The 50 Greatest College Football Traditions
College football is rooted in tradition and fanfare that simply does not exist in most sports. The history of the game and its players, as well as generations upon generations of loyal fans, makes it something wholly unique.
Every team has its traditions, some founded in historical setting, others founded in lore, but all important to those who partake.
Here we pay homage to what's truly special about college football:
50. Oxford, Mississippi’s 18 MPH Speed Limit
In honor of legendary Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning, the University of Mississippi traffic committee changed the legal speed limit on campus to 18 MPH—Manning's jersey number.
This isn't just for show though; the speed limit is actually a part of Oxford's city law.
49. Tennessee’s Smokey
Smokey has been the Tennessee mascot since 1953, when the school held a contest to pick a new live mascot and Brooks’ Blue Smokey drove the crowd wild with his howl.
Since then there have been nine Smokeys, and the mascot remains a cherished piece of Tennessee football.
48. USC’s “Fight On!” Rally Cry
Mile Sweet composed "Fight On!" in 1922 while he was a student as USC.
Originally the song was intended for a Trojan Spirit Contest, but it has since become the trademark of one of college football's premier programs.
47. Texas' Big Bertha
Big Bertha has been at home in Texas since 1955, when it was purchased by Colonel D. Harold Byrd from the University of Chicago.
While the giant eight-foot drum is actually predated by Purdue's Big Bass Drum, it's still a special part of college football.
46. The Stanford Tree
One of college football's weirdest mascots, the Stanford Tree was created in 1975 by the school's band in a purposeful attempt at oddity.
While not officially recognized by the school, the Tree remains with Stanford's band to this day for all sporting events.
45. Painting Notre Dame’s Golden Helmets
Notre Dame's football helmets have a fresh golden shine every week thanks to a diligent staff of over 80 people who disassemble and repaint the team's helmets after every game.
The Monday after every game the helmets are cleaned up and buffed and then painted with a fresh coat of golden paint, with real gold flakes and all.
44. Texas A&M's “Aggie War Hymn”
Originally composed by J.V. Wilson under the title "Good-bye to Texas University," the song was adopted by the University in its current state in 1920.
The song was slightly altered and submitted for a competition by a group of Yell Leaders. USA Today named it the No. 1 college football fight song in the nation in 1997.
43. Tennessee’s Vol Navy
Today, Tennessee fans will line the Tennessee River with hundreds of boats prior to home games for one of the best college football tailgates there is.
The tradition began in 1962 when George Mooney, the Volunteers' broadcaster, decided to bypass traffic by taking his boat to Neyland Stadium.
42. Virginia Tech's “Enter Sandman”
Unlike most college football traditions that are long rooted in history, we only need to go back to 2000 for Virginia Tech's "Enter Sandman" entrance.
The school chose the Metallica song as the accompanying music to the stadium's new video board, and it's stuck ever since. The jumping crowd originated shortly after, as members of the band began jumping up and down during the entrance to stay warm.
41. Penn State’s “Paternoville”
Paternoville tent city got its name and fame in 2005 when Penn State hosted Ohio State for a nationally televised showdown between the two Big Ten powerhouses.
It began in 1993 though, when the school changed the student section to open seating on a first come, first serve basis. Since then, the tradition of camping out for games has gotten to the point where Paternoville takes shape several days in advance of games.
40. West Virginia’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
"Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a classic, one of the signature hits of John Denver and, with no explanation needed, a favorite of the state of West Virginia.
Shortly after its release in 1971, West Virginia University adopted the tune as its theme song and began playing it before every game and after every win.
39. Georgia Tech’s Ramblin’ Wreck
The Ramblin' Wreck has a long history with Georgia Tech, and while it has only been the official mechanical mascot since 1961, its roots date back to the 1920s.
In 1926, Dean Floyd Field had his Model T overhauled by student mechanics, which earned the car its nickname. It wasn't until 1961 that a new car was purchased and renovated to lead Georgia Tech onto the field for every home game since.
38. Oregon’s Donald Duck Mascot and His Harley Entrance
Oregon's Donald Duck mascot was originally known as Puddles, which had a strikingly similar look to Disney's cartoon character Donald Duck.
In 1947 Oregon's athletic director Leo Harris came to an informal agreement with Walt Disney that allowed Oregon to keep its mascot. Years later the tradition has transformed into Donald Duck leading the team onto the field on the back of a Harley.
37. Texas' "The Eyes of Texas"
"The Eyes of Texas" holds its name through a mixture of history and tradition, dating back to school President William Prather's favorite saying, "the eyes of Texas are upon you."
Prather had taken his saying from Robert E. Lee, who had originally said, "the eyes of the South are upon you." That led to John Lang Sinclair naming a tune he composed for the band after Prather's words; it's stuck ever since.
36. USC's Traveler
USC's official mascot isn't the Trojan who rides onto the field; it's the white horse he rides in on, Traveler.
Traveler didn't become the official mascot until 1961, but its history with the team dates back much further. All of Traveler's riders since have been USC alumni, but the warrior himself doesn't even have a name.
35. Texas’ Bevo
Texas' famous Longhorn, Bevo, has been the school's mascot since 1916, when it was purchased by alumni and later given its name during the first game he appeared in.
The original Bevo came to a sad end though, when in 1919 the school decided it was costing too much money to care for the animal and decided to slaughter their mascot and serve it at a Texas Football Banquet.
34. Missouri's Homecoming
Homecoming is a tradition that all schools have adopted, but it's at Missouri that the tradition first took hold back in 1911.
That's when Chester L. Brewer, MU's Director of Athletics, had the idea to invite all the school's alumni to "come home" and watch the Missouri game against Kansas—at the time the school's biggest rival. It's become a staple of all of college football.
33. Ohio State’s “Carmen Ohio”
"Carmen Ohio" was born after a now infamous loss to Michigan in 1902. On the train ride back to campus, Fred Cornell composed the song, which is derived from "Spanish Chant" and "Yale’s Bright College Years."
The song has been sung at every home game since 1906. Today, after every home game, fans and players sing the first verse of the song together.
32. Purdue’s Big Bass Drum
Remember Texas' "Big Bertha?" Well, this is its foil.
Purdue's Big Bass Drum was constructed in 1921, one year before Texas', and while at one point both claimed to be the world's largest drum, only Purdue does to this day.
In 1961, students from Texas and Purdue agreed to meet and have their drums measured against each other, but Texas never showed.
31. Lake Washington Tailgate
The tailgating experience on Lake Washington is like that of the Tennessee River, but nearly 10 times the size.
It's not known exactly when it started, but fans have packed into hundreds and thousands of boats outside of Husky Stadium for decades; some stay there for the whole weekend during home games.
30. LSU's Mike the Tiger
Mike the Tiger has got to be one of the best live mascots in the country; no one else can claim to have a 400-lb. tiger on its sidelines.
The first tiger was purchased in 1934 and later was named after Mike Chambers, one of the school's athletic directors who was responsible for buying the animal. There have been a total of six Mikes since then.
29. Colorado's Ralphie the Buffalo
It began in 1967 when the first Ralphie took her first loop around the stadium in a homecoming game against Oklahoma State.
Is there really anything better than a 1,300-pound buffalo storming onto the field with tens of thousands of fans cheering and five grown men hanging on to it for dear life?
28. Mississippi State’s Cowbells
At Mississippi State, cowbells are synonymous with college football. The legend has it that in the 1940s a cow wandered onto the field during a game against Ole Miss, and State went on to win.
So from bringing a cow, to just the bells, and then attaching handles, you couldn't go to a Miss State game without hearing the bells—until they were outlawed by the SEC in 1974.
In 2010, though, there's a one-year agreement in place that allows fans to bring their bells once again.
27. Tiger Stadium Night Games
Bear Bryant once said Tiger Stadium was the “worst place in the world to be a visiting team” because playing there “is like being inside a drum.”
The experience at night is like nothing else though. Beginning in 1931, LSU began playing night games for practicality, but the spiked attendance and atmosphere quickly led to college football's most intense and intimidating experience. There's nothing like playing in Baton Rouge at night.
26. Georgia’s UGA
Unlike other live mascots, Georgia's UGA is not just a school tradition; it's a family tradition. It began in 1943, when an alumnus brought an English Bulldog to Georgia's Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.
The dog became the official mascot of the team, and when he died in 1954, Sonny Seiler applied to have his dog take its place, which was actually a grandchild of the original. UGA was born, and the Seilers have cared for every UGA since, all of whom have been directly related.
25. Penn State White Out
The Penn State White Out, officially known as "The White House," is one of college football's newest traditions but still one of its best.
It began in 2004 and was originally intended for just the student section but quickly spread to the whole crowd. Today, Penn State White Outs are a sight to see, with 107,000 fans clad in white for big games in a stadium that looks like it rises infinitely into the sky.
24. Notre Dame’s "Victory March"
Notre Dame's "Victory March" is one of the most recognizable fight songs in the country and was created to rival Michigan's "The Victors."
The song was written by Michael and John Shea in 1908 but did not debut at Notre Dame athletic events until 1919. Since then, it has become a treasured part of college football.
23. Florida's "Gator Chomp"
Fans from all over the country have gestures for their teams. Texas has the "Hook 'Em Horns," Miami has "The U," but Florida has the best of all, "The Gator Chomp."
Originally known as "Gator Jaws," the gesture began as part of the Florida marching band's routine when they played the theme song for Jaws; it didn't take long for the crowd to adopt it.
22. Wisconsin's "Jump Around"
Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium is home to one of college football's most electric crowds, but with 80,000 screaming fans things get really out of hand when the Badgers begin the "Jump Around."
It starts with the student section jumping in unison to the House of Pain song, but when the whole crowd gets involved, the stadium doesn't just shake; the upper bowl will literally sway.
21. Boise State's "Smurf Turf"
Boise State is as popular as it's ever been thanks to the team's recent run of success that has the Broncos ranked as one of the top teams in the nation, but for years the school was better known for its blue astroturf.
Built in 1986 under the direction of athletic director Gene Bleymaier, the "Smurf Turf" has become one of the most popular fields in the country, and there's nothing else quite like it.
20. USC’s Song Girls
USC's song girls are probably the most famous cheerleaders in all of college football. They have a long and storied tradition, and fans from around the country gather to watch them put on a show at Trojans games every year.
The group came together in 1967 when seven female students were selected to create a new addition to USC's spirit scene.
19. Auburn’s War Eagle
War Eagle's origins are founded in a false legend, but the legend still stands to this day as the first official live mascot of the school.
The first real live mascot, "War Eagle II," was purchased in the 1930s and shortly after began attending all home games. Today, War Eagle VII circles the stadium before games and then lands at midfield.
18. Miami’s Entrance Through the Smoke
Miami's entrance through white smoke has been adopted by many teams these days, but it all started in the 1950s when Bob Nalette began using fire extinguishers to generate fan interest.
The tradition really grew during the 1980s though, when Miami dominated the college football scene and the white smoke drove fear into the hearts of opponents and pumped adrenaline through the Hurricanes as they took the field.
17. Nebraska's Sea of Red and the Tunnel Walk
Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, the Sea of Red, is home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and reaches crowds above and beyond its 81,000 capacity nearly every game, with almost everyone shrouded from head to toe in red.
When The Alan Parsons Project comes pouring out of the stadium's speakers during the Tunnel Walk, there might not be a louder moment in college sports.
16. Tennessee's "Rocky Top"
"Rocky Top" isn't the official Tennessee school song, but you'd never know that based on the way it's played nearly nonstop anywhere and everywhere on campus.
Vols love it, and opposing fans hate it—the perfect school song. Boudleaux and Felice Bryant wrote 'Rocky Top" in 1967, and the University of Tennessee was granted perpetual rights to play the song in the 1970s.
15. LSU's Tailgating Cajun Style
Louisiana knows how to do one thing better than any state in the country: Cajun.
The dishes you'll see prepared on a Saturday outside the stadium are truly amazing. Not only do you have some of the nation's best fans, but they bring the absolute best food to the table too. Duck, gumbo, sausage, crawfish, etouffee, and grilled alligator—it's all there at an LSU tailgate.
14. The Grove at Ole Miss
Mississippi is home to the legendary Grove, Ole Miss' famed tailgating location, where football meets class.
Beginning in the 1950s, fans began congregating in The Grove for an informal yet elegant tailgate. Nowadays, freshman dress in formal wear and many others join in wearing their Sunday best.
13. The Sooner Schooner
The Sooner Schooner originated in the 1960s but didn't become the school's official mascot until 1980.
Based off the original wagons that settlers took to Oklahoma in the 1800s, the Schooner is pulled by matching white ponies, Boomer and Sooner, and makes a trip across the field every time Oklahoma scores.
12. Arkansas’ “Woo Pig Sooie”
Although unconfirmed, Arkansas' famous chant is believed to have originated in the 1920s when a group of farmers tried to encourage the Razorbacks to victory.
"The Calling of the Hogs" became an instant classic, and to this day, wherever Arkansas fans go, they're accompanied by the cry of "Woo Pig Sooie."
11. Florida State’s Chief Osceola
The beauty of Chief Osceola is that Osceola was an actual Seminole warrior from Tallahassee in the 1800s, and while he rides on the field for Florida State before each game, he's isn't officially referred to as a mascot.
The tradition began in 1978, shortly after Bobby Bowden became head coach. Chief Osceola has been sanctioned by the Seminole tribe since day one, and there's not many things that will pump up a crowd more than a warrior on horseback with a flaming spear at midfield.
10. The World's Largest Cocktail Party
"The World's Largest Cocktail Party" is an icon of college football tailgating.
The pregame/postgame celebration for the annual Florida Vs. Georgia Football Classic held in Jacksonville, it's classic SEC football at its best, and it helps that half a million fans gather before the game for the tailgating action.
9. Alabama’s "Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer"
Originated in the 1920s, Alabama's "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" has got to be one of the quirkiest chants in college football.
Named after the school's student newspaper, the Rammer-Jammer, and Alabama's state bird, the yellowhammer, the chant is reserved for when Alabama is assured victory over its opponent.
8. Notre Dame's "Play Like a Champion Today" Sign
Notre Dame's "Play Like a Champion Today" sign is one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols in college football.
Lou Holtz had the sign commissioned in 1986 when he became the head coach after seeing it written in a book about Notre Dame football. He had it placed on the route to the field so players should slap it as they passed; the rest is history.
7. The Red River Rivalry
The Cotton Bowl is a college football landmark, a stadium that's played host to so many huge moments in the history of the game. It's also the home of the infamous "Red River Rivalry," the annual Texas-Oklahoma game.
These two Big 12 rivals meet here in Dallas every year, with the stadium split in two down the 50-yard line; you'd be hard pressed to find a non-intoxicating game here.
6. Michigan’s Fight Song, “The Victors”
Described by many as the greatest college fight song ever written, Michigan's "The Victors" was composed in 1898 by Louis Elbel in celebration of Michigan's championship.
The song did not make its first appearance at games until the early 1900s but quickly thereafter became an integral part of Michigan tradition. The song is sung in praise of the smallest to greatest victories.
5. The Army-Navy Cadet and Midshipmen March
The last game of the college football season is the classic matchup between Army and Navy, and while the bustling crowd of academy students is really quite special, it's their entrance to the field that stands out the most.
Though the origins of the tradition are unknown, "The Cadet March" is beautiful in its simplicity. Both schools march in their cadets in perfect formation, present them, and march to their seats.
4. Notre Dame's "Touchdown Jesus"
The “World of Life” mural that covers the southern face of Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library was painted by Millard Sheets in 1963, but to Fighting Irish fans, it's known simply as "Touchdown Jesus."
But the tradition goes well beyond the fact that Jesus appears to signal a touchdown for Notre Dame. It's an iconic symbol connecting Notre Dame's beloved religion and sports team.
3. Texas A&M's 12th Man
Kyle Field, "The Home of the 12th Man," earns its nickname from the history of the team and pride of its cult-like fanbase that stands throughout every game.
The tradition began in 1922, when coach Dana Bible called upon former football player E. King Gill to be his 12th man in a shorthanded game against Centre College. Gill did not play in the game but stood on the sidelines throughout just in case his team needed him, and the fans never forgot it.
2. Howard’s Rock at Clemson
"Howard's Rock" was given to coach Frank Howard in the early 1960s by Samuel Jones, a former student who brought the rock from Death Valley, California to Death Valley, South Carolina.
Howard thought nothing of the gift at first and in 1966 asked for it to be thrown away. Instead, it was placed atop the east end zone of Memorial Stadium. When Clemson came back from an 18-point deficit that game, The Rock became a piece of school lore and players touch it before taking the field every game now..
1. Ohio State’s “Script Ohio”
Script Ohio has been named by many as college football's greatest tradition. It began in 1936, but it isn't just about the scripting of Ohio by the band in perfect unison; it's about the "dotting of the i" as well.
The band marches onto the field with precise choreography, spelling out "Ohio" as they dodge each other, and then the formation comes to a close when a sousaphone player dots the i with a kick, turn and bow—a move started in 1938 by Glen Johnson to kill time when the formation hit its mark too early.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!