With the return of college football comes the return of our favorite pregame pastime: tailgating.
Around the nation, millions of college football fans will put on the colors of their alma mater and flock to parking lots, sidewalks, groves and open fields to set up a temporary festival all centered around their team.
And with so many great atmospheres set to be reinvigorated in just a few short days, we decided to join in on the power ranking fun by listing the best tailgating sites that will be teeming with fans during Week 1.
We'll start our tailgating top 10 for Week 1 with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin.
The Badgers are coming off of yet another Big Ten Championship, having taken at least a share of the last two. The 2012 season presents a few more bumps in the road, but the good news is that Wisconsin is almost guaranteed a spot in the Big Ten Championship game this season (with Ohio State and Penn State both in the Leaders Division with Wisconsin, and both ineligible).
Seriously, does anyone honestly expect Purdue, Indiana or Illinois to perform better than Wisconsin this season?
Wisconsin has one other thing going for it in Week 1: a game against FCS Northern Iowa.
While the Panthers have been making great strides in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, they're not the kind of program that will rise up to shock the country with an upset win against Wisconsin in one of the most hostile environments.
All of this leads to a festive atmosphere in Madison—a city already well known for its great tailgating.
Once again, the Florida State Seminoles are riding high with in preseason rankings.
Florida State also ranks high on any list of top places to tailgate. The folks in Tallahassee have the sun, they have the food and—let's be honest—they have some of the nation's best-looking ladies.
Wrap that all into one giant, rabid fanbase of a Top 10 team, and you have yourself a tailgating recipe that can't miss.
Opening week beatdowns of FCS teams don't hurt, either. And Florida State gets an FCS opponent in Week 2, as well.
The Big 12 title could very well be in jeopardy of going to a new hot-shot from the east.
No, we're not talking about the football championship; we meant the title for best tailgating in the conference.
Lock up your couches, the crazies in Morgantown are coming to dinner, and they will certainly introduce a new flavor of tailgating to the folks out in the Plains.
We're not sure if Hooters was started by some West Virginia grads, but the restaurant chain's slogan could certainly describe the West Virginia fanbase: “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.”
As amazingly popular as West Virginia tailgating seems to be in the state, the Mountaineers are kept fairly low on our list because of the fans' habit of not coming out (or at least making it into the stadium) for games that don't seem to matter too much.
And a Week 1 visit from Marshall probably isn't one for which a lot of people will get terribly excited.
Still, a bonfire of couches can't be left off this list.
The Georgia Bulldogs are defending SEC East champions, and they have the look of a team eager to not only repeat, but break the West Division's stranglehold on the conference championship game.
Georgia is known as one of the nation's great party schools, and that unquestionably spills over into the quasi-sanctions tailgating on Saturdays.
Michigan State has made great strides in years past. And not just on the football field.
It wasn't all that long ago that parties and celebrations spilled over into the streets of East Lansing as riots. Between 1998 and 2005, there were four riots.
In 1998, MSU decided to ban alcohol at tailgate parties. The students rioted. The police responded with tear gas.
In 1999, Michigan State's basketball team lost to Duke in the Final Four. The students rioted. The police responded with tear gas.
In 2003, the Spartans basketball team lost to Maryland in the Sweet 16. The students rioted. The police responded with tear gas.
In 2005, MSU's basketball team lost to North Carolina in the Final Four. The students rioted. The police responded with tear gas.
There have been other disturbances over the years at MSU, following both wins and losses. Luckily, the student body has been mostly well-behaved over the previous two seasons of unqualified success in East Lansing.
All of the (now) good-natured tailgating fun has created one of the best pregame atmospheres in the Big Ten.
Start the season off as No. 13 and against a fellow B/R Top 25 team in Boise State (one of just two Top 25 versus Top 25 games in Week 1), and you have yourself one heck of an excuse to throw one heck of a party.
Was there really ever any doubt that LSU would find its way onto our Week 1 tailgating power rankings?
If there's a game in Baton Rouge, there's going to be a great tailgater; guaranteed.
LSU is known far and wide as one of the nation's top tailgating destinations, and people come from hundreds of miles away to partake in the uniquely Cajun festivities.
The No. 3 Tigers get the season underway with a visit from hapless North Texas. But unlike some colleges around the nation, the assured victory against a laughable opponent won't dampen the tailgating fervor.
Of course Ole Miss makes the list. No, not in the No. 1 spot. Don't worry, we'll explain.
The Ole Miss Rebels may not be the best college football team in the nation (or even the state of Mississippi), but as the saying goes, “...we've never lost a party.” Although with a home game against FCS Central Arkansas, the Rebels might actually win the football game this time around, too.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit The Grove on game day knows the accuracy of that statement.
Wall to wall with students dressed in their finest (dresses for the ladies, coat and tie for the gentlemen) and every assortment of southern comfort food imaginable.
The crowd is also distinctly proud of their program, despite its underachieving ways. Is it any wonder the New York Times called The Grove “the mother and mistress of outdoor ritual and mayhem.”
We said we'd explain why Ole Miss didn't find its way to its usual top spot on a tailgating power ranking.
Well, that's because Atlanta is going to see two great football games in Week 1.
The Georgia Dome will host a pair of SEC-ACC showdowns this weekend, with Tennessee and North Carolina State taking the Friday slot to be followed by Clemson and Auburn on Saturday.
Any one of these schools can throw a great tailgate by itself. Throw all four programs into the mix at a neutral site, and you have yourself one seemingly unending party in Atlanta.
The top tailgating spot for Week 1 of the 2012 college football season goes not to a campus, but to another neutral, off-campus site.
Arlington, outside of Dallas, is home to Cowboys Stadium. Last season, we were treated to a top 10 showdown between LSU and Oregon. This season, we'll have another great battle between two of the nation's best teams in No. 2 Alabama and No. 10 Michigan.
As previously mentioned, there are only two games in Week 1 featuring a pair of Top 25 teams, and this Big Ten-SEC clash is the only one to take place on Saturday.
Needless to say, this is the biggest game of the week, and with two powerhouse programs with their historic claims to greatness, it's going to be quite the spectacle.
Similarly, the tailgating before the game should be out of this world.
Both Alabama and Michigan have great reputations for pregame festivities, and both fanbases are as rabidly supportive of their team as the most blindly loyal people you can find anywhere.
The parking lots around “Jerry's House” are sure to be jam-packed full of fans clad in Crimson or proudly showing their Maize and Blue. Alabama may have a clear edge on the field come game time, but the title for best Week 1 tailgating will be evenly shared by the Wolverines and Crimson Tide.
Roll Tide; Go Blue.