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The RS Top 25: Ranking the Music from College Football’s Best Towns

The quest for the National Championship begins, and these artists are in the hunt for the title

Florida State Seminoles, BCS Championship

Quarterback Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates Vizio BCS National Championship Game victory.

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The 2014-15 college football season kicked off on Thursday, so for the next five months, get ready to hear plenty of discussions about just who should play for the National Championship.

In previous years, that decision was left to the computers, which compiled rankings from various polls, considered strength of schedule and crunched inverse numbers in order to put the two best teams on the field for the BCS Championship Game. Not surprisingly, this solution left much to be desired…and not just because sports and algorithms have about as much in common as, well, football and futbol.

This year, things are a bit different: We've finally got a College Football Playoff. But that doesn't mean the polls aren't still important – witness the unveiling of this season's first AP Top 25, which ranked the best teams based on little more than speculation and preseason promise. We read it and thought to ourselves "You know what? This looks easy."

Using that poll as a template, we've created the RS Top 25, our rankings of the best musical acts from this year's college powerhouses. Turns out, it's not as simple as it seemed – some schools have enough famous musical alumni to fill a library, while others required a bit more work (and some stretching of the rules).  No poll is ever going to be perfect.

But, hey, at least we didn't use any math. From George Clinton to Jimi Hendrix, and just about everyone in between, here's our first Top 25. 

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Robert Cray

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3. Oregon / Robert Cray

Modern bluesman Robert Cray moved around, in the finest bluesman tradition, but he founded the Robert Cray Band in Eugene, Oregon. Unlike the Oregon Ducks, sporting a perpetual-motion-machine offense and garish Nike uniforms, Cray is a classic throwback…but solos like the one on "Smoking Gun" never go out of style.

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The Flaming Lips

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4. Oklahoma / The Flaming Lips

Norman, Oklahoma is where Vince Gill was born and the Chainsaw Kittens flailed, and somewhere between those two are the Flaming Lips, long-running weirdos of the Plains. Currently based in Oklahoma City, the Lips got their start in Norman, and here's footage of a 1990 concert (supposedly the one that got them a deal with Warner Bros.) at local venue Rome 90.

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Scrawl

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5. Ohio State / Scrawl

In the late '80s and early '90s, Columbus, Ohio had a music scene that turned out not to be a threat to Seattle – actually, it turned out to not even be a threat to Dayton, an hour down Interstate 70. But in an era when the Ohio State Buckeyes weren't doing much on the field, the city produced one amazing band, Scrawl. They were a great lo-fi rock trio: three women doing plain-spoken songs about love, sour relationships and beer.

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6. Auburn / Man or Astro-man?

Jimmy Buffett went to Auburn (but graduated from Southern Miss) and so did American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and Toni Tennille…but it's spaced-out surf-rockers Man or Astro-man? – formed at Auburn (or the outer-reaches of the galaxy) in the early '90s – that represent the university here. Why? Mostly because we're huge Mystery Science Theater 3000 nerds.

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The Doors

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7. UCLA / The Doors

Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met when they were both attending UCLA film school (Morrison made one student film, which featured free-form editing and a scantily clad girl dancing on top of a TV set showing marching Nazis). In 2014, the UCLA Bruins hope to "Break on Through" to the College Football Playoff.

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8. Michigan State / The Verve Pipe

East Lansing is a 90-minute drive from Detroit, so it would have been easy to borrow from the Motor City's rich musical heritage here…but this list is serious business, so instead, we're going with the Verve Pipe, founded in East Lansing in the early '90s. In June, they put out their first album in 13 years, but for the purposes of our poll, here's their biggest (and only) hit, "The Freshmen."

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9. South Carolina / Hootie & the Blowfish

The four members of Hootie & the Blowfish were all students at the University of South Carolina, and gradually expanded their audience from bars and frat parties to every corner of the universe, circa 1995. They made a football reference in the hit single "Only Wanna Be With You:" regrettably, it's "the Dolphins make me cry," not "the Gamecocks make me cry." Though, after last night's loss to Texas A&M, we bet Darius Rucker shed a tear or two.

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10. Baylor / Willie Nelson

Did you know Willie went to Baylor? Does he? After a stint in the Air Force, Nelson briefly attended the university, though he dropped out to work as a radio disc jockey and play in honky tonks. Soon after, he'd make his way to Nashville, where he'd sign a publishing contract with Pamper Music and release his first album, 1962's …And Then I Wrote. Here's a cut from that album, "Hello Walls."

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11. Stanford / Andrew W.K.

If there was ever an artist that should be put in charge of football cheers, it's relentless party-starter Andrew W.K. Fortunately for the Stanford Cardinal, W.K. hails from nearby Palo Alto, ready to encourage the team to "Tear It Up." And we bet, in a pinch, they'd be able to convince him to wear the Tree costume, too.

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12. Georgia / R.E.M.

Athens, Georgia is about as fertile a musical bed as this country has ever seen, producing a bumper crop of important acts that dates back to the 1970s. Widespread Panic, Flat Duo Jets, Vic Chesnutt, the B-52s, Danger Mouse and the majority of Elephant 6 collective all spent time beneath the Arch, though there's no band more synonymous with the city than R.E.M., who formed there in 1980. Here's "Radio Free Europe," from their legendary debut, Murmur.

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13. Louisiana State University / Better Than Ezra

David Letterman identified Better Than Ezra as hailing from New Orleans, but they actually formed in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles down the highway – plus, they started the band when they were LSU students. "Good" seems like a modest goal for the LSU Tigers, especially considering how tough the SEC West is shaping up to be once again.

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14. Wisconsin / Butch Vig

Madison is Badger Country, not to mention the former home of Butch Vig's late, great Smart Studios, where he recorded iconic albums like Nirvana's Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish (not to mention just about every band of note from the past two decades). It's also where he produced the most successful albums from his band, Garbage, including their self-titled debut, which featured the hit "Stupid Girl."

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15. University of Southern California / Fleetwood Mac

Cole Porter wrote fight songs for Yale ("Boola Boola"); USC got "Tusk," a hit single from Fleetwood Mac that featured the Trojans marching band, both on record and in this video (alongside Stevie Nicks twirling a baton and Christine McVie toting a glass of white wine, which is kind of how we imagine Lane Kiffin spent his time as coach).

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16. Clemson / Lee Brice

Brice actually attended Clemson on a football scholarship, though an arm injury shifted his focus to country music. And it's a good thing, because after breaking in to the business as a songwriter for artists like Jason Aldean and Garth Brooks, he went solo, scoring hits like "Love Like Crazy," and "I Don't Dance," which became a top 10 hit on Billboard's country chart this month.

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17. Notre Dame / John Mellencamp

There have been other rock stars from Indiana (Michael Jackson, Axl Rose), but they mostly seemed distinguished by their desire to leave the Hoosier State as quickly as possible. John Mellencamp stuck around, as pugnacious as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. "Hurts So Good" is the motto for two-a-days.

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18. Ole Miss / Pepper Keenan

Oxford, Mississippi is where Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying and Archie and Eli took snaps under center, the home of Fat Possum Records and Sweet Tea Studios. A host of bluesmen also drifted through over the years, but metal icon Pepper Keenan was born there, and here's "Albatross," a track from his time fronting Corrosion of Conformity.

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19. Arizona State / Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper, the band, started in Phoenix; lead singer Vincent Furnier soon took the group's name as his own. Check out Alice Cooper making a live appearance with the Foo Fighters, performing "I'm Eighteen" (true for many college football players, including the Arizona State Sun Devils) and "School's Out" (a stinging indictment of the NCAA?)

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20. Kansas State / Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

OK, so Manhattan, Kansas is home to Dawayne Bailey (who toured with Chicago and Bob Seger) and audio engineer Tom Oberheim (inventor of the DMX drum machine), but when it comes down to it, the most famous former resident is Elvira, who was born there as Cassandra Peterson, and has since gone on a lengthy career that includes spooky music videos like 1985's "Trick or Treat."

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21. Texas A&M / Lyle Lovett

Lyle Lovett graduated from Texas A&M in 1980 with a double major in German and journalism. He specializes in wry country-inflected songs rather than anthems suitable for the Aggies football team – but "That's Right (You're Not from Texas)" can work in a pinch. Just don't tell native son Johnny Manziel.

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22. Nebraska / Matthew Sweet

Johnny Carson is an alumnus, but Lincoln is the home of Matthew Sweet, criminally under-appreciated alt-rock/power pop guitarist who cut a string of great albums in the '90s, beginning with 1991's standout Girlfriend. Here's the title track from that album…just try not to play air guitar while listening.

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23. North Carolina / Superchunk

Chapel Hill is home not just to the North Carolina Tar Heels, but a thriving indie rock scene – in large part because of local band Superchunk and the record label they founded, Merge. "Mower," their 1992 classic, both exults in violence and regrets it – not unlike football fans who know about the effects of concussions.

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24. Missouri / Sheryl Crow

Before she broke through with 1993's Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow was a standout at Mizzou, where she not only sang in a local band (the awesomely named Cashmere) but was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta and worked as a "Summer Welcome" orientation leader. Speaking of welcoming, here's her hello to the world, "All I Wanna Do"

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25. Washington / Jimi Hendrix

Seattle has not exactly been deprived of great rock acts (Nirvana, Heart, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, to name five), but native Jimi Hendrix remains the king. Shouldn't they play his version of the national anthem before every Washington Huskies game – actually, every single sporting event in the city?

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