National Signing Day: The 50 Best Campuses in College Football
Big-time prep stars are catered to when they make their official visits to campuses across the nation. But do they really look at what makes a campus great?
Sure, a great game-day environment, a packed stadium and a tailgate party to-die-for are important.
So are the coaching staff, playing time and facilities.
But do they care about the beauty of the overall campus or the social life in and around the campus? Maybe, but it probably doesn't play a huge factor in their decision.
If they did care, this would be their cheat sheet in learning about the 50 best campuses in college football.
50. Southern Mississippi
Southern Mississippi's football history is rich and highlighted with upsets of major programs throughout the years.
The Golden Eagles can compete with the big boys when it comes to campus amenities.
The Hattiesburg campus is attractive and has 180 buildings packed on the 300 acres that Brett Favre once roamed.
49. South Florida
The University of South Florida has a number of campuses located across the state, but the many attractions around Tampa make it a popular location.
The region has a lot of big-time concerts and other entertainment options to make it very attractive to 18-year-olds.
Cal-Berkeley has a great academic reputation, but it is also meticulous and serene campus.
Two branches of Strawberry Creek flow into campus, and there are trees that date back to the late 1800s.
South Hall, one of two original buildings still standing, was erected in 1873.
Now that's the type of history that translates into a great on-campus lore.
Florida's campus life is one of the best in the nation, as the students have earned a reputation for having a good time when they aren't in class.
Greek life is also popular, and with temperatures usually around 70-85 degrees during the academic year, there is no question that Gainesville is a popular destination.
Florida's most notable building is the Century Tower (pictured), which is a 157-feet tall.
Located in Eugene, Ore., the Oregon campus is near the Willamette River, Cascade Mountains and Pacific Ocean.
With close to 500 species of trees, Oregon is perfect for the nature lover.
I'm not sure how many football players fall into this category, but it's a healthy place to live for three to five years.
Nebraska has a rich football tradition, but the Lincoln campus is also well-known for a sense of community.
The students are part of more than 400 organizations on campus that volunteer in the community and provide programs that show off campus pride and school spirit.
The campus also boasts a robust fraternity and sorority system.
Connecticut is a basketball school, but the football program has become more competitive over the years.
While the Huskies are led by the stoic Paul Pasqualoni, the UConn campus is a little more fun.
A large portion of the students live on campus, so that naturally makes for some good times.
The university also supports a strong and lively student life experience.
If none of that excites you, then wait until basketball season, and you'll see one of the best men's and women's programs in the nation.
Just getting the opportunity to chant, "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU," with thousands of other students is reason enough to attend Kansas.
However, the urban campus has plenty to offer as well.
Bailey Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Hoch Auditorium still stands and the 3,500-seat facility hosts a number of quality events each year.
Does the Sooner Schooner ride across campus?
Oh well, there's still plenty to do and see in Norman, Okla.
Oklahoma has two major museums—the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
If you need more football, then OU has statues honoring its five Heisman winners, as well as statues of famous Native Americans, who are prominent in state history.
Any school that features the World's Largest Drum has to put on some worthwhile parades across campus and in the city.
The Purdue Mall or Engineering Mall leads to the quad, which is an original part of campus. Students love to congregate here on nice days.
Adding to the charm of campus is University Hall, which is the only one of the original six buildings still standing.
The Engineering Fountain adds a special feel, while the Horticultural Gardens is one of the more colorful areas at Purdue.
UCLA is in football-rich Los Angeles, and new coach Jim Mora also has a sweet campus to sell to recruits.
There are 163 buildings on the 419-acre campus that is located near great shopping in Westwood and the famous Sunset Boulevard.
The campus has also been the site of many Hollywood movies, so there's a good chance you'll see some famous folks strolling among the coeds.
If you care about the environment, UCLA has one of the nation's most sophisticated transportation programs.
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has attracted some quality football players over the years, as the Hawkeyes have become a consistent Big Ten program.
Like many schools, I'd think if Ferentz can get a prospect on campus then the student-athlete will likely fall in love with the campus.
The school is located in Iowa City, so many students like the urban atmosphere.
On campus, The Pentacrest is considered the center of academic life as it involves five buildings, including the Old Capitol.
Since Texas is situated in one of the coolest cities in the U.S., especially for the 18-23 crowd, you could move UT up the list a little.
Austin has trendy restaurants, great music scene and one of the best nightlifes of any college campus in America.
The campus has an underground tunnel system that links the entire campus for Texas' nearly 40,000 undergraduates.
The Beaux-Arts Main Building is a signature landmark on campus.
After a 2-10 season, Randy Edsall needs every recruiting advantage at his disposal.
He should consider pitching the beauty of the Maryland campus.
Maryland loves putting columns on buildings at the tune of 770 total across the campus.
The College Park campus also has some of the nicest green spaces of any ACC school.
36. West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen is more concerned about leading West Virginia into the Big 12 in 2012, but he can't go wrong showing recruits around campus.
Morgantown may be considered rural because it is in the mountains of West Virginia, but the city has grown tremendously, and it's not far from Pittsburgh.
WVU's campus is split into two—Evansdale and Downtown. The athletic events take place on Evansdale, while Downtown is where a majority of classes are held and also where the parties happen.
Woodburn Circle remains the iconic spot on campus.
The winters in Syracuse, N.Y., can be long and trying.
But the Syracuse campus life can be a bright spot for students.
Three SU buildings—the Crouse Memorial College (pictured), the Hall of Languages and Pi Chapter House of the Psi Upsilon fraternity—are on the National Register.
Of course, there is the Carrier Dome, which is the home for both the football and basketball teams.
34. North Carolina State
North Carolina State is located in picturesque Raleigh, N.C.
The campus fits in perfectly.
One iconic fixture is the Memorial Tower (pictured), which was completed in 1937 and erected to honor the 33 alumni who died in World War I.
The plaza is known as The Brickyard because of the abundance of brick walkways, which contain mosaics and other patterns within them.
Football takes a backseat to basketball at Kentucky, so Rupp Arena is easily the most popular venue on campus.
But the Lexington, Ky., school has much more to offer that makes it one of the nation's best campuses.
Kentucky officials have invested hundreds of millions in renovation and building projects to add to an already dynamic campus.
Let's see how that pitch works for Joker Phillips.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney is all about building on this past season's ACC championship, so if he doesn't stop to soak in the atmosphere on campus he should be excused.
However, he may stop occasionally at the Reflection Pool near Cooper Library to remind himself how lucky he is to be the head coach at Clemson.
Clemson also has a lively fraternity and sorority scene, so there is plenty to sell to a football recruit.
Of course, there's the electric atmosphere at Death Valley on Saturdays in the fall.
31. Michigan State
Michigan State may be overshadowed by the University of Michigan, but the folks on the East Lansing campus have nothing to be embarrassed about.
MSU offers plenty of cultural activities at facilities like the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.
The campus covers more than 5,000 acres with classic buildings and an abundance of trees, which are beautiful in the fall.
Lane Kiffin is having a good offseason.
It started when Matt Barkley and a few other juniors decided to return for their senior season.
Now USC is considered a BCS contender for 2012.
Well, USC's student activities have never had an off year. The outstanding weather, combined with a great campus in Los Angeles, makes USC an attractive option.
Of course, you never know when Will Ferrell might be seen at USC.
We talk a lot about traditions as one of the main draws to college football; well, the same is true for the overall university.
At Arizona, when the freshmen arrive each fall they repaint the "A" on A Mountain. They've been doing this since 1914.
Do you think Rich Rodriguez will let his freshmen participate? I wouldn't be shocked if he did.
The campus is nicely tucked into the greater Tucson area, and then you mix in some great weather and you can see why Arizona is a great location.
Ohio University's football team used to be a laughingstock.
Those days ended when Frank Solich arrived.
But Solich is still trying to convince 18-year-olds to venture into one of Ohio's most rural campuses in the southeastern part of the state.
Yep, you are in Appalachia. But that country setting is beautiful and can appeal to many.
The campus is equally appealing.
27. Colorado State
Fort Collins, Colo., is one of those cities everyone would enjoy living in, and since Colorado State is smack dab in the community it's easy to see why this is a great location.
The Oval, a large, 2,065-foot green space lined with 65 American Elm trees, is a focal point of campus.
Spruce Hall, which was built in 1881, is the oldest building on campus and houses the Admissions Office, making it one of the first places any potential students see.
New coach Jim McElwain needs every advantage he can get right now.
There's just something about the SEC schools and their southern charm.
Georgia fits the bill.
Herty Field, which sits in the center of North Campus, was once the home football field. Now that's a great story to tell recruits.
Another recognizable North Campus landmark is the cast-iron gateway that stands at the main entrance. It is known as "The Arch."
Georgia has endured numerous additions and renovations on campus, but the university has been great about sticking with its historic roots. This has allowed the campus to blend well.
25. Miami, Fla.
Let's keep this simple.
It's Coral Gables, Fla. OK, it rains in south Florida, but the weather is nearly perfect during the academic year.
You get to wear shorts all year round, and you aren't too far from South Beach.
Who knows, maybe you'll run into LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
24. Penn State
We got a brief glimpse at an uglier side of the Penn State campus this fall, but anyone who has been to State College knows the university is a gem.
Old Main (pictured) is an iconic symbol on the University Park campus and was the location of the protests after the firing of Joe Paterno.
While Beaver Stadium is an ugly behemoth, the rest of the campus is a pure delight.
Missouri is making the jump to the SEC, so its Midwestern roots could be challenged in 2012.
Gary Pinkel's football team will be challenged like never before also.
However, Missouri's campus can stack up with the best of them in the SEC.
The tower of Memorial Union is one of the best student gathering places, and it includes many meeting rooms, places to eat and offers a location for special events.
There is nothing more impressive than the six columns that all remain from the Academic Hall, which was destroyed by a fire on Jan. 9, 1892. It's that kind of history and symbolism you find on college campuses.
Michigan football fans and the players are well aware of the Big House and the Michigan Golf Course that plays host to some of the best tailgating.
But the UM campus, which is divided into four areas, has more than 500 buildings and some of the best green spaces in the country.
There may not be a prettier place than Michigan's campus on a nice fall day.
You are going to school in Hawaii.
Seriously, do you even care what the campus is like?
You have the beach, great weather and tanned bodies.
I'm in for that.
As cold as it gets in Minnesota, the flagship university better have one kick-butt campus.
Luckily, the University of Minnesota has delivered on that promise.
It's also a bonus that the students are near the St. Paul/Minneapolis metropolitan area.
Let's face it, the football team isn't a good enough reason to go to this school.
19. Miami, Ohio
Miami has been called the "Cradle of Coaches," but the Mid-American Conference school is much more than a stepping stone.
Academically, Miami is the best of the MAC, and the campus has seven historic landmarks, including William Holmes McGuffey Museum.
Greek life is very popular as well, and Miami has been called the Mother of Fraternities because of the large number of fraternities.
Northwestern is located near one of the greatest U.S. cities (Chicago), so this alone makes it a great destination.
The food and entertainment options are among the best.
Northwestern is located along Lake Michigan, so students can go to the "beach" when the weather allows it. Of course, there is also the chance for lake-effect snow.
One of the first impressions any new or prospective student gets is "The Arch" as they enter the main campus.
University Hall, which was the second building on campus in 1869, is the oldest one still on campus.
17. Wake Forest
While Wake Forest reminds me of a gated community or a country club, there is no denying the beauty of the campus.
The lawn is perfectly manicured, and the landscaping is meticulous on the small, 350-acre campus.
Students love to mingle on the T.K. Hearn Plaza, and after huge athletic victories this is where the students conduct "Rolling the Quad."
Located in charming Winston Salem, N.C., Wake Forest is not too far from bigger cities.
16. Florida State
Florida State is located in the state capital of Tallahassee, and it retains some of the charm of old Florida.
The Heritage Grove is a popular location on campus because of the quality living accommodations, while the Westcott Building (pictured) is one of the most historic places on campus.
A newer Rec SportsPlex is the largest intramural sports complex in the world with 12 football fields, five softball fields, four soccer fields, along with basketball and volleyball courts.
While you are in Florida, students can experience a little bit of the seasons in Tallahassee. However, you still get a lot of nice weather to enjoy the outdoors at FSU.
While Rice is located in downtown Houston, campus officials have found a way to maintain a great deal of green space.
The campus architecture includes a lot of columns and archways, which are very appealing.
Being in the middle of a metropolitan area offers the student body a great number of recreational opportunities off-campus.
It might be enough just to say Colorado is located in the majestic Boulder area.
But the main campus has plenty to offer the student body.
The west end of campus includes The Hill, which is one of the more popular areas on campus. It includes good shopping, bars, eateries and student housing. Boulder is known for having a hearty nightlife.
Colorado's Macky Auditorium Concert Hall is arguably the best known location on campus. The Neo-Gothic style structure houses most of the performing arts programs.
13. Texas A&M
Any recruit would have to be impressed with "The 12th Man" at Kyle Field.
Obviously, there is more to the 5,200-acre campus than a football field.
One unique aspect is the A&M campus is divided by a railroad track. The east side is known as Main Campus, while the other side is West Campus.
The George Bush School of Government and Public Service and the George Bush Presidential Library are on the West Campus.
There are many Alabama fans who consider Bryant-Denny Stadium a place of worship, but the 1,800-acre campus is much more than a football field.
The Tuscaloosa campus has four buildings that were built before the Civil War and are still used to this day. One of those is the president's house.
Alabama students can visit an art museum, natural history museum, Morgan Auditorium and the Allen Bales Theater.
The Quad is the centerpiece on campus, and it includes a campanile with a 25-bell carillon.
Is there really anything else at Duke besides Krzyzewskiville?
Well, the area outside Cameron Indoor Stadium where the students camp out before Duke basketball games is cool. And it is a legitimate reason to consider Duke as a place to attend school (let's not forget the high academics as well).
Duke boasts an 8,600-acre campus that is also well-known for the Duke Chapel (pictured) and the Perkins Library.
10. U.S. Military Academy (West Point)
West Point has a statue to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Now that's inspiring.
The campus is dominated by Neo-Gothic buildings that were made with gray and black granite.
West Point boasts 15,000 acres and offers great views of the Hudson River and Highland Falls.
The campus also has a cemetery that must be awe-inspiring to walk through, as it is the burial place for military icons like George Armstrong Custer, Winfield Scott and William Westmoreland.
9. Ole Miss
When you think of southern charm, it would fit the Ole Miss campus.
Regular readers of Bleacher Report are well-aware of the tailgating experiences had at The Grove before football games, but the university offers much more.
The campus is packed with gorgeous buildings and has the beautiful landscaping and green space you would expect on a campus. Typical of a southern university, Greek life is the key to a social life.
The Lyceum, built in 1848, is the oldest building on campus and is featured on Ole Miss' official crest.
I have always thought of the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a football school with an old but iconic stadium.
But the campus has a lot to offer as well.
UW is located near two sizable lakes—Mendota and Monona—and the student body is able to use both of these for recreation.
The 900-acre campus is just a mile from the state capitol building, which also offers many opportunities for students looking to get into government work.
Bascom Hall is a national landmark as well as a popular location for student activity.
The University of Washington may be in a big city, but it still has one of the more picturesque campuses in the nation.
UW students are blessed with great views of Mount Rainier, the Cascade Range and the Olympic Mountains.
Denny Hall, which was built in 1895, is the oldest building on campus.
We may think of the students gathering for a tailgate before a big game, but the students also like to congregate on the quad when the cherry trees are blooming.
6. North Carolina
North Carolina was built in the perfect college town of Chapel Hill.
The 700-acre campus is divided into two sections—Polk Place and McCorkle Place—and it is loaded with beautiful landscaping throughout both areas.
The Old Well, which is based on the Temple of Love in the Garden of Versailles, is a popular location for students to get engaged.
The Morehead–Patterson Bell Tower, the Silent Sam statue and the Playmakers Theater are just a few other landmarks on campus.
The campus is beautiful, but don't overlook the charming city of Bloomington, Ind.
In just a few short minutes, students can venture off-campus and enjoy some quality restaurants and coffee houses.
The Sample Gates are a great welcome to campus, and a majority of the campus was made with Indiana limestone.
Indiana's Student Building (pictured) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The campus is nearly 2,000 acres, and it is covered with green space and riding trails.
Stanford's spacious 8,200-acre campus is just one of the many attractions of the Palo Alto, Calif., campus.
The campus boasts unbelievable views of the San Francisco Bay. A majority of the campus was destroyed in the powerful 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Major campus landmarks include the Main Quad and Memorial Church, Stanford Mausoleum and the Angel of Grief and the Stanford Arboretum.
Stanford also features Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna-Honeycomb House and the Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House—both are listed on the National Historic Register.
3. U.S. Naval Academy
The U.S. Naval Academy may not be for everyone, but the charm of the campus and community are absolutely charming.
The actual campus is small, but there is still a lot going on.
Do you like memorials and monuments? Then you've come to the right place.
Among the many are the Pearl Harbor memorial and the battle ensigns from battleships visible all around campus.
If you get inside Bancroft Hall, then you are in the largest residence hall in the world.
Thomas Jefferson's university is an architectural wonder.
When you discuss Virginia's unique campus, you always start and end with The Rotunda (pictured). It was designed by Jefferson and is the signature building.
The Academical Village, another of Jefferson's ideas, remains as a place for living and studying.
The University of Virginia is the only campus in the nation listed as a World Heritage Site.
1. Notre Dame
Most football recruits are well aware of the football stadium and have probably seen Touchdown Jesus.
If that's all you know about Notre Dame's campus, you might be sold.
But there is so much more to the quaint, 1,250-acre and architecturally-pleasing campus.
Notre Dame's campus is split between the old and new.
Other must-see features are the statue of the Virgin Mary blessing the Grotto and the Golden Dome on top of the Main Building.