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College Football: 25 Underrated Stadiums and Other Places To Watch Games

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2010

25 Underrated Stadiums and Other Places to Watch a College Football Game

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    Seems like everyone these days is compiling a “bucket list” of some kind: travel destinations, dream experiences, giving money to a specific charity, personal challenges, family goals, etc.

    But on every college football enthusiasts' list of “must do’s” there are inevitably a group of stadiums they would absolutely love to visit on game day.

    The Horseshoe, the Big House, Happy Valley, the Swamp, the checkerboard end zones of Neyland Stadium in Tennessee, Darrel K. Royal in Austin, Death Valley, “Between the Hedges” in Athens, Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa, Notre Dame Stadium, Memorial in Lincoln or Norman; the list could go on but you get the general idea.

    But what of those stadiums we don’t hear as much about, those hidden gems where college football flourishes without the media reminding us every week what an illustrious venue it is for the greatest game?

    These underrated places may be found on smaller campuses in smaller conferences or they may be the forgotten jewels of the larger conference in a state where they are overshadowed by a more media saturated program, but they all offer the college football fan an experience to be relished.

    Whether the game is good or just average these venues might offer a brush with history, spectacular views of football (and maybe the surrounding area), a distinctive setting, a loud and rowdy crowd, extraordinary tailgating, or a really horrible facility that you just can’t help but appreciate.

    No matter what the combination of factors, these football locations basically provide the opportunity for a phenomenal (and maybe unique) football experience.

    So, what are the most “underrated” places to watch a college football game?

    First, it seems prudent to mention that selecting every “underrated” place to watch a college football game is virtually impossible as the landscape of our nation is literally covered with such meccas.

    Additionally, the selection of “preferred” venues is obviously a highly subjective task.  What one considers a gold mine another might deem a fully soiled portable toilet.

    Regardless, the following 25 football destinations (listed in no particular order) may not be on anyone’s “bucket list” and planning a visit may seem like a waste of precious resources and time.

    However, one crisp Saturday afternoon game day spent among the native fans at one of these destinations might just change even the harshest critics’ minds.

Folsom Field, Colorado

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    Folsom Field was originally dubbed “Colorado Stadium” when it was built in 1924.  The name changed in 1944 to honor the passing of long time Buffalo coach Frederick Folsom (77-23-2).

    Folsom has been expanded several times, most recently in 1976, and its current seating capacity is 53,750 which continues to be filled to capacity regardless of the success ratio of the Buffaloes.

    Folsom offers the fan a “close up” feel and players who have competed there state that they too felt an intimacy (sometimes alarmingly so in the case of visiting teams) with Buffalo fans.

    The backdrop of the Rocky Mountains combine with the history and the excitement of a current BCS program (that will no doubt rebound at some stage) to make Folsom a must see venue.

Harvard Stadium, Harvard

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    Harvard Stadium is the oldest stadium in the nation.  Built in 1903 in the classic horseshoe design, the stadium seats 30,898 and purportedly there is not a bad seat in the house.

    The capacity was increased to 57,166 during Harvard’s football prominence (which included seven national championships) with a steel grandstand that was in the open end of the horseshoe until its removal in 1951.

    The New England (then Boston) Patriots called the stadium home during the 1960 and 1961 seasons and Harvard Stadium also holds the distinction of hosting the first ever AFL game when the Dallas Texans (now KC Chiefs) played the Patriots in 1960. 

    The Stadium was the first permanent building erected for American college sports and is one of only three stadiums to be designated a National Historic Landmark (along with the Rose Bowl and the Yale Bowl).

    Harvard Stadium is truly a treasure and luckily there are no academic requirements for entrance (otherwise it might get wacked off my list).

LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU

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    Opened in 1964 as Cougar Stadium, BYU’s home field originally seated 30,000 but after several expansions now boasts a capacity of just fewer than 65,000.  The stadium was renamed LaVell Edwards in 2000 after the retirement of the celebrated Cougar coach.

    BYU fans consistently pack LaVell Edwards Stadium and 2009 was no different as Cougar fans paid tribute to their loyalty, averaging 64,236 fans over six home games.

    But more than anything the stadium in Provo is known for the deafening noise level (provided in large part by fans beating on the metal bleachers), which has proved harmful to visiting teams and given the Cougars a truly extraordinary home field advantage.

     

Spartan Stadium, Michigan State

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    Regardless of the fact that the Michigan State Spartans haven’t won an outright Big Ten football title since 1987, Spartan fans show up consistently and are among the best in the country.

    Often overlooked nationally due to the enormous popularity of in-state rival University of Michigan, Michigan State fans and Spartan Stadium deserve credit for combining to make a first class football experience.

    Originally built in 1923, Spartan Stadium currently holds 75,005 fans making it the 5th largest venue in the Big Ten. Even with its enormous capacity, Michigan State has ranked in the top 20 in national attendance figures for the past 47 years. That’s amazing.

    Termed the “Snake Pit,” Spartan Stadium is filled with rowdy and very vocal Spartan fans; in fact, a recording of the noise during a 1959 meeting between Michigan State and rival Notre Dame is used in the 1960 blockbuster Spartacus.

    Indeed, in East Lansing it’s always “A Beautiful Day for Football...”

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Mississippi

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    Ole Miss’s home field seats 60,580 Rebel fans in what could be called a “liquor infused environment,” but is definitely something the college football enthusiast shouldn’t leave off their list of dream destinations.

    Go from the truly historic 10 acre setting of the “Grove” where fans tailgate on campus in true Southern high style (coats and ties, fine china, and even chandeliers can be found there) to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium where wild (but still well dressed) Rebel fans are found screaming “Hotty Toddy”  and “Helllllllll Yes! Daaaamn Right!”

    That’s right: doilies, southern charm and cursing mixed with a heavy dose of top shelf liquor.

    It is a multiple personality disorder intertwined with SEC football. How can you say no to that?

     

Michie Stadium, Army

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    Located on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Michie Stadium is a venue that is difficult to match.

    Built in 1924, Michie seats 40,000 and is an absolute unique game day football experience.

    Army football may not be as nationally viable as it was in its heyday, but, the military pageantry, the proximity of the stands to the field,  the history, the setting among the Hudson river, and the fact that names like “Dwight Eisenhower” once rang out across the turf make Michie Stadium one of the greatest destinations in all of sport.

Autzen Stadium, Oregon

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    Is Autzen Stadium truly underrated?  Honestly, the home of the Ducks is revered by many and could be considered a reach for this list.  But, that said, how many “great stadium” lists do you see that have Autzen in the Top 10 or Top 25, for that matter?

    Autzen was built in 1967 and expanded in 2002 to bring it to its current capacity of 54,000. The average attendance in 2009 was a staggering 58,544 fans which equals, on average, 4,500 extra fans cramming into the stadium at each home game.

    The number one comment you hear when asking about Autzen is “it’s loud.”  Autzen is known for its intense noise and rowdy fanbase.  These have to be considered contributing factors in the Ducks' football successes and are reason enough to book a flight to Eugene.

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, East Carolina

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    Ground was broke on Dowdy-Ficklen stadium in Greenville, North Carolina in 1962 and was originally built to accommodate only 10,000 fans.  Numerous expansions later the 2010 version of the stadium holds 50,000 Pirate faithful.

    What is special about Dowdy-Ficklen is the atmosphere; specifically that leading up to the game, which according to some is among the best in all of college football.

    Prior to the team’s grand entrance onto the field, a fog horn blows and the following poetic verses are recited by the PA announcer, accompanied by appropriately stirring music.

    “Like a ghost on the wind, he comes from the sea

    And trembles the foe like a storm on the lea.

    With a thunderous blast from his cannon's might,

    He shivers the strong, and cripples their fight.

    From East Carolina, victories are told

    Of the spirit of the Pirate, and his Purple and Gold”

    This is followed by another salvo of foghorns and the loud playing of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze accompanied by purple smoke billowing from the tunnel that will lead the Pirates onto the field.

    Finally, as Purple Haze fades out the team is greeted onto the field with a cannon burst followed by the ECU fight song, E.C. Victory

    It is possibly one of the greatest on field entrances in college football. Apparently, you have to see it to believe it.

Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State

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    Originally erected in 1914, Pickens stadium was renovated for the 2009 season to hold 60,000 Cowboy fans.  Increasing the capacity apparently has done nothing to depreciate the lines of sight which are claimed to be some of the best in all of a college football.

    The classic horseshoe design has purportedly been perfected to the point where Boone Pickens offers the fan one of the paramount “close to the field” experiences in the nation.

    Add a rabid fan base, a ruthless Big 12 South schedule, the beautiful city of Stillwater, and the exciting tempo of Mike Gundy’s OSU Cowboys’ offense to the equation, and you have a first class football experience.

Paulson Stadium, Georgia Southern

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    The entire Georgia Southern Football program could be termed underrated.  The Eagles (who played football from 1924 until WWII forced the program to be shut down and then again from 1981 to the present) have won six FCS titles (additionally runners up twice more) and eight Southern Conference Championships.  All this has been accomplished since 1985.

    Paulson Stadium (in Statesboro GA) was constructed in 1983 and has a seating capacity of 18,000 and is filled to the brim on game day.   Firsthand accounts of game day in Statesboro include descriptions of a virtual plethora of flags flying and fans going totally nuts...

    Many consider Georgia Southern, via Paulson Stadium, to have one of the best home field advantages in the FCS; this can be statistically backed up by the fact that opponents have been unsuccessful there a whopping 84 percent of the time.

    The Georgia Southern faithful fondly calls Paulson "Our House;" it is certainly worth paying a visit to the home of the Eagles.

Williams Brice Stadium, South Carolina

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    The first game played at “Carolina Stadium” (as it was then called) was September 23, 1934 when the Gamecocks blanked Erskine 25-0.

    The stadium holds 80,250 fans and even with this huge capacity South Carolina has managed to rank consistently among the top 20 in attendance; for example, in 2009 the Game Cocks averaged 75,369 fans per game at Williams Brice.

    Regardless of how good or bad the Game Cocks are, fans fill the stadium and the atmosphere is absolutely electric.  Combine this with a stacked SEC schedule, and Columbia, South Carolina has to be at the top of the list of college gridiron shrines to visit (especially when Clemson is in town).

Kibbie Dome, Idaho

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    The Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho has to be considered one of the most unique venues in all of college football.

    Built in 1971 as an outdoor venue to replace Neale Stadium (a wooden stadium which burnt down in 1969), the stadium was enclosed in 1975 with a barrel arched roof and vertical end walls.  Frankly, the building looks more like an aircraft hangar than a football stadium.

    Seating a mere 16,000, the Kibbie Dome is the smallest home site for a FBS team which obviously makes it a very intimate site in which to view a college football game.

    The Kibbie Dome is not aesthetically pleasing nor does it offer the normal game day experience, but you have absolutely must appreciate the fact that the Idaho Vandals play in a one of a kind (though ugly) stadium.

    The Boise State vs. Idaho game in the Kibbie Dome must be on the serious football fans' bucket list.

Washington Grizzly Stadium/John Hoyt Field, Montana

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    The Montana Grizzlies of the FCS’s Big Sky Conference are a startling 104-14 in Grizzly stadium since they started playing there midway through the 1986 season.

    Montana has won 23 of their last 25 games at home and are a smoking .913 there since 1992.

    Stadium capacity was increased in 2007 and it now holds 25,200 screaming Grizzly fans.  In 2009 Montana lead the FCS in attendance, hosting a whopping 219,753 fans over nine games.

    Set against breathtaking mountains, Grizzly stadium is the largest stadium in Montana and definitely worth a visit.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Springboro Ohio

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    Located at 774 North Main in Springboro, Ohio, this venue has numerous high definition televisions featuring multiple live college football feeds from around the country.

    Favorable climate conditions include a year round average temperature of 72 degrees. Modern refrigeration methods are used in the management of adult beverages, and the deep fryers are always on and available.

    Seating is comfortable and line of sight is among the best in the country.  Seating capacity is currently 435 but is expected to increase when the site expands into the abandoned Sergeant Snips Hair Salon located immediately adjacent.

Carter-Finley Stadium, North Carolina State

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    Opened in 1966, Carter-Finley has been completely renovated during the last several years transforming itself from one of the ACC’s most dilapidated venues to one of its finest.

    The home of the Wolfpack now holds 60,000 enthusiastic fans and averaged close to 57,000 at home games in 2009 (when the program only managed five wins).

    Carter-Finley is an excellent example of an underrated venue in a BCS conference featuring passionate fans and a great place to watch top notch college football.

Carrier Dome, Syracuse

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    Though the Orange of Syracuse have struggled mightily in recent years, they still claim one of the most exciting venues in college football.

    The Carrier Dome is the largest domed stadium on any college campus. Built in 1979, its football capacity is 49,250, and when it is filled with the Orange faithful, it is easily one of the most amped up places to watch a college football game.

    The Carrier Dome also boasts ownership of one of the loudest venues in college sports.  Its roof is made of Teflon coated inflatable fiberglass (purportedly to battle the cold) and it has been appropriately dubbed “The Loud House.”

     

The Yale Bowl, Yale

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    The Yale Bowl opened on November 21, 1914 for the then nationally prominent Yale vs. Harvard meeting.  It currently seats 61,446 and has hosted over 70,000 fans twenty times, the largest ever being 80,000 (when seats were added on the field) for the 1923 Yale vs. Army meeting.

    The Yale Bowl was the first of its kind in the United States and inspired the construction of the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, and Michigan Stadium.

    Additionally, the name “Bowl” which was used to describe the hole dug into the ground in the building of the stadium was the first time the term was used in American sports.  Hence the birth of the term “bowl” used to describe other stadiums and eventually postseason play.

    The Bowl was the home of the New York football Giants in 1973 and 74 as they awaited renovations to Yankee Stadium.  It was also the host of the first ever meeting between the Giants and Detroit Lions in 1960.

    Though it certainly might lack the pizzazz and polish of a newer venue hosting a big time game, a visit to Yale Bowl might prove an unforgettable experience.

Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati

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    UC’s Nippert Stadium is the fifth oldest stadium in all of college football (the current structure was erected in 1916) and is located on the fourth oldest site.

    Most recently expanded in 1991, Nippert seats only 35,000 and is one of the smallest venues among BCS conference teams. 

    Nestled in the heart of the Cincinnati campus, Nippert definitely has a unique feel and offers fans big time college football without the feeling of being in a stadium that is so massive that you become disconnected with the game.

    Nippert looks old school but features a fanbase and a team that are definitely of a more modern era.  The combination of the two is exciting.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

The Cotton Bowl, Dallas Texas

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    The Cotton Bowl stadium on the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas, Texas is truly one of the great college football venues in the nation.

    The Cotton Bowl has played host to a wide array of football including the Cotton Bowl (1937-2009), the Red River Rivalry (1932-present), it served as home for the Dallas Cowboys (1960-1971), the Dallas Texans (1960-1962) and the SMU Mustangs (1932-1978 and 1995-2000).

    The 1966 NFL Championship was held at the Cotton Bowl when the Dallas Cowboys faced the Green Bay Packers.  The game would decide which team would go on to represent the NFL in the first ever AFL - NFL World Championship Game (Super Bowl I). Green Bay won the game 34-27 and went on to win the first Super Bowl.

    Built in 1930 on the site of a wooden football stadium, Fair Park Stadium originally held 46,200 fans and was eventually expanded to its current 92,100 seat capacity.

    The Cotton Bowl has become an afterthought after being left out of the Bowl Championship Series and then with the building of Cowboy Stadium in nearby Arlington (which has already lured the Cotton Bowl Classic away).

    A classic football venue with tremendous lines of site and rich history, the Cotton Bowl is truly one of the gems of college football.

Memorial Stadium, Kansas

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    When making a list of Big 12 venues to visit, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln or Norman may easily top the list, but Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas might at first seem like a less desirable destination.  That just might prove to be a mistake.

    Regardless of the Jayhawks' performance on field, Kansas fans continue to flock to Memorial in droves.  2009 represented a struggling Jayhawk squad who managed only five wins (after a stunning 12 win season only two years prior) but still averaged 50,581 fans in a stadium that holds 50,071.

    Built in 1920 to honor Kansas students who died in World War I, Memorial Stadium is a tremendous college football venue. The University of Kansas may be overlooked as a basketball school that is mildly interested in its football when in reality it is a hotbed of fanaticsm for both sports.

Louisiana Superdome/The Bayou Classic

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    Southern and Grambling have met annually in the Bayou Classic since 1974 and have drawn a mind blowing 2,343,952 fans in its history.

    The game was originally played at Tulane stadium, but moved to its home in the Superdome in 1978 where it has played every year with the exception of 2005 when it was played in Reliant Stadium in Houston due to Hurricane Katrina.

    The Bayou Classic is known as “the Godfather of all Classics” and draws an average of 65,110 fans which is quite an achievement considering that the two schools' combined average attendance per game is just below 20,000.

    From the Battle of the Bands to the Battle on the Field (which is tied at 18 wins apiece), the Bayou Classic is must see event.

Kimbrough Memorial Stadium, West Texas A&M

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    The largest Division II stadium on campus, Kimbrough Stadium was originally dubbed the Buffalo Bowl when built in 1959 in the West Texas town of Canyon.

    The Buffaloes led the nation in Division II attendance from 2005-2007 averaging a staggering 14,000 fans per game during this period. This doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment until you consider that the student enrollment is just under 7,000 and the city has a total population of 13,000.

    The West Texas A&M Buffaloes played from 1941-1961 in the Division I Border Conference where they won a conference title in 1950.  West Texas State alumni include Mercury Morris, Duane Thomas, and Terry Funk.

    Presently a member of the Lone Star Conference, the Buffs have won conference crowns in 1986, 2005, 2006, and 2007 and feature a wide open style offense.

    A trip to Canyon will provide the football connoisseur with a great smaller venue experience featuring friendly yet fervent fans.

Rutgers Stadium, Rutgers

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    Whether you have officially gotten over the Scarlet Knights rise from obscurity or not, you have to respect the fact that Rutgers fans show up to home games in droves and host a great college football experience.

    The original Rutgers stadium was built in 1938 with funds from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.  The new Rutgers stadium was completed in 1994 and originally held 41,500 fans and was expanded after the 2008 season to seat 52,454.

    The Scarlett Knights average approximately 50,000 fans at home games, but sold out the stadium twice in 2009 (hosting West Virginia and Cincinnati, both resulting in losses).

    Rutgers Stadium is also dubbed “the Birthplace of College Football” as the University hosted the first intercollegiate football game on November 6, 1869 when it defeated Princeton 6-4. 

    Like it or not, a great place to watch college football.

     

Bronco Stadium, Boise State

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    The Boise State Broncos have only been on the national radar for the last couple of years, but they have been playing on that bright blue turf since 1986.  That’s right, as trendy as the loud field might seem, it has been a staple for 24 years.

    Bronco Stadium seats 32,000 fans and averaged 32,782 per game during its 2009 campaign. 

    You can expect a full house of screaming Bronco fans, a team stacked with talent, hope, and blue turf during your trip to Boise. 

Rentschler Field, Connecticut

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    The original Rentschler Field opened in 1931 and had nothing to do with college football.  The area and name was originally utilized as an airfield and hosted famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.  The old field was finally decommissioned in 1990 and the current football facility was constructed in 2003.

    Seating capacity at Rentschler is 40,000 which was filled to capacity at every Huskie home game in 2009. 

    Catching a game at UConn’s home field is more than a walk through history, it may be a rare opportunity to be a part of history in the making as the Huskies (only a FBS team since 2000) look to be on the brink of breaking out in 2010 as a powerhouse in the Big East (and beyond).

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