Tennessee found an inspirational tune last football season.
Georgia did not, while Alabama coach Nick Saban was oblivious to the Southeastern Conference's new rule.
For the first time in its 82-year history, the SEC allowed piped-in music between downs in an attempt to energize fans -- especially the students -- in key situations. Tennessee capitalized quickly, turning the DJ Snake and Lil Jon rap hit "Turn Down For What" into "Third Down For What" and blaring it whenever foes inside Neyland Stadium faced a third down.
"'Third Down For What' really, really stimulated our players, and I thought it added another environment," third-year Vols coach Butch Jones said this spring. "You look at all the great venues across college football, and they are fan-activated venues. You also have to get fans in the stands and get your student body in the stands, so that's why you have to make sure they have an involvement in the game.
"If not, they'll just stay at home. Student-body attendance is down almost everywhere in the country, but it's not at Tennessee."
Tennessee's timing of its go-to song was impeccable, with "Turn Down For What" being released in December 2013 and staying popular throughout last year. The Vols had yielded an unimpressive 43-percent success rate on third downs during the 2013 season but stiffened last year, allowing a 34-percent clip.
The addition of menacing defensive end Derek Barnett and the return of reliable defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt went a long way in improving that statistic, but Jones believes the new song and its accompanying fan support played a part as well.
"We wanted something that when third down came up, our players understood the magnitude and our fans got involved in the game," Jones said. "We played 'Third Down For What' every time we practiced third-down situations during the week, so there was a lot of thought that went into it. I thought it really helped us take great strides."
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity was looking for such a song to energize Bulldogs fans inside Sanford Stadium but never found one to his liking. McGarity had been impressed during Georgia's 2013 opener at Clemson, when the Death Valley faithful became exuberant whenever House of Pain's "Jump Around" was played.
South Carolina has effectively cranked Darude's "Sandstorm" for several seasons now, but certain songs seem to be connecting at some locales more than others.
"We tried several and engaged our students to identify what that song might sound like, but we never were able to really land on one," McGarity said. "We are still striving to find that tune that will activate a certain response, so that's still a work in progress. We're always looking for ways to improve, but in general I think our staff did a good job of finding the right mix and doing so within the parameters that were outlined by the conference."
Finding the right mix was the biggest challenge McGarity knew he would be facing this time last year, because a freshman student will have different tastes than a 40-year season-ticket holder.
"There are pros and cons to different styles of music," he said, "and you have to take each under consideration and talk as a group about what's appropriate and what's not. It's very difficult to do, because there are so many different age groups to cover."
Those challenges completely flew over the head of Saban, who was too busy with the weekly rigors of last season to recognize the increase of piped-in music inside conference facilities.
"I know nothing about it," Saban said late last year. "If it's helping us win, I'm all for it. I never really put that down in my notes as a significant factor in how we played."
Until last season, the use of institutionally controlled sound systems and artificial noisemakers had been restricted to pregame, halftime, postgame, after a score or during timeouts. It is now being used throughout the game, except from when the center is over the football until the play is whistled dead.
The lack of knowledge hardly hurt Saban, as he guided the Crimson Tide to the league title.
Now it's on to year two, with McGarity still looking for the right song and blend and Tennessee still playing "Third Down For What," which isn't without critics. When inside linebacker A.J. Johnson and cornerback Michael Williams were arrested last November on domestic assault charges, some called for the song's removal since Lil Jon had collaborated on another song last year, "Literally, I Can't," that degraded women.
Jones says he's never going to confuse "Third Down For What" with "Rocky Top," which he considers the best song in the country.
"We will never go against our traditions here," Jones said. "You will always hear 'Rocky Top' when the University of Tennessee is playing, but there is also the challenge of staying on top of everything. We want to lead the country in innovation, and we're always setting that vision and looking for different things.
"What I want to create is a quick first-down song when our offense generates a first down. I'm taking requests, because 'Third Down For What' is going to be a staple for us."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.