The Ultimate College Football Bucket List
We've all heard about the old-timer whose dying wish to is watch a baseball game in every major league stadium, or the famous group of fans—now well into their golden years—who have attended every Super Bowl. But college football has a depth of tradition to match any sport, and its breadth is unmatched. With so much to take in, there are plenty of things a die-hard college football fan can, and should, have on his or her bucket list.
Regardless of whether you're an Ohio State fan or love UCLA, cheer on the Crimson Tide or live and die with the Longhorns, these things should be on your list.
With so much to choose from, it's hard to nail down exactly what to include, but we have aimed for an eclectic, national mix any fan of the college game can add to their own team-based bucket list. Even if this list involves a despised rival, some traditions are just too grand to miss—which is why they land on our ultimate college football bucket list in the first place.
Mississippi State Cowbells
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The ringing of cowbells at Mississippi State games became such a problem for opposing teams, officials, television and radio commentators and the non-bell-toting fans that the SEC and NCAA got involved. Instructions on when—and when not—to ring the cowbells are now printed on the backs of many tickets.
Still, the sheer noise of tens of thousands of cowbells all being rang at the same time is unlike anything found in nature, and it's one of the most unique things you'll find when it comes to fan involvement.
Just remember your ear plugs.
Virginia Tech's adrenaline-pumper won't be the only team entrance on our list, but it's still one of the best you'll find anywhere.
Any college graduate can remember a time when money was so tight, coming up with enough cash to catch a football game was difficult at best. But if you happen to be attending the University of California at Berkeley, there's a way around those steep ticket prices.
Tightwad Hill overlooks the stadium and gives a pretty decent vantage point, too. From atop this aptly-named hill, you can catch all of the action without ever setting foot inside Memorial Stadium or paying for a ticket.
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Some folks love it, others hate it, but you can't escape its unique quality. While still the only non-green playing surface in the FBS, Boise State's Bronco Stadium is now just one of several college football stadiums home to a field other than green.
FCS Eastern Washington has red turf, and Division II New Haven has a Boise State-esque blue field; but it's the fields of FCS Central Arkansas and new Division II program Lindenwood that take the ugly odd-ball cake with their alternating colored fields.
Still, school children don't commit the names of the crew of Apollo 12 to memory, so making a pilgrimage to the birthplace for crazy-colored college football turf in Boise is the honoree for our bucket list.
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It all started years ago when students, desperate to get their hands on the limited number of student tickets available, began camping out days in advance of home football games. When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, Beaver Stadium switched from general admission to assigned seating. Students were now admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the first students through “Gate A” were assigned to the first row, then the second row, and so on.
In order to guarantee the best seats, students still camp out for days in advance of big games, and it has become an indelible tradition at Penn State, even in the face of a name change from Paternoville after the 2011 season.
Contrary to popular belief, a haka is not a native Hawaiian war dance. Its origins actually lie in New Zealand and was made world-famous by the Kiwi's rugby team.
Origins aside, Hawaii's performance of a haka before each football game is still incredibly cool and one of the neater traditions in college football today. The Warriors may not have the best college football team in the nation, but when it comes to war dances, they are second to none.
South Beach Smoke
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A team running out onto the field through smoke may seem a but cliché, but when it's the University of Miami, it's a tradition that has stood the test of time.
While it has a distinct 1990s feel to it, the smoke actually might help Miami fans remember the good old days when Miami had the nation's longest home win streak. Repeated NCAA violations have left the Hurricanes a shadow of their former selves, but the great thing about college football is that traditions stick around long after the pain of defeats and glory of championships fade.
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Seriously, who do you need to know to get a ride in this thing?
While technically not the mascot of Georgia Tech, the Ramblin' Wreck is one of the coolest things about Yellow Jackets football. A 1930 Ford Model A coupe, this beautifully restored car from an bygone era is the current incarnation of the original 1914 Ford Model T.
If you want to drive the Wreck out onto the field, the process is pretty simple. All you need to do is be a Georgia Tech student and get yourself elected president of the Rambln' Reck Club.
The tune may have been stolen from the song Spanish Hymn, and it may have been written in a mournful tone following an 86-0 defeat at the hands of “the school up north,” but Carmen Ohio is one of the most beautiful alma maters of any university in the world.
The players, coaches, alumni, students and fans all sing the song after every home game—win or lose—and it has become one of the best symbols of loyalty to one's team and university.
Even if you're not an Ohio State fan, just witnessing this ethereal tune being sung by thousands is enough to give you chills.
Tailgating is synonymous with college football. So what's so great about tailgating at any specific place that we had to include it on our bucket list? Well, anyone who has ever tailgated at LSU can tell you what makes it so special in Baton Rouge: the food.
At LSU, you'll find one of the widest selections of unusual culinary specialties anywhere in the nation. Hot dogs and hamburgers can be found anywhere, but gumbo, craw fish and jambalaya are just a few of the more peculiar delicacies you'll find on a Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge.
Penn State Whiteout
Whiteouts—or any other kind of “color-out”—are by no means unique. Hockey fans in Winnipeg have been wearing all white to playoff games for decades (a tradition carried over when the franchise moved to Phoenix), and college teams all over American host whiteout, blackout or orangeout games every single season.
But when well over 100,000 screaming Penn State fans all wear white in a packed Beaver Stadium, it's an amazingly awesome sight.
Believe it or not, what makes it even cooler is the few Penn State fans that don't wear white. The “Senior Section” coordinates their clothing to make a blue background for a white “S” during whiteout games.
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Former Clemson head coach Frank Howard was given a large rock, which was fairly unremarkable, by an old alumnus of the university. Howard used the rock as a doorstop to his office for years, but eventually decided to get rid of it. Technically following the coach's instructions to “get it out of my office,” the rock was placed atop a pedestal on top of the hill down which the team ran to take the field.
After Clemson knocked off conference foe Virginia in the next game, Howard decided to use the rock as a motivational tool: “Give me 110 percent or your filthy hands off my rock!” The rock has become part of Clemson's spirit, and to this day, players reverently rub the hunk of earth before running down the hill.
Go Blue Banner
For decades, the Michigan athletic booster club, “The M Club,” has had their banner stretched over the lone, narrow tunnel entrance to the field at Michigan Stadium. Every home game, the Wolverines run out under this banner, many leaping into the air to touch it as they run underneath.
The banner also used to be up for the visiting team as they ran out onto the field until Ohio State players tore it down in 1973. The epic radio call that followed from Michigan's Bob Ufer is one of the best examples of this heated rivalry. The 1973 game ended in a 10-10 tie, and both the Wolverines and Buckeyes finished with undefeated records (10-0-1 for Michigan, 9-0-1 for Ohio State). Ohio State was awarded the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, but the tie prevented the previously No. 1 Buckeyes from winning a national championship (finishing instead at No. 2). Michigan did not play in a bowl game, but this season helped end the Big Ten's “Rose Bowl or No Bowl” mentality.
The Go Blue banner has become one of the most duplicated traditions in football, trickling down to lower divisions, and even the high school level. But the banner at Michigan is one of the earliest and, undoubtedly, most famous college football banner of them all.
Rolling the Corner
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The majestic trees have been removed, and a new plan for Toomer's Corner has been developed. But the stupid actions of one idiotic man can't stop a tradition like “rolling the corner” at Auburn.
Regardless of how long it takes, and regardless of what the new intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street becomes, we're certain the proud Tigers fans will find a way to roll the corner after every big Auburn victory.
And it's an event that just has to be experienced to appreciate.
Spinning the “S”
Bands have their own traditions, and many of them involve some of the most complex formations the human mind can imagine. The SEC might be home to sequined, baton-twirling dancing girls, but it's the Big Ten that leads the way in musicianship and precision march execution.
One of the most complex and visually appealing formations performed by any marching band is the “spinning the 'S'” by Michigan State's Spartan Marching Band. If you think watching it on video is cool, it's even better in person.
There are plenty of rivalry games that should be on your bucket list, and we'll get to many of them in due course. But the first game we want to mention is also one of the oldest. It's so old, in fact, that it doesn't have a name other than “The Game.” We're talking, of course, about Harvard versus Yale.
Long before anyone at Alabama knew how to play football or anyone could point to the University of Southern California on a map, Harvard and Yale had been duking it out annually for a national championship. From the first awarding of it in 1869, either Harvard or Yale won at least a share of 35 national championships through 1920.
The Ivy League dominated college football until Michigan upset the apple cart in 1901 with the first title for a team not from the east coast, but Yale and Harvard continued to be in the national title picture until the 1930s.
Today, the Ivy League doesn't participate in the FCS playoffs, and the conference championship is the ultimate honor for these non-scholarship players. So while we won't see any crystal footballs or Heisman Trophies, attending “The Game” is still a great tradition that every college football fan should see at least once.
Don't Mess with Texas
In the state of Texas, everything has to be big, and that includes the motivational tools used by the Texas Longhorns.
While plenty of teams have something they rub, touch or slap on the way onto the field, there's just something so “Texas” about the Longhorns' choice of, well, longhorns, that is both appropriate and unique.
Any college football fan growing up in Texas has probably dreamed of touching those horns, and even if you didn't, you have to admit it would still be pretty cool.
Riding the Sooner Schooner
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There are very few pregame activities that can compare with the adrenaline and excitement of the game itself, but taking a ride on the Sooner Schooner has got to be one of them.
Even if you were born and raised in Austin, a chance to ride along on the Schooner would be an unforgettable experience. And isn't that what bucket lists are all about anyway?
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For years, the University of Notre Dame seemed to do away with their iconic gold helmets, replacing them instead with a gold paint that was more a dull taupe than resembling anything gold. Those years also happened to coincide with some pretty awful Notre Dame teams.
Thank goodness that's all in the rear-view mirror. Notre Dame is back to the traditional gold paint, and the result is nothing short of awe-inspiring nostalgia.
The helmets are repainted before each use with a reflective, mirrored gold paint that actually contains little flecks of real gold. We're not sure what this paint costs per gallon, but we're positive it's well worth the expense.
Woo Pig Sooie
Almost every college in the country has some sort of chant or cheer that is unique to their school, but Arkansas' “Woo Pig Sooie” really breaks the mold.
The chant actually only contains one word you could find in a dictionary of the English language, and that word doesn't actually have anything to do with the University of Arkansas. Still, when Hogs fans get together to do “Woo Pig Sooie,” you know exactly what they're talking about ... and you can't help but join in.
We're actually giving you a two-for-one here.
In a pair of unique college stadium locations, fans can actually opt for a more nautical version of tailgating. Nicknamed “sterngating,” fans can bring their boats right up close to the stadiums at Tennessee and Washington, providing some of the most interesting tailgating options you can find.
At many college games, the crowd runs low on energy during the middle of the second half. Nothing is ever decided late in the third or very early in the fourth quarters, so it's easy to see why fans might sit on their hands a bit.
At Wisconsin, however, this isn't a problem. The Badgers have come up with an ingenious way to keep the energy level extra high during the second half at Camp Randall Stadium with “Jump Around.” Blasted over the stadium's PA system between the third and fourth quarters, the Wisconsin faithful obey the lyrics and jump around.
It also has the advantage of keeping the blood pumping on those cold November nights in Madison.
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Here's one college football tradition where football actually takes a back seat.
The annual Army-Navy game is one of America's great traditions. Each season, Army and Navy get their own Saturday set aside in early December for a game the entire nation takes time off to watch. Even the Commander-in-Chief frequently attends, along with countless military dignitaries, Congressmen and celebrities.
While the two teams battle tooth-and-nail on the field, they come together afterward to sing each other's alma mater—reminding us all that even though we may be adversaries on the field, when the game's over, we're all Americans fighting on the same side.
Lots of schools have pep rallies. Only Texas A&M has “Yell Practice.”
Also known as “Midnight Yell,” the function has a couple of purposes. First, it really is a good, old-fashioned pep rally. Second, it is actually used as a practice of sorts, helping the student body to develop and coordinate new cheers, or “yells.”
The tradition was born in the early 1930s when a few freshman asked the senior “Yell Leaders” to organize a practice session at midnight. The seniors liked the idea but couldn't authorize the rally at such a late hour as A&M was still an all-male military academy. Still, the seniors said they might show up at midnight anyway. The band arrived to join the senior Yell Leaders, and the large group of students—and most of the student body—arrived.
Poof! Instant tradition. And a pretty awesome one at that!
Notre Dame, Our Mother
Another singing of an alma mater makes our bucket list, this time with the great hymn from the University of Our Lady of the Lake, “Notre Dame, Our Mother.”
After every home game, the Fighting Irish players are joined by their coaches, the staff, the band and the cheerleaders in front of the Notre Dame student section to sing the alma mater. Arm in arm, swaying to the music, Notre Dame fans around the stadium reverently sing this hymn to the Virgin Mary and her eponymous university in South Bend.
For an extra special treat, add this tradition to your bucket list with the caveat of doing it after a Notre Dame-Navy game. At these yearly contests, the players and coaches of the United States Naval Academy join the Notre Dame players in a touching sign of respect. Notre Dame reciprocates the respect, and the victorious team has the honor of singing last.
Michigan Stadium and the Victors
There's something special about a fight song that assumes a victory.
While pretty much every fight song in existence is sung in hopes of spurring a team to victory, “The Victors” is a celebration of a game already won. Written in 1898 after a last-minute win over Big Ten rival Chicago to clinch the conference title, the song is also one of the longest fight songs—taking nearly two-and-a-half minutes to play—which is why only the final chorus is typically played during games.
Crammed into Michigan Stadium with nearly 115,000 fans is an event in and of itself that could receive its own inclusion on our bucket list, but you'll invariably encounter “The Victors” while attending a Michigan game, so we've included them both in one entry.
Just remember, it's “maize,” not “yellow;” it's “The Victors,” not “Hail to the Victors;” and the fist pump is on the word “hail.”
World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party
Regardless of the SEC and universities' attempt to sanitize the name of this heated rivalry, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party still ranks as one of the greatest spectacles in college athletics.
The pregame run-up is nothing short of a massive party that makes other tailgaters pale in comparison—hence the (former) name. Under usually sunny skies in Jacksonville, fans from Georgia and Florida gather for their annual grudge match. Competition is everywhere, including the preparation and consumption of tailgating food and other “refreshments.”
Every year, a great time is had by all ... until a loser in the game is determined.
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Easily one of the most heated rivalries in college football, the annual meeting between in-state and conference rivals Alabama and Auburn is something you simply have to experience to appreciate.
There's no love lost between the fans of these two programs, and if you're looking for a good, old-fashioned grudge match between neighbors, make sure you make it a point to catch an Iron Bowl.
Play Like a Champion Today
We travel back to South Bend for a college football tradition that many believe is as old as the ghosts of Knute Rockne and The Gipper. At the midway landing of the stairs leading from the Notre Dame locker room to the tunnel that leads out onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium is a sign that simply reads, “Play Like a Champion Today.”
Notre Dame players all touch the sign as they proceed down the stairs, and the sign even made an appearance in the movie Rudy.
The trouble is, the sign wasn't there when Daniel Ruettiger attended Notre Dame back in the 1970s. It was installed by head coach Lou Holtz, who arrived at Notre Dame in 1986.
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There's tailgating, and then there's tailgating at The Grove. When it comes to tailgating locations, there's none more famous than this iconic spot at the University of Mississippi.
The Rebels may not be the greatest SEC power on the field, but when it comes to the pregame party, Ole Miss is the undisputed national champion.
The Rose Bowl Game
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The “Granddaddy of Them All” is so-named because it was the first bowl game—first played on January 1, 1902—and because it has long been viewed as the most prestigious of any college football bowl game in existence.
The Rose Bowl Game is played annually on either New Year's Day or January 2 in the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Typically featuring the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12, the Rose Bowl Game almost always provides a classic contest between two historic powers.
Attending a Rose Bowl Game is a must for any college football fan worth his or her salt, but it's not only about the game. The Tournament of Roses provides much more than a football game, and the events and parade are quite a spectacle—even for people who don't care about the game.
Dotting the “I”
We've mentioned marching bands before, and we've come to another iconic band formation that is probably the most famous anything to do with any band anywhere.
Ohio State's marching band, not-so-subtly named “The Best Damn Band in the Land,” performs “Script Ohio” before each home game. At the end of the formation, a sousaphone player or Ohio State honoree is guided by the drum major to a position on the field where this person serves as the dot on the “i” in “Ohio.” Seen as one of the greatest honors any Ohio State alumnus can receive, it has been performed by such legends as Jack Nicklaus, Bob Hope and John Glenn.
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All due respect to Alabama-Auburn, South Carolina-Clemson, Texas-Oklahoma and all the other grand rivalries, there's none that hold a candle to Michigan-Ohio State. The game has no trophy and no name. It's simply the game.
The states of Ohio and Michigan have a complicated relationship that started when both claimed a piece of land known as the Toledo Strip. The governor of Ohio and territorial governor of Michigan called up their respective militias, with the Wolverines occupying the city of Toledo with around 1,000 men. Michigan's petition for statehood was blocked by Ohio until Michigan agreed to give up Toledo, and apparently the two sides still bear some lingering resentment.
Fast forward almost 180 years and Michigan is still battling with Ohio. The animosity can still be seen today with Ohio State fans referring to Michigan as “that school up north,” and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke refusing to add “State” after “Ohio” when talking about the Buckeyes.
Both Ohio State and Michigan play in two of the largest stadiums in the country, and tickets to these games can be hard to come by—even for well-connected alumni. Still, blocking out some time on the last Saturday of November to catch this game is a must.
The 2015 College Football Playoff Championship
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With the end of the BCS coming after the 2013 season, the college football world will transition into a new era. The FBS will finally have something the FCS, Division II and Division III have had for decades: a playoff.
Who says the big boys can't learn a thing or two from the little guys?
While the idea of a “national championship” is still a ways off (the powers that be have made it clear there is to be no mention of the word “national” in the new playoff system), this is as close as we're likely to get in the near future.
No more "national" in the national championship game. Will be called the College Football Championship Game.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) April 25, 2013
The season can now be boiled down to success or failure in the final game, and college football fans will be glued to televisions around the world to watch whoever earns the right to play in the first College Football Playoff Championship Game. How awesome would it be to actually be there in person? For the rest of your life, until you actually kick the bucket, you'll be able to tell everyone you meet that you were there when the first playoff championship was decided.
That alone makes adding the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship Game to your ultimate college football bucket list.
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