12 Best College GameDay Atmospheres in College Football
Every week of the college football season, ESPN's College GameDay chooses one site to visit. Sometimes, there are many games that are well-worth watching, but GameDay brings with it a level of excitement that is unmatched during normal matches between two teams.
For starters, if GameDay comes to your stadium, it means that the game has major implications. More often than not, it means there are dire consequences for either team if it loses that particular tilt.
GameDay isn't going to come watch an 11-0 Ohio State team take on an 0-11 Michigan squad when there are two undefeated teams battling in another conference.
If GameDay is at your venue, then you're in for a real treat. ESPN announcers, reporters and their entourages are all there, and they make your game larger than life.
When your game is already a heated rivalry match, the adrenaline and excitement are oozing from every nook and cranny of the campus in epic proportions.
Here are the 12 best College GameDay atmospheres in college football.
12. Oregon Ducks vs. USC Trojans
Why is this game so low on the list? To keep this list as current as possible, the quality of the teams involved is given minor consideration.
Oregon is still commandingly near the top of the Pac-12, but USC faltered a bit in 2012. It's still one of the best matches to host GameDay, regardless of whose home stadium it comes to.
Oregon and USC have built a current rivalry based on power, and in the good years, it approaches the greatness of any other rivalry in the country. Unfortunately, this game looks to have taken an unannounced hiatus for the time being.
The 2012 outcome mattered much more to Oregon than it did to USC, but the game itself was still offensively spectacular. It should be illegal to stack that kind of adrenaline on top of a GameDay experience.
As long as one of the teams can alter the destiny of the other, this GameDay venue will provide tens of thousands with permanent memories of what it means to be a college football fan.
This is the first of 12 games that remind us we are all lucky that adrenaline and endorphins aren't controlled substances.
11. USC Trojans vs. Stanford Cardinal
USC and Stanford put on a production this past year, and Stanford's defense stole the show. If there is any legitimate reason to bring GameDay here, it will happen.
Stanford and USC have one of the fiercest in-state rivalries in the country, and there is only one in-state USC rivalry that brings more to the table for general college football fans.
A Stanford vs. USC game will always leave a lasting impression, but GameDay being on site simply means that it's likely to be a great game with national implications.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans
One of the most storied rivalries in history, the Notre Dame vs. USC GameDay match belongs on football fans' bucket lists regardless of which stadium it's held in.
The rivalry itself is intense whenever the teams are good, such as in 2012. However, when GameDay brings Lou "Notre Dame-is-going-to-win-the-national-championship-this-year" Holtz to the event, things can get downright crazy on the set.
It would be awesome if someone would slip Holtz a stadium-sized hot dog and a cold beer, then set up a video camera to stream him live, uncensored and uninhibited at one of these games. (Spoiler alert: Those results would probably not be much different from reality.)
Of course, if you're there, you can just watch Holtz yourself and blog about it later.
9. Oklahoma Sooners vs. Texas Longhorns
The Red River Rivalry can get insane in a hurry when both teams are competitive and playing great football.
These two Big 12 powerhouses put on a show more often than not (2012 being an obvious "not"), and ESPN's presence in the area always manages to get fans to take things up a notch.
If you're going to enjoy a Texas vs. Oklahoma match as a general college football fan, at least wait until GameDay goes there. When each of these teams is at the top of its game, the battle is worth spending the time to get the full experience.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this slide mistakenly discussed both campuses instead of the traditional setting of Dallas.
8. Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal
Recently, there has been one certainty about the outcome of this game: The loser will no longer be in control of its own conference destiny.
Oregon and Stanford have become the top teams in the Pac-12 over the past few seasons, and it's a bit of a shame that they aren't in different divisions. The good side is that the game always matters.
The fans that attend the game know that the outcome potentially matters more than that of any other match. A win here can set you up for a national title. A loss can count you out as early as Week 3.
When GameDay selects a match, the game starts immediately. Stanford fans talk about defense and power, and Oregon fans talk about offense and speed.
Saturday arrives, the air thickens with anticipation, and the stadium erupts with noise. GameDay is a special part of the football culture, and it elevates each game to such lofty heights that no other experience can match it.
Oregon vs. Stanford, the battle for the division, will always attract fans. ESPN just magnifies the total experience.
It's still a relatively new rivalry, but the longer it goes on with quality teams on both sides of the ball, the older it will get.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide vs. LSU Tigers
This is another relatively new rivalry as far as national implications are concerned. Nick Saban built LSU into a championship team, and Les Miles ingeniously sustains that championship level of play.
Alabama's participation in this game didn't really mean a lot until after Saban took over in 2007. However, in his short tenure in Tuscaloosa, Saban has rebuilt Alabama into a constant title contender.
Whether it's a night game in Death Valley or an evening event at Bryant-Denny, the usual SEC West-powerhouse air mixes with the GameDay storm front to create one of the most explosive days in college football.
Everybody knows that the SEC champion is going to the national title game. Try as the teams might, something always happens to let even a one-loss non-champion into the bout.
GameDay plus the night atmosphere in either stadium is a recipe for insanity, and no college football fan can pass up insanity with a clear conscience.
6. Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles
One thing is sure when you attend this game: Florida State will always win the mascot battle. It's not even close. Even on GameDay, when Corso spears the little patch of turf, Florida State wins the entertainment battle every time.
Chief Osceola is just that memorable. The only way to make this in-state rivalry more intense is to do one (or both) of two things:
1. Bring Lee Corso and a giant Gator head.
2. Bring two teams from Florida that are evenly matched.
That second tidbit had been lacking over the past few years until 2012. The 2012 edition of the game was the first non-blowout since 2006.
Now that both teams are poised to bring talented, well-coached players onto the field, this GameDay experience is moving back up the rankings rather quickly.
It doesn't matter what kind of a spin you put on it, nobody wants to waste an entire trip on a blowout. Sure, it's fun to see and all, but blowouts suck the life out of rivalry parties.
Plus, blowouts get ESPN announcers in trouble, so it's best if GameDay sticks to quality games. When this match is even, it's one of the best trips you'll ever take.
5. Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
With zero top-level professional sports programs located inside the state of South Carolina, this game is the state championship.
Since Steve Spurrier arrived at South Carolina, the balance of power has shifted in favor of the Gamecocks of late.
With Tajh Boyd and Dabo Swinney over at Clemson, though, the game is no longer certain until the final whistle has blown.
When ESPN GameDay arrives on scene, fans know that someone could get knocked out of BCS bowl contention with a loss in the rivalry.
While this game can't determine either team's fate in its conference, undefeated seasons, Sugar Bowls and annual state bragging rights are all on the line.
Regardless of which stadium this takes place in, you will be treated to one of the best team entrances in college football.
This will happen after a long day of festivities provoked by the ESPN crew's presence. Just thinking about GameDay at either venue will get these teams' fans salivating for the next season to kick off.
4. Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators
When the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party collides with GameDay, nobody can predict what will happen.
These two current SEC East powers clash on an annual basis, but ESPN does not show up with the same frequency.
In 2010 and 2011, the Gators were not nearly as successful as they were last year, and Georgia was not seriously on the national radar until 2011.
Now that Florida has found its defense, though, this game should become a fairly regular scene for ESPN's crew.
If you've ever been to this game, you know that the pregame party is an excellent experience. Everyone is friendly, and food and drink are plentiful. As soon as the pregame show ends, though, it's an all-out war for which side can make more noise.
Usually, the home team wins the battle, but when both teams are highly ranked, the noisier base is usually the one whose team is winning on the field. It's really a vicious cycle of fans pumping up their team so the team can pump up the fans.
3. USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins
State championships are nice and all, and proximity-driven rivalries are also wonderful. However, there are few football teams that are as close together as these two Pac-12 contenders (14 miles).
(Duke and North Carolina are 10 miles apart, but they just recently showed the nation that they weren't using their football programs just to hide extra basketball recruits.)
The battle for Los Angeles happens every season on the football field, but the battle is never over. It starts on the recruiting trail years in advance, and neither team wants to lose even a millimeter of ground. Not even in the pregame show.
Since UCLA got decimated by USC 50-0 in 2011, it didn't look like GameDay was coming back to the city unless the Oregon Ducks brought it with them.
Now that UCLA has won a Pac-12 South title without relying on sanctions to force it into the position, GameDay gurus probably have this game circled as a strong possibility for the 2013 season.
GameDay plus two fanbases that could hit each other with spit wads from their dorms? Yes, please.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers
The Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football, and the winner of the last four meetings between these two teams has gone on to win the national championship.
Just like South Carolina, Alabama doesn't have any major professional sports teams, so this is the state championship.
When GameDay arrives in either Auburn or Tuscaloosa, fans know that the game carries more than just bragging rights in its wake. In 2009 and 2010, the team that won was not the team that took the early lead.
Unfortunately, Gene Chizik ruined the rivalry for Tigers fans in 2011 and 2012, but he did leave behind a lot of talent on his way out the Auburn door. That means that the Iron Bowl could be GameDay-worthy as early as this coming season.
After all, you don't need to be a national contender to knock a championship-bound team off its path. Whether in Tuscaloosa with the Bear Bryant museum or in Auburn with the War Eagle pregame show, GameDay makes this a larger-than-life match.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
Whether it's at the Horseshoe or in the Big House, this game features one of the greatest atmospheres in college football even without the ESPN crew around.
Over the years, the coaches and players change and the fanbases both yield to the next generation. The single constant is The Game.
It will always be circled in red (or blue) on calendars all over both states, and it will always matter. It matters for recruiting, it matters for bragging, and it matters to Kirk Herbstreit.
Having Herbstreit at the Ohio State-Michigan game is exactly like having Lou Holtz at any Notre Dame game. It's just that fun. Granted, Herbstreit is not as verbose or confrontational as Holtz, but he's an Ohio State alum.
The Game is now on, as Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are settling in for what could be a long battle of wits. Adding ESPN's GameDay to the mix just makes it more intense. (And you didn't think it was possible.)