 pieces over 2,000 words. With that all said, I want to emphasize that this is the OTE Best College Town Competition based solely on voting and Scotch and Cigar fueled backroom deals. Is it shady? Well, I'm sure it might be perceived as such, but the result is a title from Off Tackle Empire, so I'm not 100% sure if it's as big a deal as Chicago's old Mob dealings... then again, we're kind of a big deal, right? Anyone? *crickets*

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's look at Round 2! We have some awesome matchups, really good defenses, potential upsets brewing (we're looking at you Minneapolis), and a little help from our friends. RossWB from Black Heart Gold Pants, Phil Mitten from Bucky's 5th Quarter, Pete Rossman from The Only Colors, Zach Travis from Maize n Brew, and a reprise visit from John M of The Crimson Quarry are sprinkled in and we have some nice shoutouts from our current staff. Each town left has a lot to offer and like I've said before, I couldn't be more excited to visit some of the places I haven't been to, but only four will be left after this, and those matchups should be fantastic.

1. Madison vs. 9. Minneapolis

We've heard some initial arguments on behalf of Minneapolis, but what does Phil Mitten from B5Q have to say about the prohibitive favorites:

Phil: Madison is technically one of the larger Big Ten cities, but it maintains what's essential to great college towns. Whether it's the buzz of fall's first classes or the exhale of summer, the city still sways with the energy of the college it keeps.

The residents are fiercely proud of their university and the Badgers. I've spent most of my life in Madison, including four years on campus, so I know everyone lives for Game Day. Imagine walking the Dayton Street gauntlet serenaded by the UW marching band until you reach an old Civil War campground that houses a stadium full of 80,000 raucous fans on football Saturdays. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a good-natured opposing fan stop by a house party on venerable Breese Terrace for a beer bong, probably after a monstrous breakfast scrambler at Mickey's Dairy Bar made them feel invincible.

The bar scene is an absolute beast. You have epic beer gardens (Stadium, Big 10, Lucky's), tailgates and hidden gems like Greenbush on Regent Street, the University Avenue corridor and legendary State Street, which blends effortlessly back into the city at the Capitol Square, home to classier dining and beer swilling options -- all of them loaded with delicious local microbrews of course. The options are impressive and endless. You can't beat the beautiful views of Lake Mendota from the Memorial Union, and if outdoors activities are your thing, the city has three more lakes for boating and top-notch bike paths at your disposal. And let's be honest: if you can't survive a cold winter, you don't belong in Big Ten country period.

Nestled amongst lakeside green space and city blocks alike, the campus is both iconic (Camp Randall, Bascom Hill) and growing with modern, world-class buildings. Dual-purpose Kohl Center sells out the Big Ten's third-largest basketball arena and houses blue-blooded hockey programs ... hell, they even built a brand new ice arena for the four-time national champion women's hockey team. Just come early enough before games to grab a burger and Spotted Cow at Dotty's.

While we've heard from JDMill about what makes Minneapolis an actual college town, I'd like to point out a few things I love about the city myself:

So I understand that Minneapolis is fighting an incredible uphill battle here, but to ignore Minneapolis based on sheer size of city is to ignore the magnitude of the University of Minnesota. There are over 65,000 students enrolled, and when you're on campus, it feels like a college town unto itself. I have visited there a few times and the newer facilities are gorgeous and they blend in well with the architecture of both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses well

To add to that, while Minneapolis may not get as much respect as Chicago, I would argue that Minneapolis has more of a college feel because of the enormity of the student population they boast. It will always be a Twins/Vikings town (and I guess for some a Wild/T-Wolves town, but I have yet to meet those people), but if Kill and Co. get Gopher Football to match Gopher Hockey in competitiveness, you're about to see a swoon over the Bank. The bars in uptown are some of my favorite in the nation, and as a sucker for food, I love the whole scene in Minneapolis. Oh, and you can ride your bike everywhere, which if you live in a city like Omaha where people actively try to run you over on a bike, you can't help but appreciate it. Also, the music, art, and culture is enough to keep you busy when you're not doing something else.

Is it the best college town? That's debatable, but writing it off means you didn't try hard enough to have fun up there. If it was a little further south (as in, if winter didn't last until May), I would seriously consider moving there.

Despite a few votes out of spite, Minneapolis got steamrolled in the second half.

Winner: Madison in a 55-22 win (See, I included arbitrary scores this time... no shady backroom dealing here)

4. Iowa City vs. 5. Bloomington

This is probably the best matchup of the entire bracket. A severely underrated Bloomington vs. Iowa City, a city that thinks it's ready to take on Madison. I'm going to leave this one to the experts:

RossWB from BHGP: I spent eight years in Iowa City and came away with two degrees and a lifetime of memories. The popular conception (especially if you happen to be a television producer) of Iowa City is that it's a small town in the middle of a cornfield. And speaking in the broadest strokes possible, that's true: it's one of the smaller college towns in the Big Ten and, yes, if you go far enough out of town you'll hit cornfields. But that reductive definition diminishes what Iowa City has to offer, which is a lot. It's a college town where the university and the town are inextricably intertwined. The campus on the east side of the river bleeds into downtown Iowa City and the surrounding neighborhoods seamlessly -- for good or ill (but mostly good!), you can go from a lecture hall to a bar in less than five minutes. The campus on the west side of the river contains the athletic complexes and even there the city and the university are smashed together -- Kinnick Stadium is bordered by a quiet, peaceful neighborhoord (well, except for the seven Saturdays a year when it's not so quiet or peaceful). It's also a campus with some impressive scenery (particularly along the Iowa River) and some quality architecture (if more classical styles are your thing, check out the buildings on the Pentacrest; if modern design excites you, just walk down the hill and take a gander at the Advanced Technology Center).

Iowa City also has a thriving arts community and a strong local music scene. Hancher Auditorium brings in several high-quality shows, while the Old Capital (the original seat of government in Iowa) offers up a glimpse into the state's past. There's also iconic local eateries like Hamburg Inn No.2, visited by almost every Presidential candidate of the last few decades and home to some delicious pie-shakes, or the Wig and Pen, a beloved local pizza joint. Oh, and bars. Lots and lots and lots of bars. Bars that cater to virtually every interest. Need a big, loud, frat-y bar? Check out Brothers or The Summit. Need a hole in the wall-y bar? Hit up Mickey's (one of my personal favorites) or BoJames. Need a bar to watch the game at? Try The Sports Column or The Airliner. Need a bar to let your freak flag fly? Check out the Deadwood -- they won't judge you (probably). And that's just a handful of the bars within downtown; there are several more worth checking out within a few blocks of that downtown concentration. So, yeah, Iowa City has a lot to offer, no matter what you're into.

And here is a reprise visit from The Crimson Quarry's John M:

1. General Awesomeness of the Campus

IU is a very strong contender in this category. IU has a distinctive style, with locally quarried limestone and red tile roofs as the distinguishing feature. The oldest part of the campus features buildings from the late 1800s/early 1900s that are built in a crescent around a small but thick forest, where it's possible to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere despite being just a block from Kirkwood Avenue and loads of bars, restaurants, shops, etc. While the outer reaches of campus have some bad post-World War II era buildings, 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.

2. Facilities

IU's Memorial Stadium can't match most of the other venues in the Big Ten for tradition or atmosphere, but the recent enclosure of the north end zone has improved the feel of the stadium, and as a "newer" stadium by Big Ten standards (1960), it's always been a pretty comfortable place to watch a game (insert attendance joke here). Any deficiencies in the football facilities, however, are more than offset by Assembly Hall, one of the most famous and iconic arenas in college basketball. It's aging, cramped, and poorly designed, but it's a great experience nonetheless. Purdue fans secretly love to gaze at the five NCAA championship banners (the same number won by the other 11 Big Ten schools combined), and really love it when we talk about those banners. The datedness of the arena itself is offset by Cook Hall, the brand new practice facility that is attached. As for non-revenue facilities, IU has a nice natatorium, a track and field facility that was good enough to host the NCAA championships within the last decade or so, one of the largest dedicated soccer stadiums in the nation, and recently broke ground on a state of the art baseball stadium that will replace sub-Little League caliber Sembower Field.

3. Fan Personality

This is a tough one. I've heard a few bad stories about trips to Bloomington by opposing fans, but overall, most of the people find it pretty hospitable, unless rooting for Purdue or Kentucky. At least when I was in school in the 1990s, it was a pretty popular place to visit.

4. Natural Beauty

If IU were in the Big 12 or SEC, this would be a tough one, but IU is in pretty good shape in the Big Ten. Most first-time visitors to Bloomington are pleasantly surprised to see that the landscape of that part of southern Indiana bears no resemblance to the flat, cornfield-dominated northern half of the state. Bloomington and Monroe County are hilly and wooded, and beautiful Brown County is right next door. The largest reservoir in Indiana, Lake Monroe, is about 10 miles from campus. Indiana will never be confused with California or Colorado, or even Michigan, for natural beauty, but Bloomington is located in the most picturesque part of the state. Also, IU is the southernmost campus in the Big Ten, which means we have the earliest spring, the latest fall, and are most likely to have those unseasonable February or March days where everyone whips out the summer clothing even though it's only 55 degrees. That's a long way of saying that we have the longest skimpy clothing season in the Big Ten (that counts for "natural beauty," right?).

5. Overall College Town Experience

IU's overall scene is hard to beat. As I said above, 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.

This was by far the closest matchup of the night. Either way you look at it, these two college towns have more to offer than most of the board. In hindsight, Bloomington probably should have brought a nicer bottle of Scotch to the table to ensure a first round bye and a better matchup. Iowa City did that, and even though the votes were close, they are walking away with a miracle despite mauling the Bloomington shooter on his way to the basket. Interesting no call there ref... (Wait, I'm the ref? Um, this is awkward...)

Winner: Iowa City 54-53

3. Happy Valley vs. 6. East Lansing

The third matchup of the day pits a heavyweight in Happy Valley versus a painfully underrepresented and undermanned East Lansing team. Despite absolutely no love in Round 1 and really no one giving it proper respect, East Lansing cruised through the bracket. They are now head to head with Happy Valley in an Elite 8 matchup.

For Happy Valley, our defense came up a little short this round... So here's the USNews Report:

There is rarely a dull moment on the Pennsylvania State University-University Park campus, also known as Happy Valley. With more than 800 clubs and organizations, there are broad opportunities to get involved in campus life. The school mascot is the Nittany Lion, and teams compete in the Division I Big 10 Conference. The football team plays in Beaver Stadium, which is one of the largest arenas in North America with room for more than 107,000 fans. Penn State is home to a thriving Greek system with nearly 90 sororities and fraternities. About 15,000 students volunteer in THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Students raise money for pediatric cancer research and awareness throughout the year and participate in a 46-hour dance marathon-no sitting or sleeping allowed. Freshmen must live in one of five housing areas on campus. Across the street from campus is State College, a bustling small town with an array of coffee shops, restaurants, shops, and bars populated mostly by students. Surrounded by mountains, the school is also close to skiing, snowboarding, and hiking opportunities.

The land-grant institution, which originally was offered state land in exchange for agricultural courses and research, offers highly ranked graduate programs through the College of Education and the College of Engineering. Undergraduates produce the Daily Collegian newspaper, and students get free daily copies of The New York Times, USA Today, and Centre Daily Times-the local paper-through the school's Newspaper Readership Program, the first of its kind. Notable alumni include John Cappelletti, a Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL player; and Valerie Plame Wilson, former CIA agent and author. On fictional television show The Office, character Toby Flenderson is a Penn State graduate.

And here to give it up for East Lansing, and give a real defense instead of my awesome Google powers trying to make do, Pete Rossman from The Only Colors:

When pondering the best college town in the Big 10, the answer is obvious -- the one that I went to*. However, there's always a college town that spurs you to imagine a different version of your life if you went to a different school. I'm here to make the case for East Lansing and Michigan State.

First off, the campus is beautiful. The Red Cedar river runs throughout the north part of campus, circling by the newly constructed baseball and softball stadiums. Second, the people are fantastic. Not a more laid back, easy going group of students you will find. Yes you'll probably have to pay $5 for a keg cup, but $5 is cheap these days, the fines for a noise violation are expensive and the ELPD doesn't mess around. Third, the game day atmosphere is electric. Drinking's allowed just about anywhere on campus, so if you have $15-$20 for parking and a six-pack, you can set up shop and have a great time. I'm sure someone's going to post in this thread "But Pete, one time I went to East Lansing and a Michigan State fan was mean to me!" I apologize, as only MSU as asshole fans; they're not found anywhere else EVER.

As for East Lansing proper, yes it's not as big as Ann Arbor or Columbus. However, this insularity can be a strength. If you're going to the bar on a Friday night, chances are you're going to one of the 8 bars within a one block radius of each other. It's virtually impossible to hop to one to another and not run into someone you know. Although one could see this as a lack of choices for potables, I think it builds a community, a common language that might not be found in one of the schools with larger college towns -- even though there's a lot of chain restaurants (although the Peanut Barrel, Lou and Harry's, Crunchy's, and State Side Deli are all great food choices), the people are what make it special. And when you're sharing so many of the same experiences, a bond is built with your fellow students that made. That bond is what makes Michigan State in East Lansing so special to me, and why I'll always consider it as a hometown.

*Answer not valid if you went to Purdue.

I'd like to note that there is some irrational hatred between Purdue and Michigan State. Somebody needs to explain that one to me later. Anyhow, our voters were fairly even on this one. East Lansing had enough steam to get through Day 1, but just like other tournaments, one bad day can sink you.

Winner: Happy Valley 77-60

2. Ann Arbor vs. 7. Lincoln

No, this is not a matchup of which fanbase is more annoying on the interwebz. If we would have had open voting, however, it probably would have quickly turned into that (Every Cornhusker and Wolverine blog in the world would have linked here just to outdo each other). With that said, it is interesting. Both towns are different, and while the B1G isn't familiar with Lincoln yet, maybe it could pull the upset... maybe.

Up first is Zach Travis from Maize n Brew.

I don't know much about the rest of the Big Ten when it comes to each college town --- I've only ever spent time in East Lansing --- but after having lived in Ann Arbor for almost five years I feel safe saying that everyone else is competing for second place.

Ann Arbor has everything you could want in a college town. If you like spending time outdoors, take a walk through the Diag or up to Nichols Arboretum and sit under a shade tree or lay in the sun. The campus itself is a beautiful mix of architecture from Angell Hall to the Law Quad to the Michigan Union to Hatcher Graduate Library. If you are looking for a good meal you can't walk down Main street or State street without practically tripping over a great restaurant --- and that doesn't even include Zingerman's Deli, Angelo's Restaurant, BTB, or the 24-hour Fleetwood Diner. The bar scene is diverse with the more upscale Main street area contrasting the undergrad hangout on South University avenue, and if you're into live music check out The Blind Pig or The Ark, not to mention all the events the university puts on. Even in the dead of winter Ann Arbor is bustling with excitement and energy (wrapped in North Face fleece and designer scarves). Summer months are easygoing as students are gone and the city is just locals and a few summer-class holdovers that get to enjoy events like the Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Top of the Park Festival.

But nothing beats Ann Arbor on game days. Students slowly move through central campus and pack State street at house parties and fraternities. Car park on lawns, people set up tailgate parties anywhere there is an open slab of concrete or patch of grass, and the university golf course gets overrun by tailgaters; a city turned into one giant party. The mass of maize and blue clad students and fans moves down Hoover street toward Michigan Stadium --- the biggest, and dare I say best, college stadium in the country. After the game most of the crowd makes its way back to the bars and restaurants to celebrate the win* late into the night.

I can sympathize with Brady Hoke when he said he would walk to Ann Arbor to take the Michigan job. Just thinking about how great the city is makes me want to start walking back there right now.

*(During the Rich Rodriguez years change that to "drown their sorrows").

Aaaand to weigh in on Lincoln... me again (we're pushing 3500 words, we're going to make this quick):

There is not a lot I can say about Lincoln that I didn't say the first time. I can really try to drive home the point that the facilities and campus are top notch, the fans are awesome to hang out with, and that between Lincoln and Omaha, you have proximity to a lot of excellent food, drinks, music, and culture. I could also talk about how Lincoln backs up to a pretty neat downtown, has the right mix of bigger city and small town, and has more than enough bars and house parties to keep you busy as a college kid and an adult.

Memorial is top notch, the new Basketball Facility is going to be amazing, the Volleyball Matches are crazy, the Baseball field is unmatched at the college level, and with the money we all hope to get from the B1G, those venues will continue to get better. No matter what the event is, Lincoln will do everything it can to make fans feel at home, are properly imbibed, and full on all manners of Nebraska raised beef. There is just something hard to describe until you have properly experienced it. I promise that even Iowa fans can have fun in Lincoln if they try. It may not be a tailgating Mecca, but gameday in Lincoln has some serious upside.

Of course, the reality is that in a competition against Ann Arbor, a town that is given huge props for having the ginormous stadium, huge college feel, and better everything in comparison to Lincoln, much of this is for naught. Don't get me wrong, I can see the allure, but don't sell Lincoln short. We may be one of the smallest campuses and Lincoln is a relative unknown, but once you get the lay of the land, you're going to really come to appreciate the trips out here... even for basketball (if for nothing else but the absolute beatdown you'll lay on the Huskers... ugh).

This was never really in question. While there were a couple of pity votes and Ann Arbor put its second string in at the end, this match was just like last year's football game... ugly.

Winner: Ann Arbor 95-52