Power Ranking the Best Tailgating Scenes in the SEC
The SEC features the best college football in the country. Collectively, the 14 member institutions and the communities in which they reside know how to party on game day.
In this slideshow, I will rank the SEC schools according to their tailgating scenes. I have placed emphasis on traditions: what are they and how well do the schools maintain them.
Each school has a unique way of creating a great game-day atmosphere, so trying to compare them was difficult.
If you want to learn more about how the SEC does tailgating, there are plenty of ways to do so. Each school has tailgating policies, and you should familiarize yourself with them before entering the tailgating scenes. Also, many people who have attended these tailgates have written and spoken about them online. Finally, the most fun way to learn about an SEC tailgate is to attend one yourself!
Let the fun and the debate begin!
Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, so time will tell how much the tailgating scene in Columbia rivals those throughout the conference.
When the Tigers played in the Big 12, fans could leave Memorial Stadium at halftime and return when the second half began. Kristen Gosling of ksdk.com reports the SEC prevents re-entry into their institutions’ stadiums.
Tigers fans can tailgate inside the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse, Mizzou’s indoor track and field complex, as part of the Mizzou Experience. This opens three hours before kickoff, according to mutigers.com.
Vanderbilt calls its tailgating scene Vandyville, and according to Anna K. Clemons of espn.com, coach James Franklin has tried to improve the experience for all Commodores.
In 2011, Franklin brought the “Commodore Alley” march to Nashville, Clemons says. The march, which begins 135 minutes before kickoff, brings the team closer to the fans. The Star Walk, the way the team enters the stadium, occurs much farther from the center of the game-day action, according to Clemons.
Much of the Vanderbilt community has seen an improvement in the tailgating scene in recent years, Clemons says. It still lags behind most of the SEC schools, but it’s understandable when you consider the Commodores finished 2012 with their first Top 25 ranking in the final AP poll since 1948.
Hopefully for the program and the tailgate, Franklin can continue bringing Top 25-caliber football to Nashville.
12. Mississippi State
The center of the Mississippi State tailgating scene is the Junction.
A singing of “Hail State” at 5 p.m. the day before the game signals the start of when Bulldogs fans can start the party, according to hailstate.com.
The Junction has its roots in the 19th century, when students from across Mississippi traveled to then Mississippi A&M on trains, according to hailstate.com. Now, streets have replaced the rails, and the university community gathers in the space to tailgate.
The team walks through the center of the Junction to enter Davis Wade Stadium on what is called the Dawg Walk.
Head coach Dan Mullen has brought some Top 25-caliber football back to Starkville over the last three seasons, so there might not be a better time than now to experience tailgating at the Junction.
The center of the Arkansas football tailgating scene is the Gardens. The Gardens is located south of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.
Those looking for space other than the Gardens should try The Pit or Baum Stadium, the baseball stadium, according to gamedayr.com. “If you are up early enough you can grab any open spot outside the stadium or around campus,” says gamedayr.com.
The site also discusses how Arkansas has made consumption of alcohol illegal at tailgates, but law enforcement will not bother people who show respect and courtesy for the campus and other fans.
Arkansas occasionally plays at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Anytime the Razorbacks host LSU or Mississippi State, the game moves to the stadium in the state capital.
The key to tailgating at either location is getting there well before kickoff.
10. Texas A&M
Two areas that have lots of tailgating activity at Texas A&M are Spence Park and Reed Arena Grass, according to tailgating.tamu.edu. Reed Arena houses the Aggies basketball program and other events.
Texas A&M has some of the best fans in college football, so much so that they have a nickname: the 12th Man. They start the celebration on the midnight that starts game day with “The Midnight Yell.” Aggies fans pack Kyle Field at midnight for a giant pep rally, according to aggietraditions.tamu.edu.
The addition of Texas A&M to the SEC in 2012 opened the conference to another storied college football place: Texas. The Aggies are quite fortunate to have combined everything college football means in Texas and in the SEC.
Though Kentucky does not have the football success as some other SEC schools, the people in Lexington put together a solid tailgating experience.
B/R’s own James Brown delves into what makes tailgating around Commonwealth Stadium unique. One such staple of Kentucky tailgating is burgoo, a meat stew native to the Bluegrass State.
Anyone in town for the game should combine horse racing with football. Glenn Logan of aseaofblue.com suggests catching some races at the Keenland race track.
Both Brown and Logan talk about burgoo as well as cornhole, a bean bag toss game found throughout Kentucky tailgates.
The Wildcats have not finished a season ranked in the AP Top 25 since 1984. Perhaps tailgating in Lexington shows you don’t need a winning program to have a fun game-day experience in the SEC.
The center of the Georgia football tailgating scene is the North Campus, according to gameday.uga.edu.
Rose Tahash and Aaron Sayama put together a page on the university’s Department of English-run Dawg Speak, instructing students (and other tailgaters alike) how to prepare for a tailgate “between the hedges.”
They cite Beam and Coke as a popular drink consumed near Sanford Stadium. Additionally, people either bark or hear a lot of barking coming from Dawgs fans.
Two hours before kickoff, fans can watch the team enter the stadium, which is called the Dawg Walk, according to David Ching of espn.com.
The party often starts Friday, when RVs have already parked and organize dances and dinners for home and visiting fans, Tahash and Sayama say.
If you had to pick a center for Florida football tailgating, it would be the O-Dome parking lot, according to Jeff Barlis of gatorsports.com. The O-Dome is the school’s basketball arena.
Barlis put together a list of some notable tailgating areas on campus and surrounding Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Tyler Jett of espn.com says people can be seen on game day spread throughout the 2,000 acre campus. Nobody really flocks to this or that landmark, they just hang out somewhere and tailgate.
Florida home games, more specifically the people who attend them, contribute greatly to the Gainesville economy, Jett says. Enough people make the experience last the whole weekend for other parts of Gainesville to get business.
Though Florida lacks many of what one might call “traditions,” former coach Urban Meyer started a new one: the Gator Walk. Jett says Gators fans watch the team enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium about two hours before kickoff.
And of course, a statue of Gator great Tim Tebow overlooks the festivities.
6. South Carolina
When it comes to tailgating at South Carolina, it’s all about “Cockaboose Railroad.”
There are 22 cabooses—rather, Cockabooses—that sit about 50 yards from Williams-Brice Stadium, according to Wayne Drehs of espn.com. The cabooses look the same from the outside, but each caboose is individually decorated by the people who own them.
The 22 original owners bought the cabooses in 1990 for $40,000, but now people are on waiting lists to buy them for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Drehs says.
There are of course imitators, but nothing compares to the original.
The center of the University of Alabama, as well as the center of its football tailgating scene, is the Quad.
The Quad, a space of two square miles, has the ruins of buildings burned during the Civil War buried underneath it, according to tour.ua.edu. Denny Chimes, a statue that overlooks the Quad, contains the handprints of many former Alabama football captains, according to pubclub.com.
The Million Dollar Band plays at Gorgas Library two hours before kickoff, according to pubclub.com. One hour before kickoff, the band and Big Al the Elephant lead the team into Bryant-Denny Stadium, according to ua.edu.
“Kickoff on the Quad,” also known as Alabama’s “official tailgate party,” begins three hours before every home game, according to ua.edu.
Space is limited inside the Quad, and people usually reserve space for the season. University Strip, which houses many bars, provides a great alternative for those unable to get into the Quad, according to pubclub.com. You can also try Presidential Park, a newly established tailgating site, which is about four football fields away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, according to uagameday.com.
Alabama has won three of the last four BCS national championships, so Crimson Tide tailgates have perhaps more reason to be celebratory than any others across the country.
The center of Tennessee football tailgating is in the Tennessee River. Yes, a river.
The “Vol Navy” consists of around 200 boats, and the boats dock on the river outside Neyland Stadium, according to utsports.com. The site says Tennessee is one of only three FBS schools whose stadium is next to a body of water (Washington, Pittsburgh).
On land, the major tailgating area is called G10, which is a parking lot next to Neyland Stadium, according to Kevin Wilkerson of pubclub.com.
The Vol Navy really puts Tennessee’s tailgating scene in the upper echelon of the SEC, though.
Auburn has played second fiddle to intrastate rival Alabama three of the last four seasons, but the Tigers did win the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Some believe the better tailgating scene belongs to Auburn, though.
Rebecca Simon of family.auburn.edu reports this statement from Fox Sports about the Iron Bowl tailgating battle:
“…the Tide can’t quite hold a candle to Auburn in terms of tailgating…fans arrive as early as Thursday [for a Saturday game]…”
For those interested in tailgating, but not setting up their own tailgate, the Tailgate Guys started organizing tailgates on-campus during the 2009 season, according to Holly Hereth of theplainsman.com. For a fee, of course, patrons can enjoy a fully-catered tailgating experience around Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Some popular tailgating spots at Auburn are the Quad, the amphitheater and the Library Lawn. Hereth reports some people feared the Tailgate Guys would disrupt Auburn tailgating traditions, such as camping out for a spot on the plains, but Tailgate Guys were never interested in spreading the business throughout campus.
Natalie Avon of cnn.com suggests that Auburn tailgating creates such a community atmosphere that some Tigers fans have been known to get Crimson Tide supporters in on the fun.
I will start from a word about tailgating from lsusports.net:
“…at LSU, for Tiger fans, it is an art form. Over two-thirds of Tiger fans tailgate for five or more hours before every game, and many begin celebrating the great Tiger football experience more than 24 hours before kickoff.”
LSU football tailgates feature Cajun food, and lots of it. Natalie Avon of cnn.com says some tailgaters are willing to share their culinary creations with anyone who walks by, not just those sporting the purple and gold. There’s enough for everyone, so why not?
Surf the Internet about the subject, and you will find many people who believe LSU features not only one of the best tailgating scenes in the SEC, but in all of college football. Even the folks at gatortailgating.com—that’s right, the SEC rival Florida Gators—swear LSU tailgating food is the best they have ever tried.
1. Ole Miss
Perhaps no place in America creates a better tailgating atmosphere than does The Grove at Ole Miss.
B/R’s own Seph Anderson, an Ole Miss alumnus, calls the site a “mecca” which accepts people from all walks of life, even those who support rival SEC schools.
At 9 p.m. on Fridays before Saturday games, Rebels fans pack The Grove and pitch tents, because cars have not been allowed in the area since the 1990s, Anderson says.
On game day, the Ole Miss faithful have traditionally dressed up—not in Rebels gear, but in “their Sunday best," Anderson says. The attire brings the atmosphere not into current society, but to an earlier time when things seemed more serene.
Though the Rebels have never finished No. 1 in the final AP poll, the “Walk of Champions” allows the team to participate in the celebration in The Grove. Since 1988, an arch has symbolized the entrance to The Grove, and the team walks under this arch and through The Grove on the way to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Anderson says.
The No. 5 recruiting class of 2013, according to ESPNU, has come to Oxford. Maybe this group can help the football at Ole Miss be as good as the tailgate experience soon enough.
As always, thanks for reading, and check me out on Twitter at @MCarroll_Philly!