The 10 Best Venues for a Night Game in College Football
What things are better in the dark?
Though stuff like movies, hide-and-seek and fireworks are obvious answers, others are more subtle. Take college football, a treat that satisfies no matter the time of day but in some instances is even better after the sun goes down.
It’s a lot like the fastest roller coaster at a theme park—legend holds that it runs faster at night, nearly coming off the rails at closing time.
Though each of the 100-plus FBS college football stadiums creates a unique game-day experience, a handful intensify in the shadowy dusk of evening time.
It’s a magical land illuminated by man-made light; here's a list that is power-ranked for your pleasure.
10. Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia
Though other venues have more seats, few rival the atmosphere of West Virginia’s Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium on game night.
The Mountaineers averaged 56,686 attendees at their six home dates in 2014, which meant the stadium stayed 95 percent full regardless of the opponent and despite a 7-6 finish.
From “Take Me Home Country Roads” (played at every home football pregame show since 1972) to countless old gold towels swung in rhythm to the questionable care of household furniture, Morgantown has lots to offer. And it’s something that’s even truer at night.
West Virginia makes this list because burning couches in the daylight doesn’t make any sense.
9. Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina
Williams-Brice Stadium is consistently filled to the brim, as it ranked No. 16 in average home attendance in 2014 (81,381). It's capacity of 80,250 means that 101.4 percent of the seats were filled last year.
For a taste of what's being offered at night, check out South Carolina’s “Sandstorm,” a song by DJ Darude played just before each home kickoff.
The tradition can be traced back to the 2009 South Carolina-Ole Miss game when, according to student body president Ebbie Yazdani in a report by Taylor Kearns at WISTV.com: "Right at the turning point of the game, Sandstorm starts playing. ... Everybody was just so energized and it was really contagious. Gradually the momentum just swung our way and we just started playing better and better."
The unranked Gamecocks upset the No. 4 Rebels 16-10 that September night in Columbia.
8. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee
Want to quantify a claim that you have one of the best fanbases in the country?
Finish the 2014 season ranked No. 7 in average home attendance (99,754) despite coming off a 15-21 three-year run (2011-2013) that didn’t include a single bowl appearance.
The cherry on top of an evening spent under the lights in Knoxville is “Rocky Top,” a song that was first played by Tennessee’s Pride of the Southland Band at a 1972 football game. The ’72 team finished 10-2, ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll. Wins that year included a 28-21 triumph over No. 6 Penn State and a 24-17 victory over No. 10 LSU in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston.
Though it's not the school’s fight song, it was named the state's official song in 1982 and raises goose bumps when sung by 100,000-plus fans clad in UT orange.
7. Memorial Stadium, Clemson
It’s been called “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football,” and yes, it’s even better under the lights.
Clemson’s Memorial Stadium was first called “Death Valley” by Presbyterian coach Lonnie McMillan. He coached the Blue Hose from 1941 to 1953, a run that included the first-ever game played in Memorial Stadium, on Sept. 19, 1942. Clemson won 32-13.
McMillan was 1-12 versus the Tigers, with all but one contest played at Memorial Stadium, establishing his dubbing of the field the Valley of Death. All-time, Clemson is 33-3-4 against Presbyterian (Clinton, South Carolina); the first 39 games were played before 1958, and the 40th was in 2010.
With a capacity of 80,301, the Tigers don’t play in front of the biggest crown in college football but still managed a No. 15 rank in average home attendance in 2014. They averaged 81,752 last season, filling a whopping 101.8 percent of their seats.
6. Autzen Stadium, Oregon
Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is another smaller-capacity stadium that packs a huge punch, especially when the sun goes down.
The Ducks can fit 54,000 into Autzen but ushered in, on average, 57,422 to their seven home contests in 2014. That gives them a fill rate of 106.3 percent, a figure that was higher than Ohio State (101.2 percent), Nebraska (104.8 percent) and Michigan (95 percent).
What puts Oregon’s night-game experience over the top is the noise level, a factor that is even more pronounced, and scarier, in the dark.
The Ducks also have time on their side. Being a top-ranked West Coast team means playing later in the day for the convenience of the East Coast viewing audience.
5. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
No team welcomed more fans in 2014 than Ohio State, ushering in—on average—106,296 to its seven home games. With a capacity of 104,944, that means the Buckeyes filled 101.2 percent of their seats last season.
Love it or hate it, Ohio State has one of the best fanbases in the FBS. It’s an entire state dedicated to one thing: Buckeyes football. Unlike other large football-crazed states, Ohio has just one team, creating a singular obsession, while others (think Michigan, Texas, Florida and California) have split allegiances.
Give the Buck-Nuts all day long to prepare themselves for the weekly ritual of filing into the Horseshoe and sacrificing themselves at the altar of Ohio State football, and it’s one of the greatest spectacles in sports.
Want more? The Buckeyes are 7-1 since 2010 in night action in Ohio Stadium. Their only loss came last season when Virginia Tech rolled into town and won 35-21.
4. Kyle Field, Texas A&M
Though every bit as cultish as Ohio State, Texas A&M works at a disadvantage in its own state by competing for fan love with Texas and to a lesser degree with Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU.
The Aggies make up for this with tradition, preparing their fans through a series of yell practices that more than pay off on game day.
Kickoff at Kyle Field is a spectacle regardless of the time of day, but it's even better at night when the fans’ white towels are set off in high definition with the black backdrop of night.
The 12th Man towels date back to the 1980s, when according to MyAggieNation.com, then-head coach “Jackie Sherrill held open tryouts for the 12th Man Kick-Off Team. The squad began carrying white towels they’d wave to motivate the crowds.”
It’s a scene that rivals Penn State’s night white-out games. If you don’t agree, keep in mind that the Aggies outdrew the Nittany Lions at home in 2014 by an average of 3,500 fans per game.
That makes Texas A&M second only to Ohio State in 2014 home attendance, welcoming an average of 105,123.
It also earned the Aggies the NCAA’s largest average attendance increase from previous year, increasing their average draw in 2013 by 17,998.
3. Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech
Not only is it the name of a Metallica song, but it’s an anthem for Virginia Tech football, ushering the team onto the field at Lane Stadium since 2000.
It’s also been used sparingly when the boys needed a little extra oomph to reach the finish line, like in the final seconds of their 38-35 win over Miami in 2011. That was the game when the Hokies held off the Hurricanes’ 21-point fourth-quarter comeback bid.
It’s just one among a long list of irresistible characteristics of game night in Blacksburg, Virginia.
What gives Virginia Tech the edge over almost every other team, other than LSU, is nighttime success. The Hokies have played 31 night games at Lane Stadium since 1995 and have lost only nine.
2. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
What’s even better than 100,000 crazed football fans dressed completely in white and waving white towels?
How about 100,000 crazed football fans dressed completely in white and waving white towels at night?
Yes, the spectacle that is a Penn State “whiteout” is even better when the lights are out and the backdrop is nothing more than black, making the whole scene explode into greatness.
The whiteout was born a decade ago in 2004, the brainchild of the Nittany Lions' savvy marketing department, to ramp up a home-field atmosphere that had slipped along with the win-loss record.
Did it make a difference?
Penn State finished 4-7 in 2004, only to completely turn things around to an 11-1 mark in 2005. That was the first-ever complete whiteout season, which included a thrilling upset win over No. 6 Ohio State, in Beaver Stadium, at night.
A consistent leader in home attendance, the Nittany Lions finished 2014 ranked No. 5 in the FBS with an average of 101,623 filling the seats.
1. Tiger Stadium, LSU
What gives Tiger Stadium the edge in night greatness is results.
According to LSU’s calculations, since 1960 the team is 231-61-4 (.787) after dark versus 29-26-3 (.526) during daylight. Beyond that, the program claims a 65-6 record in night action since 2000 and a 40-2 mark on Saturday night in the Les Miles’ era.
So not only do the Tigers play more night games, but they win almost every one of them.
Throw in a fanbase that is as rabid and over-served as they come, SEC-caliber football, and a stadium that averaged 101,723 in attendance in 2014 (No. 4 in the FBS), and it’s the No. 1 nightspot in college football.
Turn on the lights and Geaux Tigers.
Average attendance and rankings courtesy of the NCAA.