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Top 5 marching bands.


Spoiler alert: TBDBITL fares well.

I think the marching band component to college football is very special and vastly underrated.  So I was glad to get busy with this; it’s a project I’ve wanted to take on for some time.

I set out to do a “Best Fight Songs” list and we’re going to do that.  But I found that best fight song is less interesting than the broader ‘best band’ question.

For instance, I think UGA’s Glory, Glory and Tennessee’s Rocky Top are tip top fight songs.  But do they have ‘background music’ pieces that add to the atmosphere?  They may and I admit I’m not completely up to speed on all schools’ songs.  The converse is the school whose fight song is meh, but their background music works,, that’s Florida to me.  (I like the ‘Go Gators’ thing and at the same time could see how many wouldn’t.)  Texas A&M marches great but not sure the music measures up.

It presents an interesting subject to tackle.

Warning:  I’m not going to be objective about this.  I am going to wrap a veneer of a objectivity around it with a framework of metrics to evaluate the bands.  But I’m confident Ohio State will measure out #1.

But still there are a LOT of GREAT bands out there.  Here’s the loose set of characteristics I’m trying to take into account:

  • Precision marching;
  • Precision execution;
  • Terrific and beloved songs;
  • Stadium entrance;
  • Cadence.

They all contribute but don’t totally cover the main evaluation criterion:  what’s the band’s contribution to a memorable stadium experience?  That’s a soft opinion call and I’ve got no problem making it.

Honorable mentions.

UPDATE:  UMass Minuteman Marching Band is a force I didn’t know about.  Hustle Belt ranks them tops in the MAC:

They are one of only four marching bands from outside the major athletic conferences to win the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s prestigious Sudler Trophy, which has been described as “the Heisman Trophy of the collegiate band world.” If you care even the slightest about marching bands, you owe it to yourself to seize any chance you get to see this band perform.

Here they are in the Big House.


I took a hard look at several contenders.

Texas Longhorn Band.  “The Showband of the South.”

4027dc_8266b12a9c38317d92e7965d8f8c5d53First off, I’m not docking marching bands for cheesy uniforms.  Texas’ cowboy hats plus fringy buckskin… hey it’s a signature brand.  Not my style but I will guess that UT alums love it.  And that’s the idea:  they’re not performing for some Ohio guy in New Hampshire.  Their audience is the student body, alumni, and Longhorn fans.

Big drum + Bevo = memorable.  I don’t think you can look at a band like Texas without including other ‘non-band-specific’ elements that contribute to the production.  Bevo counts.

Texas Fight is a good song.  Who doesn’t love a trombone stealing the show.  It’s got tradition, it’s associated with some great teams, it’s instantly recognizable.  Big points.  Add in Eyes of Texas, a great alma mater, and that’s a powerful one-two punch.

In the end, I couldn’t get Texas into the top five because I’m not sure their marching is on par.  Like, good effort on the Script Texas, but I can’t really read it.  Hey.  Austin people.  Straighten me out if I’m way off base.



Arkansas Razorback Marching Band.


Woo pig sooie.

Arkansas surprised me in doing this research.  They do a lot of things rights.  Woo pig sooie.  Good fight song. 

William Tell is a nice feature.

They do a nice version of Let’s Go Blue; have a Darth Vader defense cheer; even do the old CBS NFL Today music.  (See here.)  In game, Arkansas’ band is pretty great.

But geez, work on your stadium entrance.


Penn State Blue Band.

pennstateArkansas, take note:  this is how an entrance is done.

Hey I know there were/are a fair number of Paterno apologists.  And I know the administration was complicit in an unforgivable coverup of heinous crimes.

But I’m inclined to think most Penn Staters don’t fall into that category and I’m completely on-board with this level of stadium experience.  It’s hard to imagine a better and that includes Columbus.  (In fact, I’m calling PSU’s entry cadence and Let’s Go State as more electric than OSU’s Ramp Entrance.  Not better.. more electric.)

Here’s hoping O’Brien can keep the program alive until they’re off suspension.


The top five bands.

5. OU Marching 110.

urlNo marching band is more linked in my twitter timeline than OU’s.  Hard to imagine another band having more fun.  Hard to imagine a band more liked by their students.

I can’t rate them higher because I simply don’t know their songs and also, no matter how good the band is, Athens in-game can’t compete with LA, Tuscaloosa, etc.  Apples, oranges.

But there’s no band program that maxes out like OU.


4.  USC Trojan Marching Band.  “Spirit of Troy.”

USC-Logo-222x300The USC Marching Band is the most LA thing there is.  They are a metaphor complete with fantasy and theatre and production and glitz and hot chicks.

For  me, though, that window dressing — while fine/perfect for Southern California — is secondary to a formidable music repertoire.


Bless her heart.

Known (and great) fight song?  Fight On.  Check.

Background music?  Tribute to Troy.  Check.  

A pop song to call your own?  All Right Now with bonus Song Girls going go-go.  Check plus. 

Add in a drumline that holds its own and uniforms that wouldn’t work anywhere else, but dammit it works for them, and they’re an easy top five pick.  They’d probably be higher except for the bad memories of McKay era Rose Bowls.


3. Alabama Million Dollar Band.


The music repertoire for Bama is strong.  Yea Alabama is a strong contender for best fight song.  The ‘background music’ that I’ve been referencing… Bama does that best.  You always know aurally when a Bama game is on.

Here’s their playlist.  It screams college football.


Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 10.59.05 AM

New Brownie Quentin Groves assisting Auburn’s band in a reverse Rammer-Jammer after the 2007 Iron Bowl.
Just became a big Groves fan.

Yea Alabama

Go Bama Go
Rammer Jammer
Roll Tide Roll

But the entrance?  It’s like an NBA pre-game laser show. Once they get going, it’s fine. (Note that Bama fans know the words to their fight song.)  But … enhh… OSU, Michigan, Penn State do a better job setting the stage.

That’s really my only beef with Bama.


2. Michigan Marching Band.


I was this close to bumping Bama over Michigan.  But I have to give Michigan credit for an entrance that does what entrances are supposed to do:  get you fired up.  And extra props to the drum major below for touching the turf without his hat.

Seen in UM locker room.
Hoke’s calling OSU ‘Ohio’ is the best.

The Victors is a good song sure enough.  Let’s Go Blue is the most copied background song there is… but no one really touches the original.  (I think it’s the percussion that can’t be equalled.)

Let’s Go Blue
The Victors

Yellow and Blue is a great alma mater.  They’ve even got  “Mr. Touchdown” in the bag of tricks.  (Do they ever play that song?)  Great drumline too, see below.


All that’s missing is a football team that can beat ‘Ohio.’  AWWWWWWW…


1. Ohio State TBDBITL.


I may well be completely biased.  I own that.  But even so, let’s look at the criteria I put forward up top.

Precision Marching, 5 (of 5).  Script Ohio the gold standard here, no?  But just watch the footwork, watch the turns, hell watch the tuba player’s 180 when he dots the I.  No mistakes.

Precision execution, 5.  There’s no sour notes, ever.  I mean, we take it for granted, but TBDBITL is flawless, always.

Terrific and beloved songs, 5.  No better repertoire.  I have Sloopy, Carmen Ohio, BBC linked below… didn’t even link to “Across the Field” which is another classic.


Link please, if you have one, to a pic of a drum major falling down in this move.

Hang on Sloopy
Carmen Ohio
Le Reg
Buckeye Battle Cry

Stadium entrance, 5.  OSU’s Ramp Entrance is a minor Columbus tourist attraction and a not-to-be-missed part of the Horseshoe experience.  Another gold standard.

Cadence, 5.  Since the drums are a key section of the Ramp Entrance and since the Ramp Entrance is tops in the country.. then by extension OSU’s drum line rates highly too.

Contribution to game experience, 5.  Weird how OSU doesn’t need to introduce weiner dog races to improve the fan experience.  Of course the team is good.  But the Browns are supposedly tending to team quality in a separate lane while ‘fan experience’ has its own VP.  In other words:  remove the team and consider ‘fan experience’ only.  The band is a huge part of it, probably the main part of it.  No one’s saying that college football translates to the NFL.  But Cleveland is Ohio and Ohio’s football tradition is different from Seattle.  Didn’t intend to veer down this path, but the Browns are fools to take ‘fan experience’ templates from other parts of the country and try to impose them on Browns fans.  Apples, oranges Berea… when will you figure out anything about the community you’re supposed to serve.  (Has it ever occurred to them to hire local?)  (I digress.)

So that’s a perfect score on the six metrics I’ve devised to rate a marching band.  That’s number one in my book.


Next up is the Top 20 Fight Songs.  I’m looking for nominations if you have any.

Do please feel free to straighten me out in the comments.  I know I’ve overlooked some bands… very much interested in hearing about your favorites.

[Many thanks to http://fightmusic.com/ who are the main source for the music linked.]


  1. You couldn’t put Texas in the top 5 because of the marching? Really? I’d rather it was just the uniforms. I’m obviously teasing. I haven’t seen all of these bands so I can’t say if the Longhorn band is better but it’s always been a tight band in my eye and yes, I’m biased.

  2. […] Quentin Groves had a nice day at camp yesterday.  He’s shaping up as a fascinating story to me.  He got on my radar with a YouTube clip I found when I was doing the college bands post. […]

  3. Petefranklin says:

    I was sure you were going to overlook the 110, but Kanicki overlooks nothing. Twenty or so years ago there were a few times that we would drag our tore up asses to the stadium , then leave after seeing the band. The 110probably sounds better now that the football team doesnt lpse every game. My personal favorite is LiteUp by STYX. Played after a win because we are the Bongcats you know.

  4. jimkanicki says:

    i’m thinking wisconsin might have been an oversight.

  5. tmoore94 says:

    Thank god you didn’t include Stanford on the list. Find them exhausting with their nonsense.

    No bands from a historically black school made the list?

    • jimkanicki says:

      hah, no stanford. i surely admit to not having seen enough west coast bands tho. i trolled my friends at FishDuck under separate cover… if UO’s band brings more than a top notch Gangnam Style cover i expect i’ll find out soon.

      w.r.t. HBCU… seems a whole other category,, didn’t dig into it. no Ivies made it either. 😉

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