College football and tailgating have become so intertwined, it's difficult to envision one without the other anymore. There are as many different stories about the origins of tailgating as there are football programs, but regardless of where it originated, it has clearly spread across America like a wildfire—a particularly entertaining wildfire.
Tailgating has become almost as important as the game itself, and for several institutions that make our top 25 tailgating schools list, the quality of tailgating far exceeds the quality of football.
Interestingly enough, actual tailgates are completely optional at a modern tailgater. One thing that isn't optional for any school on this list is pure, unadulterated awesomeness.
There are few things people enjoy more than great weather for cooking out with friends and family. Add in college football and you have the recipe for a truly spectacular afternoon.
Florida isn't called the Sunshine State for nothing, and the warm weather that lasts throughout the college football season in Tallahassee makes Florida State one of the top places to break out the grill and open a cooler while partying beneath the palm trees on one of the nation's most picturesque college campuses.
The only non-FBS program to make our list is the best-known program in the tradition-rich Ivy League. Tailgating at Harvard is an experience unlike any other, especially if you happen to be in attendance for “The Game” against Yale.
We typically think of tailgate parties as including hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, Budweiser, Miller and Coors. But if you're a fan of fine dining, tailgating at Harvard might be right up your alley. Trade those burgers and beer for wine and cheese. Paper plates and sporks give way to fine flatware and the Solo cup is replaced with crystal and glass.
Harvard is looking to make it seven straight wins over rival Yale in 2013, and the Crimson have had 12 consecutive winning seasons and are an impressive 72-18 since the start of 2004.
Tailgating outside the Rose Bowl on January 1 is an experience unlike any other. Can you imagine getting the opportunity to do it before every home game? That's exactly what students and fans of UCLA enjoy during each and every college football season.
What doesn't tailgating at UCLA have to offer? There's the atmosphere of one of the nicest areas of Los Angeles to enjoy. There's the beautiful weather. There are beautiful students. There's the history of the stadium itself. There are the beautiful students. There's the fact that the Bruins have a winning team once again. Did we mention the beautiful students?
Why wouldn't UCLA make our list of top tailgating colleges?
The United States Military Academy at West Point in New York has one of the most regimented and serious student experiences anywhere in the nation. But every other Saturday in the fall, the cadets—along with alumni, family and fans of Army football—get to unwind a little bit while overlooking the Hudson River on one of America's truly beautiful campuses.
What makes tailgating at Army so special (and fans at Navy and Air Force can even join in on this one) is the fact that everyone in attendance has no illusions about what Army football really means: It's a game—just a game.
When so many take college football so seriously, these men will actually face life-and-death battles in their lives beyond the comparatively unimportant win-loss record of their team.
If you're looking to take a picture at a tailgater that can double as a postcard, Colorado might be the place for you. The mountain setting, the seemingly endless flow of beer and the carefree nature of Buffs fans makes Colorado an experience unlike many others.
Still, the late-season cold and the elevation (5,430 feet above sea level) might take some getting used to, but there's plenty of things around Boulder to take your mind off the environment—as long as you don't care too much about whether or not Colorado actually wins the ensuing football game.
There are plenty of schools that beat out Oklahoma when it comes to tailgating, but that doesn't mean the folks at OU don't know how to throw one heckuva party.
There's a little something for everyone in Norman on game day, and the center of activity is near the intersection of Jenkins Avenue and Lindsey Street, just south of the stadium. From here, among a crush of humanity all dressed in red, you can venture in almost any direction to find some of the best tailgating for hundreds of miles.
There's something a little different—and special—about southern tailgating, and our first SEC school to make the list is no exception. Walking around Fayetteville on game day will guarantee a few experiences.
First, “Woo Pig Sooie” ringing out every minute or so is pretty cool, even if you happen to revile the Razorbacks. Secondly, the unending supply of fun and food in this quaint southern college town makes any Saturday trip to Arkansas just downright pleasing.
Each and every Saturday, there is one place in the country you can go and be guaranteed to be part of the largest football crowd in the nation.
In the 2010 census, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan had 113,934 residents. Michigan Stadium has packed in 114,804 spectators to watch Michigan take on Notre Dame. You do the math.
On any given Saturday, Ann Arbor likely becomes the second-largest city in the state of Michigan, and the massive crowd inside the stadium spends the morning and early afternoon tailgating outside the stadium.
Late-season cold weather also has an impact here, but brats and beer after playing flag football in the snow is a time-honored tradition for many who call the Great Lakes region home.
It's back to the SEC for more great southern tailgating. The Folks in Columbia certainly know how to throw a party, and with their Gamecocks rising to the top of the SEC East over the past few seasons, there's plenty to celebrate.
For South Carolina fans, football Saturdays are more than simply cooking out in a parking lot. The whole town gets involved, and the plethora of eateries and gathering places only adds to the excitement. South Carolina is also home to one of the neatest and most unique tailgating venues: the Cockabooses.
On railroad tracks running near the stadium, repurposed and replica railroad cabooses are lined up, filled with South Carolina fans.
Owners of these South Carolina-themed railroad cars have decked them out with the latest of equipment that would make an RV owner proud. From flat-screen televisions to fully stocked bars, each Cockaboose has its own unique style and make South Carolina a true tailgating hot spot.
The state of Iowa, for anyone who has driven through it, it a pretty flat, boring place. Endless acres of farmland stretch beyond the horizon in every direction, and corn is a way of life out past the Mississippi.
But for a handful of Saturdays every fall, Iowa City turns into party central as the Hawkeyes prepare to do battle on the gridiron. Folks in the Big Ten know how to throw a top-notch tailgater, and Iowa fans are no different. You can find every kind of comfort food known to man, and the state fair-like atmosphere will entertain hometown and visiting fans alike.
“Don't mess with Texas.”
Before President Georgia W. Bush made that quote famous across the nation, Texas Longhorns fans already knew that when it came to Big 12 programs, no one could mess with the size and scope of Texas football—which included the tailgating.
Success in athletics has spilled over to success in tailgating as throngs of Texas fans descend on Texas Memorial Stadium and surround it with an ocean of humanity.
The smell of Texas-style barbeque is soon thick in the air, and mouths are watering even before the first forkful is ready. Add in Texas-sized helpings of all the usual tailgate favorites along with enough beer to drown a steer and Austin becomes the undisputed champion of Big 12 tailgating.
Football at Alabama is a way of life. There are few fanbases in the nation more bloated with pride—even arrogance—than the fine people of Tuscaloosa. Winning three of the last four national titles has a way of doing that.
But even though the Crimson Tide doesn't take the top spot on our tailgating countdown, don't think for one minute that means Tuscaloosa isn't one of the best places in the United States to enjoy a college football tailgate party. Fans here are as rabid as anywhere in the world, and that dedication to success includes the traditional pregame festivities.
Southern hospitality is on full display, as long as you're wearing Alabama colors, and the sheer size and fidelity of the Tide faithful make tailgating in Tuscaloosa a spectacle that simply must be experienced firsthand to fully appreciate.
Remember how we said few fanbases in the nation are more full of themselves than Alabama's? At least Alabama has a string of recent national championships to back up that arrogance. When it comes to Ohio State, not so much.
Despite trying to manufacture some sort of championship out of the 2012 season as evidenced by the not-so-subtle, but ambiguous, “champions” ring (champions of what one might ask), Ohio State has fallen on hard times after the Jim Tressel scandal. But Buckeyes fans aren't letting the lack of trophies dampen their pregame spirits.
Ohio State fans from all over the state descend on Columbus to join tens of thousands of students in one of the biggest tailgating gatherings in the nation. As long as you're wearing scarlet and gray, you're sure to have a blast.
Any other colors—particularly maize and blue—will earn you the special privilege of hearing exactly what the good people of Ohio think of you and your team. And your state. And your mother. And your sister.
But don't let that dampen your spirit. Columbus is an amazing town with unlimited choices for eating, drinking and partying. There's a little something for everyone, and the frivolity is never in short supply.
Notre Dame is just one of those unique college football meccas that simply can never be replicated anywhere else. The ghosts of legends past roam the campus and iconic landmarks like the golden dome, Touchdown Jesus, the grotto and Notre Dame Stadium itself are everywhere you look.
Football and religion are intertwined here, and Notre Dame fans will tell you that's just what God intended. While tailgating at Notre Dame, you feel as if you're taking part in history.
Notre Dame fans are also famously welcoming—to a point. There's always some good-natured ribbing, but several seasons of lackluster performances on the field may have given Irish fans some perspective.
Pregame festivities that simply cannot be missed include the trumpets under the dome, lighting a prayer candle at the grotto, the team's walk to the stadium, the glee club, the band's march to the stadium, the concert on the steps and countless others.
The people of West Virginia typically enjoy a slower pace of life than those in other parts of the country. The mountain setting and the backwoods-feel create a serene style of living unmatched in the east.
But that all goes out the window on Saturdays in Morgantown.
From the furniture lit aflame to relentless taunting of opposing teams and their fans, tailgating at West Virginia is a unique experience for sure. Luckily, the mayhem is tempered a bit with one of the nation's best college party atmospheres.
Athens, Ga., the ordinarily sleepy college town, explodes on autumn Saturdays as the entire state focuses its attention on the Bulldogs and their latest run toward an SEC title. Southern style is again on display at this tailgater where some of the most dedicated fans in the conference gather to cheer on their beloved UGA.
Athens provides several interesting places to spend Saturday mornings and early afternoons before game time, but one of the more unusual tailgating locales in the nation is at Oconee Hill Cemetery—located on land actually owned by the university.
Clemson makes its appearance on our list of top tailgating colleges and leads the way for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tigers are going through a renaissance of sorts with their football team, and the recent success has only added fuel to one of the most rabid groups of fans in the country.
The city of Clemson puts all of its eggs in its namesake university, and the populace lives and dies with the successes and failures of the Tigers. Not surprisingly, every man, woman and child in town can be found at this city-wide party.
Tailgating at Texas A&M is a way of life. An argument could be made that the pregame festivities get underway the night before at the “Midnight Yell.” Students gather at the stadium in the middle of the night to participate in “Yell Practice,” a pep rally that is sealed with a kiss at its conclusion.
By the time daylight spreads across College Station, upward of 100,000 fans break out their grills, fill local bars and whip themselves into a frenzy before creating one of the most hostile environments in all of college football: Kyle Field, “Home of the 12th Man.”
Florida is a football program that may not have a winning tradition stretching back to the 19th century like Michigan or Notre Dame, but that doesn't stop the Gators from finding their way into the top 10 when it comes to tailgating.
The University of Florida won its first national title in 1996, 95 years after the first Wolverines title, but the folks up in Ann Arbor just can't compete when it comes to tailgating greatness.
Florida has the perfect weather for an outdoor gathering, even in November, and with many great crowd-interactive traditions and the spectacular homecoming pep rally known as “Gator Growl,” tailgating at the University of Florida is an easy top-10 candidate.
Penn State may not have the greatest weather forecast on every Saturday in the fall. But what State College, Pa., lacks in sunshine, it makes up for with pure staying power of its loyal tailgaters.
“Nittanyville,” formerly named “Paternoville,” is essentially a tent city set up by students and fans outside of Beaver Stadium—sometimes several days in advance. As game day draws closer, the marching band arrives for impromptu concerts.
Football players and coaches often show up to mingle with the Nittany Lions faithful, and rain or shine—or sleet or snow—Penn State's tailgater goes on and on. And on...
If one were to write down a list of all 50 states from memory as quickly as you could, it's probable that many would forget about the state of Wisconsin. Other than dairy products, Wisconsin isn't known for much else—except for football.
Fans of the Wisconsin Badgers are some of the most dedicated people you'll ever meet. They also have one of the most unhealthy tailgating menus ever concocted. Of course, as we all know, a synonym for “unhealthy” is “tasty.”
Besides cheese, Wisconsin is famous for its beer and its wild assortment of grease-dripping food that could have only been invented by someone forced to live through a Wisconsin winter.
Add all of these things together and you have yourself one amazing—if artery-clogging—tailgate party.
When you think of Pac-12 powerhouses, Washington isn't first on the list. It's not second or third, either. But if you change those rankings to Pac-12 tailgating powerhouses, Washington should be, nay, must be at the top of the list.
The thing you need to know about tailgating at Washington is that it doesn't so much involve tailgates as it does “stern-gates.”
Huskies fans arrive for the game in style, mooring their boats just behind Husky Stadium on Lake Washington. What results is one of the most unique tailgating atmospheres in the nation.
Another nautical-themed tailgater is another top-five tailgating experience, this time in one of the least expected—and landlocked—states.
The University of Tennessee is home to the Vol Navy, a dedicated and ever-growing group of alumni and fans that pull their boats up behind the stadium to enjoy everything the pregame festivities have to offer.
So what gives Tennessee an edge over their counterparts at Washington? To answer that, all you need to do is combine a Washington tailgater with the classic flair of an SEC football Saturday.
Coming in at our No. 2 spot is the University of Mississippi. If you're looking for the ultimate experience of traditional southern hospitality, taking in a tailgater at Ole Miss is something that must be on your bucket list.
College students are dressed in their Sunday finest while the various groups of alumni and fans gather in The Grove to create the most intense, yet somehow elegant, college party environments anywhere.
And if you thought this was just a Saturday afternoon affair, you'd be sorely mistaken. The Grove starts filling up at seven. In the evening. On Friday.
At long last, we've arrived at the top spot on our list of the top 25 college football tailgating schools, and LSU is bringing home the title this year.
There's really only one thing behind Louisiana State's claim to the tailgating title, but it's a good one: food.
It doesn't matter what kind of southern fare you're in search of, you can bet your bottom dollar that you'll find it at LSU on game day. From barbecue to alligator to gumbo to frogs legs to baby back ribs to jambalaya, Tigers fans are cooking it up and serving it to all who pass by.
It's almost as if an LSU tailgater is a food festival followed by a football game. Everyone is out to convince you that they have the best whatever it is they're cooking. LSU fans aren't afraid to serve up some amazing concoctions in cups, either. Good food, good drink and lots of both.