Spring Football Games That Could Outdraw the NCAA Final Four
The NCAA Final Four is a massive draw for many good reasons, but attendance numbers for college basketball's championship might not match those for several spring football games.
NRG Stadium in Houston will host the Final Four. After the 2011 national semifinals at the venue, the NCAA reported a then-record attendance of 75,421.
Using previous claimed turnouts, these programs have the history—and venue—necessary for a realistic chance at hitting that mark.
Michigan State is the defending division champion in the East. Michigan and Ohio State are both early favorites for the 2016 national championship.
But don't forget about Penn State.
Well, at least in regard to attendance at its spring game. Nittany Lions fans are dedicated, perhaps to a fault since James Franklin arrived. They've flooded into Beaver Stadium, averaging 70,000 in 2014 and 2015.
Penn State is likely to stumble through the 2016 season, so that might affect attendance at the glorified scrimmage. Or maybe fans will sustain their optimism for another year.
"We're focusing our efforts on 100,000 showing up," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said, according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That would be quite the turnout.
We'll give the Bulldogs a place on the list because there's excitement building around new head coach Kirby Smart. True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason will also make his program debut.
Plus, this isn't a completely insane notion.
Last season, Georgia had a record 46,815 people in attendance. Another 25,000-plus isn't exactly easy, but renewed excitement combined with a concentrated push might get the job done.
Just two programs claimed more than 70,000 attendees last season. It might be surprising that Nebraska was one.
Nearly 77,000 soaked in the Cornhuskers' glorified exhibition, which was the first under head coach Mike Riley. The school averaged approximately 56,000 during the two previous years.
Fans have good reason to be excited once again.
Nebraska returns a majority of its offensive production, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and wideout Jordan Westerkamp. The Huskers should be favorites to win the Big Ten West.
The hype train is speeding through Knoxville. Maybe the Vols won't live up to expectations this fall, but spring game attendance hasn't disappointed recently.
During each of the last three years, the claimed numbers have landed in the 60-70,000 range.
Yes, there's Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and a slew of other Tennessee players who are the main reasons fans will flock into Neyland Stadium. But they also have a final opportunity to rain boos on Steve Spurrier, who will be honored at the game.
While that may seem strange, Spurrier has coached at Neyland more than some of the Vols' head coaches.
Auburn's attendance has slowly declined since 83,401 watched a 2013 roster that ultimately won the SEC title and reached the BCS National Championship Game.
Still, 62,143 last year wasn't bad.
That would be a stark contrast to the 2013 team, however, since the 2015 Tigers trudged to a 7-6 record thanks to a mediocre offense.
Hurtful truths aside, Auburn has a three-year average of more than 70,000. Expect plenty of backsides in Jordan-Hare Stadium seats.
Similarly to their in-state counterparts, the Crimson Tide have recorded smaller crowds in recent years.
Alabama has dropped all the way from a pair of 90,000 attendances in 2010 and 2011. Last spring, a meager 65,175 observed A-Day.
Nevertheless, the Tide are among the safer projections to outdraw the Final Four because their seven-year spring low isn't much worse than NRG Stadium's capacity.
Oh, and Alabama won the national title last season. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be packed to see the defending champs.
After reeling in an announced total of 58,000 from 2012 to 2014, the Wolverines reported 60,000 last year.
Considering the buzz about Jim Harbaugh's 2016 team, Michigan may have an even stronger showing this time around. The Maize and Blue could challenge for a national championship.
Now, weather can have a significant impact on any turnout in the country. There's no doubt that an evening game in Michigan on April 1 has the potential of being a frigid, rainy or snowy affair.
But if the night cooperates, the Wolverines could best Harbaugh's first-season attendance—and fans will hope the regular season follows suit.
Go ahead and write this one in pen.
Although the starting lineups will look much different, Ohio Stadium might resemble a stunning 2015 spring game.
The Buckeyes soared from 37,643 viewers in 2013 to 61,058 in 2014 to a college football record 99,391 last year, breaking their own previous mark of 95,722 in 2009.
Despite all the turnover, Ohio State remains a contender for the national title. Buckeyes supporters will flock to Columbus for a quick look at J.T. Barrett and Co. before the summer arrives.
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