Power Ranking Every Big Ten College Football Stadium

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Power Ranking Every Big Ten College Football Stadium

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    Tony Ding

    The Big Ten will be expanding again in 2014, so it's a great time to take a fresh look at the stadiums that the conference's teams call home.  How will newcomers Rutgers and Maryland stack up against their more traditional Big Ten brethren?  Are the biggest stadiums also the best?

    When the 2014 college football season kicks off, there will be 128 teams in the FBS, each touting some claim to a "home-field advantage."  The Big Ten, however, not only touts home-field advantage, the programs back it up with deafening noise, lopsided win percentages and pure stadium size, unmatched by any in the nation.

    We've ranked each stadium in the Big Ten based on several factors.  Size isn't everything, but it's important.  After all, 115,000 fans will always out-scream 45,000—or at least you hope they can.  There's also the offered amenities, tailgating space, overall atmosphere and, of course, the intangible categories of the aura, traditions and history of the venue.

    Now that we've laid out the ground rules, let's dive right in to our power ranking of the Big Ten college football stadiums for 2014.

14. Ryan Field, Northwestern

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    John Gress/Getty Images

    If you have ever attended a college football game at Northwestern, chances are you weren't wearing purple.  Ryan Field, long known as one of the quietest, sleepiest stadiums in the nation, might have seen an uptick in excitement after Northwestern's recent string of success—were it not for Northwestern fans' inability to actually purchase tickets and show up on Saturday.

    Ryan Field is a stadium where home fans are often matched in turnout—if not completely outnumbered—by fans supporting the visitors.  Chicago is certainly the biggest city in the traditional Big Ten footprint, and there are a ton of alumni from the rest of the Big Ten that call the Windy City home these days.  Still, Northwestern can find a way to get its own alumni, students and fans to games.

    Add to the lack of home crowd excitement a general lack of any traditions identifiable to anyone but the most loyal Wildcats fans, and you have the least compelling football experience in the Big Ten.

13. High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Chicago's reign as the largest city in the Big Ten footprint will be supplanted in 2014 by New York when Rutgers begins its Big Ten membership and fans begin to cross the Hudson to see the Scarlet Knights play.

    Rutgers doesn't have a huge following in New York City yet, but the Big Ten surely hopes that can change over time.

    Unfortunately, history has shown us that Rutgers' proximity to NYC doesn't necessarily translate into ravenous fan support. At 52,454, Rutgers' capacity is second smallest in the Big Ten (only Ryan Fled holds fewer fans). Unfortunately, Rutgers doesn't pack 52,454 fans into the stadium on an average Saturday.

    In 2013, Rutgers averaged just 46,549 fans over seven home games. While that figure may be impressive for many conferences, there were three Big Ten teams that averaged more than twice that number. The fact that the stadium is in Piscataway, about two miles from Rutgers' largest campus in New Brunswick, also takes away from the appeal of High Point Solutions Stadium.

    Oh, and there's that corporate name—one of only two stadiums in the Big Ten with a corporate name (Minnesota being the other, while Maryland's field has a corporate name). There's just something...not Big Ten-ish...about a corporate name plastered on a stadium.

    Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated that High Point Solutions Stadium is 10 miles away from Rutgers' main campus. 

12. Memorial Stadium, Illinois

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Illinois' 4-8 record (1-7 in the Big Ten) in 2013 probably had quite a bit to do with the lack of excitement in Memorial Stadium last season.  It's also likely why 43,787 fans showed up on an average Saturday last year, despite room for 60,670.

    Illinois is a program with decent tradition in the Big Ten.  The Illini aren't newcomers to the conference, and trips to the Rose Bowl game aren't unheard of in Champaign.  So what's the deal, Illini fans?

    Perhaps it's the fact that the stadium is in need of some solid upgrades.  Adding more seats isn't really necessary (since there are plenty to spare), but some modernization of the amenities offered could go a long way toward improving the reputation of the stadium itself among the rest of the Big Ten fanbases.

11. Byrd Stadium, Maryland

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    Nick Wass

    When the Big Ten made the decision to admit the University of Maryland as a member, football attendance and a thrilling Saturday atmosphere clearly weren't on the top of the list of criteria.  Last season, Maryland averaged 41,278 fans despite room for more than 10,000 additional fans (51,802 capacity, record crowd of 58,973).

    Maryland has also encountered some difficulties on the field over the past few years, contributing from the lack of excitement and crowd noise inside the stadium.  The Terrapins are 13-24 over the past three seasons, and it's doubtful they can be very competitive in the East Division right away.

    Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium is located just a short drive from Washington, DC, and with the plethora of Big Ten alumni living and working in and around the nation's capital, we should start to see an uptick in attendance.  But these Big Ten veterans are sure to find Maryland's size and football excitement a bit lacking.

10. Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue has a seating capacity of 62,500, yet drew an average of 48,953 fans last season.  That's actually not too shabby given Purdue's 1-11 record (with the lone win coming in a six-point victory over a 1-11 team from the FCS whose lone win was against a 2-9 team from Division II).

    Add in some of the coolest traditions in the Big Ten and one of the nation's top marching bands, and Ross-Ade appears at No. 10 on our Big Ten stadium power ranking list.

    West Lafayette, Ind., is the definition of a college town.  Purdue is far and away the largest entity in the Lafayette area, and everything revolves around the university.  On autumn Saturdays, everything revolves around the Boilermakers, and despite some pretty pitiful performances in their recent history, the Boilers still manage to energize the students and alumni alike.

    If you're a fan of tailgating, marching bands and Big Ten tradition, a trip to Ross-Ade should be on your bucket list.

9. Memorial Stadium, Indiana

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Memorial Stadium at Indiana has traditionally been home to one of the doormats of the Big Ten.  Head coach Kevin Wilson is working diligently to change that perception, and with some impressive offensive fireworks, his efforts are starting to pay off.

    With a capacity of 52,929, Indiana's Memorial Stadium is one of the smaller stadiums in the Big Ten, but the Hoosiers' on-field displays attracted an average crowd of 44,353 fans each Saturday.  Expect that number to climb even higher in 2014.

    With several rounds of renovations taking place over the past decade, Memorial Stadium received a much-needed face-lift and amenity upgrade.  Those comforts have certainly added to the stadium's standing on our list this year.

    A spot at No. 9 isn't anything to hang one's head over, but it's not really anything to write home about, either.  If Indiana added a little pregame atmosphere with a more inclusive "Football Saturday" experience, Memorial Stadium's stock might begin to rise.

8. TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota

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    It probably depends on where you're from to determine if you're a fan of playing football outside, in Minnesota, in November.  If you're from Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin, it's probably great.  If you're from, say, Alabama, it's likely something about which you'd whine like a little schoolgirl.

    The Golden Gophers, after spending nearly three decades calling the Metrodome home, decided to build their very own stadium—without a roof—in which to play football.  The resulting TCF Bank Stadium isn't one of the biggest Big Ten stadiums you'll see, but it certainly possesses every modern convenience a football fan could want.

    With a capacity of 50,805 and an average attendance of 47,797 in 2013, the Gophers frequently play in front of a packed house.  Add in some luxurious locker rooms, a huge video board at the north end and an on-campus location, and you suddenly have a great venue for some great college football.

7. Kinnick Stadium, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Kinnick Stadium is known for one of the more unique sights in college football: a pink locker room—for the visitors, of course.  Kinnick's pink locker room has been the subject of ire and even ludicrous debates for decades, but it persists to this day as an attempt to calm the visiting team before taking the field against the Hawkeyes.

    Kinnick is more than just a pink visitor's locker room, however.  With a capacity of 70,585, we're starting to creep into the realm of some pretty impressively large stadiums.  Iowa is also the first team on our list that comes pretty darn close to filling its stadium each week, averaging 67,125 in 2013.

    Kinnick is also one of the loudest stadiums in the Big Ten, with yellow-clad fans surrounding the field on every side, screaming at the top of their lungs.  Add in an unbeatable pregame atmosphere and tailgating experience, and you can see why Iowa leads the way into the top half of our power rankings.

6. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik

    We're getting to the point on the list where we really have to start nit-picking in order to find separation between stadiums.  Nebraska's Memorial Stadium makes an appearance at No. 6 on our list, but it could also easily make a top 10 list nationally, as well.

    Built in 1923 at a cost of $430,000 (or $5.95 million, adjusted for inflation), Memorial Stadium and its "Sea of Red" is something that really needs to be witnessed in person to truly appreciate.  Sure, television cameras do their best to capture the look of the Cornhusker faithful, decked all in red, but the feel and energy of the crowd is best experienced live and up close.

    Nebraska is also the first stadium on our list that meets (or exceeds) its listed seating capacity on any given Saturday.  In 2013, 90,933 fans packed into a stadium that is designed to hold just 87,091 fans.  Nebraska also claims to hold the current and ongoing NCAA record of 333 consecutive sold-out games, dating back to 1962.

    That's downright impressive.

    So what minor details are we using to keep Nebraska at No. 6 on the list?  First, Nebraska's stadium falls well short of 100,000 seats—a mark of some distinction among Big Ten schools.  Secondly, Nebraska was just 2-2 against the Big Ten in 2013 at home.  But with a 9-3 overall record in the Big Ten at Memorial Stadium, we're not going to penalize the Huskers too much.

    Finally, since we are talking about Big Ten stadiums here, we also wanted to look at the largest crowd in the history of Memorial Stadium.  That came not against any Big Ten opponent, nor did it come against any traditional rival from the Big 12.  Instead, the game in which Nebraska felt it most important to attend was on September 14, 2013 against...UCLA?  It was a game that Nebraska lost, too.  The Bruins won 41-21, sending the vast majority of the 91,471 people present home disappointed.

5. Camp Randall, Wisconsin

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    Morry Gash

    Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, built in 1917 at a cost of just $15,000 (or $276,000 today) to hold just 11,000 spectators, is situated on (and named for) the land previously occupied by Camp Randall, a US Army training facility during the Civil War.

    Today, Camp Randall Stadium seats 80,321 crazed Wisconsin fans each Saturday, although 78,911 was the average attendance in 2013—somewhat hurting Wisconsin's chances for climbing above No. 5 on our power rankings list.

    Still, with a game-day atmosphere second to none in the nation, an absolutely crazy fanbase, with a crazy marching band to match, Wisconsin is still worthy of its lofty spot on our list.

    Considering how seriously Badgers fans take their tailgating, perhaps it's not a surprise that those 1,500 or so fans don't quite make it into the stadium for the actual game.

4. Beaver Stadium, Penn State

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    Gene J. Puskar

    A few years ago, it would be difficult to make the case that Penn State's Beaver Stadium didn't belong in at least the top three stadiums in the Big Ten, if not the nation.  With crowds that always exceeded 100,000 (with a capacity of 106,572 and a record of 110,753), Beaver Stadium was not only intimidating; it was one of the most exciting college football atmospheres anywhere.

    Today, however, some of the luster has been lost and the excitement has been tempted by the heavy weight of NCAA sanctions. In 2013, Penn State failed to crack 100,000 fans per game, averaging "just" 96,578 on Saturdays.

    Still, there's nothing quite like the sight of Beaver Stadium—even if there are "only" 96,578 fans in the stands—decked out for one of its famous White-Out games.

    The student support also remains high, as evidenced by the thousands that turn out to participate in the "Nittanyville" campouts before every home game.

3. Spartan Stadium, Michigan State

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    Al Goldis

    At first glance, Michigan State's Spartan Stadium seems almost underwhelming somehow.  With a seating capacity of 75,005, the stats might even look unimpressive.  But the longer you look at it, the more you realize there's something different about the layout.  Then it hits you: The fans are almost on top of the field!

    When standing on the sidelines at Spartan Stadium, you quickly realize that on every side, the fans are only a few paces from you.  There's no escaping them.  They're everywhere, and it's an almost claustrophobic experience for the uninitiated.

    Perhaps it's part of the reason why MSU has put up such an impressive record at home over the past few seasons.  The Spartans were a perfect 7-0 at home in 2013 en route to the Big Ten and Rose Bowl game championships, and MSU is an impressive 23-5 in East Lansing dating back to the start of the 2010 season.

    Michigan State also has one of the best marching bands in the nation and a student section, usually clad in white, that is as loud as you'll find anywhere in the Big Ten.  Mix in some of the most exciting finishes in college football games we've seen over the past few years along with crowds that can balloon to over 80,000 during games against hated rivals Notre Dame and Michigan, and it's no wonder Spartan Stadium is revered by Spartan fans and reviled by everyone else.

2. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete

    In 2013, there were only three programs in the nation that averaged over 100,000 fans per game.  The Big Ten has two of those programs, and Ohio State is one.

    The Buckeyes finished the 2013 season averaging 104,933 fans per game, second in both the Big Ten and the nation, behind (who else?) that "school up north."  But despite Ohio State's second-place finish at the turnstiles, the Buckeyes are second to no one when it comes to a game-day atmosphere—which is why Ohio Stadium ranks No. 2 on our power ranking list of Big Ten football stadiums.

    Let's start with the marching band.  Not-so-subtly named "The Best Damn Band in the Land," the Ohio State marching band gets away with such blatant arrogance and bravado because, well, the band can back it up with some pretty amazing halftime shows, the famous "Script Ohio" and all with some top-notch musicianship.

    Ohio State, as any non-Ohioan Big Ten fan knows, is home to some of the most...loyal...fans in the nation.  Their team can do no wrong, their players can do no wrong, their coaches can do no wrong, and the fanbase is always right.  As annoying as that can be to anyone who didn't attend college in Columbus (or otherwise attached themselves to Ohio State for whatever reason), it's a boost not only to Ohio State's college football prominence, but also to the aura of a football Saturday at Ohio (State?) Stadium.

1. Michigan Stadium, Michigan

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    Tony Ding

    Speaking of fan bases that can't get enough of themselves, we're about to swell the collective head of the Michigan Wolverines with the selection of Michigan Stadium to top our 2014 Big Ten football stadium power ranking.

    Before the angry letters fly in from Columbus, East Lansing, Madison and pretty much every other Big Ten city, we'll explain.  First and foremost, Michigan Stadium is massive; it's not called "The Big House" for nothing. Michigan led the NCAA in attendance last season with 781,144 fans, or an average of 111,592 per game.  To put it another way, 23 FBS programs didn't even total 111,592 fans in 2013.

    Only three FCS teams (Appalachian State, Montana and James Madison) totaled more than 111,592 fans last season.  The closest Division II school was Grand Valley State (91,045 total in 2013) and Wisconsin-Whitewater (45,571) was the top Division III draw.

    In fact, Michigan's average attendance beat out the total, combined attendance from one FCS, five Division II and 23 (or all but eight) Division III conferences.  Conferences!

    That's a lot of people.

    A few years ago, however, Michigan Stadium really wouldn't be considered for a top spot on this kind of list.  After 2010, when the most recent upgrades were completed, however, sound is now trapped and even funneled back down toward the field rather than escaping out into the open air.  The experience at Michigan Stadium, at least from a sound standpoint, is completely different.

    With the new additions and upgrades to the stadium, great tailgating, an awesome band, a loyal fanbase and that All-American college town carnival atmosphere—not to mention in-stadium crowds that can balloon to over 115,000—we just can't help but place Michigan Stadium in the top spot among the Big Ten's football stadiums for 2014.

    Note: All attendance figures cited are from the NCAA's official statistics.

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