College football is unique in that it provides the most influential advantage for the home team compared to any professional sport.
Nothing can match the pure dedication or partisanship of a college football crowd. In fact, college football sets such a high standard in this regard that when professional teams want to extol the virtues of their home crowds, it's often said that it's “like a college crowd.”
College football fans are among the most loyal fans in the sporting world, and their vocal, steadfast support of their team not only affects individual games, but can affect the program's future as well in terms of attracting top recruits.
But who has the best home-field advantage in the FBS? We'll be breaking down the advantages for each team in the USA Today Preseason Top 25 Poll for the 2011 season.
Stanford comes up as the lowest-ranking team in terms of home-field advantage.
Stanford decided to demolish and rebuild the stadium in 2005, and the seating capacity dropped from 85,500 to 50,000.
Don't worry, though. You can still easily find tickets to Cardinal home games.
In fact, last season (a season in which the Cardinal had their best team in decades and won the Orange Bowl) the Cardinal averaged just 40,042 fans per game.
If you have a Heisman finalist quarterback, a Top 10 team and a legit shot at winning championships, the stadium shouldn't be 20 percent empty on any given Saturday.
Amon G. Carter Stadium is home to the Horned Frogs of TCU, and it comes in at No. 24 on our rankings of the stadiums for the preseason Top 25 teams.
Carter Stadium first opened to fans in 1930, and it's been hosting one of the nation's better teams as of late. TCU is also undertaking an $105 million renovation—not expansion—plan to the stadium, which should increase capacity from its paltry 34,000 (due to construction) to a bit more respectable 40,000. But that's still down from the previous capacity of 44,358.
Just to be clear, the planned capacity after the renovations are completed is smaller than it was prior to the renovations.
The reason for TCU appearing so low on the list is the fact that the stadium, like Stanford's, isn't packed like it should be. Last year was probably the best season TCU has had, both in terms of attendance and win-loss record, but the average crowd was still only 42,486 (about 2,000 less than 2010 capacity).
Faurot Field is the home of the Missouri Tigers, and in 2010, the Tigers attracted average crowds of 61,540 according to the NCAA.
While that number is the highest we've seen thus far, it's yet another example of a program failing to draw what they can hold.
Faurot Field has a listed capacity of 71,004. That's 10,000 empty seats!
The Cornhuskers have joined the Big Ten, and Memorial Stadium is gearing up to host its first-ever Big Ten Conference game.
Memorial Stadium holds a respectable 81,067 fans, and we finally have a program that meets or exceeds its potential in terms of attendance. Last season, Nebraska averaged 85,664 fans per game, well in excess of the stadium's listed capacity.
As nice as the stadium is, it's still one of the smaller venues in the Big Ten, which (slightly) detracts from the game-day atmosphere and home-field advantage compared to other Big Ten powers.
When it comes to facilities, academic prestige and program tradition, Nebraska probably isn't a top-tier Big Ten school. Luckily, their football program is already considered to be one of the best in the Big Ten—and the Huskers haven't even played a game yet! Pretty impressive...
Sanford Stadium houses the Georgia Bulldogs and also has one of the most distinctive features of any college football stadium—the hedges.
Games that are played “between the hedges” are observed by 92,746 ravenous Bulldogs fans on Saturdays in Athens. Georgia is also a program that meets its expectations, at least in terms of attendance.
So, if Georgia is drawing in excess of 92,000 fans to their games, why does Sanford Stadium sit at No. 21?
Realistically, it won't for long. But losing seasons tend to suck the wind out of any football balloon, and Bulldogs fans were left sitting on their hands last season as Georgia stumbled to a 6-7 record.
Chances are we won't see that again, and the Georgia crowd will once again establish themselves as one of the best in the SEC—and the nation.
Mississippi State is our next stop, and Davis Wade Stadium is where the Bulldogs can be found on home Saturdays.
Opened in 1914, Davis Wade ranks among the oldest in the nation. Only a small handful (mostly Ivy League stadiums) can claim to be older than Davis Wade Stadium, and only two FBS stadiums are older (both of which also appear on this list).
Definitely one of the smaller venues in the SEC, the “Dawg Pound” seats just 55,082 fans, but what they lack in number they make up for in enthusiasm.
Mississippi State averaged 54,999 fans last season, just short of capacity. It probably helped that the Bulldogs had a successful 2010, and if the preseason predictions are correct, there should be ample interest in the team this season as well.
The No. 19 home-field advantage belongs to the No. 14 team in the nation, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. can host 72,000 screaming Hogs fans, but as good as the Razorbacks were last year under the direction of Ryan Mallett, the Hogs could only average 68,932—a few thousand shy of capacity each week.
After a BCS bowl berth last season, the Razorbacks are expected to be in the SEC West hunt this year. Although there are some darn good teams in the West this season, it's not out of the question that Arkansas could plant itself firmly in the conversation come November.
It's also quite possible Hogs fans will return to Razorback Stadium in droves this season, and hopefully the average attendance figure will rise, also increasing the Hogs' home-field ranking.
Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech is home to the Hokies and 66,233 of their closest friends.
Virginia Tech is another program that sells every ticket available on every Saturday possible.
And why not? Frank Beamer has put on quite a show as of late, and superstar quarterback Tyrod Taylor impressed everyone who saw him play.
Taylor is gone now, but that doesn't mean Virginia Tech won't be successful in the ACC this season.
Virginia Tech also has the loyal support of their fans.
So the Hokies started 0-2 last season, which included a loss to FCS James Madison. That didn't stop the fans from filling Lane Stadium, spurring their team onto 11 consecutive victories and earning an Orange Bowl berth, not to mention another ACC title.
While Virginia Tech ranks at or near the top of many home-field advantage polls, when you lose to an FCS program at home, you're going to take quite a tumble. Expect the Hokies to revitalize their home-field advantage this season.
The Texas Longhorns are one of the great programs in the nation, and they have a great stadium to go along with their proud history. Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is home to the Longhorns and 100,119 fans clad in burnt orange.
As with our first stadium on the home-field advantage countdown, it might seem strange that Texas comes in at No. 17. After all, the Longhorns averaged 100,654 fans per game last season.
So why such a low ranking?
Well, to put it bluntly, Texas wasn't any good last season. What that translates into is a quieter than normal crowd and less enthusiasm during the game.
Last season, Texas was just 2-5 at DKR-Texas Memorial. Regardless of how great the advantage has been in the past, it was almost nonexistent during 2010. If Texas fares better in 2011, the ranking should jump considerably.
North to Madison, Wisc. where we find Camp Randall Stadium, home to the Wisconsin Badgers.
The stadium opened in 1917, but the Wisconsin football team has been playing on the same site since 1895. Today, Camp Randall houses 80,321 screaming fans, putting it in the middle of the Big Ten in terms of stadium size.
But what Camp Randall lacks in size, it makes up for it in terms of pure excitement. The fans are always loud, always full of energy and several unique traditions.
Wisconsin's home football games are riddled with some of the most vulgar chants in the nation. There's also the band—which amazingly had themselves suspended for a host of allegations in 2008.
When your marching band gets suspended, you know you have a rowdy home crowd.
Boone Pickens Stadium is named for oil man T. Boone Pickens, who gave the university a gift of $165 million to Oklahoma State University—the largest single athletics donation to any university in American history. The massive gift allowed Oklahoma State to renovate the stadium, as well as add or improve numerous other athletics facilities.
Today, the stadium holds 60,218 fans, although that number is never reached. In 2010, Oklahoma State—despite their massive success and high-octane offense—only attracted an average of 50,812 fans to home games, according to NCAA statistics. Interestingly, Oklahoma State does not include club seats or luxury suites in their attendance figures; therefore, actual attendance or how full the stadium is during games is hard to determine.
As Oklahoma State's football prestige climbs, one would hope their fans continue to show up in droves to give the Cowboys a much-needed boost in home-field advantage.
Doak Campbell Stadium is home to Florida State and some of the greatest fans in college football.
With a capacity of 82,300, the Seminole faithful pack the stadium every Saturday to see such iconic sights as Chief Osceola plunging a flaming spear into the turf before the game.
Florida State is emerging from a downturn in the program's history, and the upswing seems to be both impressive and sudden. Jimbo Fisher has his team whipped into shape, and FSU enters 2011 with the No. 5 preseason ranking.
So far, however, the fans have been a little slow to return.
Last season, FSU averaged just more than 71,000 fans per home game. Expect that number (and FSU's home-field advantage) to take a jump this season. Florida State can be an incredibly hostile environment in which to play, and adding another 10,000 Seminoles fans to the crowd could make Doak one of the most difficult places to play in the entire nation.
Last season, the Gamecocks captured their first-ever SEC East title. Their success at home, including a win over then-No. 1 Alabama, is thanks in no small part to the loyal and boisterous crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium.
When 80,250 SC fans get together, you know it's going to get loud, and Williams-Brice is one of the loudest in the nation.
In fact, the only thing keeping this stadium from a top 10 position is the few thousand empty seats one can find on Saturdays. A completely full Williams-Brice would show that South Carolina has support, win or lose.
With a capacity more than 88,000, The Swamp has become the feared home of the Florida Gators and is the largest football stadium in the state of Florida.
Gators fans flood The Swamp each and every Saturday, and the stadium averages in excess of their listed capacity.
The Swamp is not only big; it's loud, and the conditions are often brutal on warm autumn evenings. It's no small wonder Florida is so hard to beat at home.
Oklahoma begins the new season as the top team in the nation, and there's plenty of good reasons why.
The Sooners also enjoy one of the best home-field advantages in the Big 12 and the nation. OU fans crowd into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium each and every Saturday to watch one of the best programs the nation has produced.
The official capacity is listed at 82,112, but that doesn't stop more than 84,000 people from cramming in every Saturday to watch the Sooners.
With sideline stands that seem to go up and up forever, it can feel like you're playing in a hostile valley of Sooners fans.
And this season, those fans are in for a real treat.
Can Oklahoma finally put together an undefeated season and a BCS Championship run? If so, the fans at home will play a big part.
As we come to the top 10 in our list of best home-field advantages, we take a trip to the storied, hallowed grounds in South Bend, Ind.
Just three miles south of the Michigan-Indiana border, you'll find a small town that's known as much by the name of the university than the actual name: Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have been playing football ever since a group of students from Ann Arbor came down to teach them the game. Little did those Michigan kids know they would be starting a football tradition that would one day rival their own.
With a capacity of 80,795, tickets to Notre Dame home games are notoriously difficult to come by. That's because every ticket is sold months, if not years, in advance.
Notre Dame didn't only learn the game of football from Michigan, but the design of the stadium was based on Michigan Stadium as well. The crowd surrounds the field, and the relatively small student body makes noise well in excess of their numbers.
The Irish have had a number of very trying years, but with new head coach Brian Kelly, an air of excitement has returned to Notre Dame Stadium.
But beyond that, there's just something special and unique about Notre Dame home games; the oldest college marching band in the nation playing one of the greatest fight songs in the nation, led by the Irish Guards in the shadow of the Golden Dome under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus...
Further north from Notre Dame, you will find East Lansing, Mich. and Spartan Stadium, home to the Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan State isn't quite the storied program like Notre Dame, but they are beginning to emerge as a potential Big Ten power under the leadership of head coach Mark Dantonio.
Part of MSU's ability to win is their dedicated fanbase that fills the 75,005 seats every Saturday.
The crown is almost on top of the field, and the raised front row of fans clad in green and white is uncomfortably close to the players' bench—uncomfortable for the visiting players, that is.
Opposing teams have described playing at Michigan State as being caged and confined. ESPN's Lee Corso once described it as a “snake pit.”
With relentless fan noise mere feet from the field, it's enough to give any opposing quarterback a headache. It also helped MSU post a 7-0 home record in 2011, earning them a top 10 spot for home-field advantage.
We return to SEC country with Auburn and Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With a capacity of 87,451, Jordan-Hare provided Auburn fans plenty of opportunity to cheer in 2010 as the Tigers plowed through the SEC en route to a BCS title.
Auburn is also home to some of the more unique home-field traditions, most notable the flight of War Eagle.
Auburn sold almost every available ticket last season, only missing a complete season-sellout by a few thousand tickets mainly early in the season.
But as any Alabama or LSU fan can tell you, traveling to Auburn is simply no fun. The crowd is noisy, the stadium is cramped and the rabid partisanship of the crowd cannot be exceeded by any team in the nation.
For our No. 7 home-field advantage, we visit one of the largest stadiums in the nation.
Beaver Stadium (named for former Pennsylvania governor and PSU board president James A. Beaver) is the epitome of large, holding 107,282 seats. That makes Beaver Stadium the second-largest stadium in the country (behind Michigan) and the fourth-largest stadium in the world.
In this place, the stands just seem to stretch on forever. The lighting at night games also hides the upper-most rows in shadows, so those on the field can't even see where the stadium ends and the sky begins.
The record attendance for the stadium was set Sept. 14, 2002 when 110,753 people crammed into Beaver Stadium to watch Penn State defeat Nebraska, 40-7. Since that time, Penn State has hosted six crowds in excess of 110,000.
The home-field advantage Penn State enjoys isn't just due to the sheer size of the crowd. The Whiteout is one of the most recognizable aspects of Penn State, as is the incessant playing of “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation after almost every play that either gains yards for the offense or loses yards for the opposing team.
There's also the “We are...Penn State!” chant, which is something you have to experience in person to truly appreciate.
We'll stay in the Big Ten for our No. 6 home-field advantage.
Ohio Stadium, “The Horseshoe” or “The Shoe” is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes and their cult-like following of fans.
With a capacity of 102,329, Ohio State boasts the fourth-largest stadium in the country and seventh largest in the world.
Even though it might be expected that the Buckeyes will have a down year after the scandal-riddled summer, don't expect Buckeye Nation to back off in the least.
If anything, one might even expect even more from Buckeye fans, as the “us against the world” mentality has set in.
Where else but Columbus would you see constant, omnipresent signs and symbols of support for a disgraced coach who will turn out to be the harbinger of devastating NCAA sanctions? Rather than being ridden out of town in disgrace, Jim Tressel has achieved near God-like status in Columbus.
Maybe a few years of mediocre play from a sanction-laden program will change their minds—then again, maybe not.
Beyond the religious following of Ohio State, there are many great aspects to games at Ohio State that give the Buckeyes their traditional swagger at home.
The Ohio State Marching Band is easily one of the best marching bands in the world, and their traditional performance of “Script Ohio,” capped off with the dotting of the "i,"—the climax of the pregame activities—gets the 100,000-plus whipped into a scarlet and grey frenzy.
There are a number of reasons Ohio State was able to win so many Big Ten championships in a row (some legit, some apparently not), but one of the reasons has to be their loyal, dedicated following of nearly every football fan in the state of Ohio.
When the renovations were completed for the 2010 season, Bryant-Denny Stadium, home to the Alabama Crimson Tide, eclipsed the 100,000-seat mark for the first time to make it the second-largest stadium in the SEC.
Alabama also managed to sell all 101,821 tickets to every home game during the course of the 2010 season, giving Alabama the fourth-highest average attendance in the NCAA and highest in the SEC last season.
One of the interesting features of the stadium is its name. Originally called Denny Stadium, the name was changed in 1975 to honor the famed Crimson Tide head coach Bear Bryant. While there's nothing unusual about that, the fact that the name change came in the form of a resolution passed by the state legislature speaks to the stature of Alabama football in the state.
Another great feature at Bryant-Denny is the visitor's locker room.
Alabama alumnus James M. Fail wanted to donate to the football program, and his donation was large enough to earn him naming rights. The only thing Mr. Fail could think of to add his name to was the visitor's locker room. Now, as visiting players enter the locker room, they do so under a sign reading “The Fail Room.”
When your football stadium is known as “Home of the 12th Man,” you know you have one heck of a home-field advantage.
The preseason No. 9 team is Texas A&M, also home to our No. 4 home-field advantage.
Kyle Field is home to the Aggies and 83,002 seats for their ever-energetic fanbase.
Kyle Field has been mentioned by nearly every publication and sports network imaginable as being one of the most intimidating environments in the nation, and during the 1990's, Kyle Field saw 55 Aggies victories and only four losses (plus one tie).
Since the turn of the century, those lofty numbers have come down a bit, but A&M is still a very tough team to beat on their home turf.
The fans stand for the entire game, and the noise produced by more than 83,000 fans in attendance is unceasing and brain-numbing for the opposition.
This season, the Aggies will need their “12th man” more than ever, as they are the third of three Big 12 teams to start the year in the preseason Top 10.
As we move into the top three home-field advantages in the nation, it's important to keep in mind that when referring to “home-field advantage,” it's more than just the stadium that matters.
One program that has both an intimidating stadium and a fanbase that would turn any stadium into a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks is Louisiana State.
LSU's Tiger Stadium is also known as “Death Valley,” and for good reason.
Many teams, even top teams in the nation, come to Baton Rouge with expectations of victory. The atmosphere inside Tiger Stadium is so overwhelming, the opponents often leave with the chances for a championship season dead.
The difficultly for opponents at Tiger Stadium is nothing new. Even Bear Bryant said Tiger Stadium was “The worst place in the world for a visiting team. It's like being inside a drum.”
Sportscasters, sports writers, opinion polls and opposing coaches have agreed for years: LSU is perhaps the most difficult place to play in the nation. It even set off the seismometer at the Louisiana Geological Survey offices on campus during a last-second win against Auburn in 1988.
The fans are loud, the stadium is big, the band is second to none, the students are rowdy. It's quite simply a great place to play football—if you're LSU.
So what keeps LSU from the top spot on our home-field advantage list? After all, the Tigers were 7-0 at home last season.
LSU fans do, on occasion, have the nasty habit of bolting the game early, especially if LSU is trailing.
In the 2008 game against Troy, the Trojans led 24-3 at halftime. At the end of the third quarter, things weren't much better, as Troy still held a 31-10 advantage. As the fourth quarter got underway, many of the Tigers fans in attendance made their way to the exits.
The tens of thousands of fans who departed early missed a spectacular 30-point fourth quarter, as LSU edged out the Trojans, 40-31. A historic comeback in front of half-full stands somehow diminishes the greatness that is LSU's Tiger Stadium.
Still, LSU is definitely on their way to recapturing the best game-day atmosphere in the nation.
The Ducks have one of the loudest stadiums in the nation, and that's actually a proven fact.
Autzen Stadium holds 54,000 (although home crowds frequently approach 60,000) of the noisiest fans in the nation and was recorded at 127.2 decibels.
For the record, that exceeds the recommended safe limit, as well as the pain threshold for human hearing, according to the American Medical Association.
The AMA also advises that such noise levels could lead to annoyance, hypertension, hearing loss and sleep disorders, all of which are leading causes of depression and panic attacks.
Incidentally, the noise level at Autzen Stadium also technically violates the Eugene, Ore. noise ordinance.
No word yet on if Eugene police have issued the Ducks a ticket.
There are sure to be more than a few people who will disagree with the Broncos taking the top spot, but there is one very simple reason why they do.
Since 1999, Boise State is 77-2 at Bronco Stadium. There's no other team in the nation that can match that.
And isn't the win-loss record the ultimate determining factor for home-field advantage?
While it's true that Bronco Stadium only seats 33,500—pretty tiny by FBS standards—new expansion plans were announced before the 2010 season began. Boise State University announced a massive expansion project, the cost of which is estimated to approach $100 million over the next decade. Eventually, Boise State plans to expand Bronco Stadium to a very respectable 53,000 seats.
If teams find it almost impossible to win at Boise in front of 33,500 fans clad in blue and orange, imagine how hard it will be with another 20,000 screaming Boiseans...
On top of all this, there's the blue turf. Some people consider it such an advantage; they've even gone so far as to whine about it to the NCAA and Mountain West Conference, demanding Boise State remove the blue turf. The MWC has since forbidden Boise State from wearing blue uniforms at home.
Rocky Long, you're probably pretty pleased with yourself. Whining—however diminishing to one's masculinity—seems to have worked in this case.
It seems that Boise State isn't only exceedingly successful at home, but they now have head coaches of other programs whining about the stadium. Given their 77-2 home record and Rocky Long's child-like antics, Boise State's Bronco Stadium gets the nod as the top home-field advantage among the 2011 preseason Top 25.