The Top 20 College Football Atmospheres in the Country
It has been 20 years since I drove into Penn State’s Beaver Stadium on the visitor’s team bus.
As we turned on to a road that would eventually take us to the locker room, I just stared out the window at a sea of Penn State fans. It looked like they stretched for miles—eating, drinking and yelling.
Yep, they were getting ready for a night game in State College.
This is just one of the many great college football memories that I have. The atmosphere at Penn State was everything I thought it would be. I even managed to spend a half on the field, and the noise was bone-rattling.
Say what you want about the NFL or any other sport, but nothing comes close to being at a college football stadium in the fall.
While I haven’t experienced all of these places, here are the 20 best atmospheres in all of college football.
20. Pittsburg State
This is a nod to all the small schools out there that don’t get the respect that comes the way of the big schools.
Pittsburg State, a perennial power in NCAA Division II, has a passionate and supportive fanbase that is just part of the great game-day experience for the Gorillas.
Carnie Smith Stadium, which is also known as "The Pitt," holds just 8,343.
But on Oct. 13, 2001, Pittsburg State crammed 11,862 into the stadium against Northwest Missouri State.
Take a look for yourself.
19. Michigan State
The diehard fans gather at the tennis courts hours before the game to begin tailgating.
Michigan State’s band is 300-strong and one of the best around.
You should never overlook the possibilities that exist outside a stadium. At Spartan Stadium, there is the 9'7" Sparty statue. Stop by and take a look; it’s impressive.
The stadium is often overlooked, but Spartan Stadium is one of the nation’s biggest, and it has a history that dates back nearly 100 years. About 75,000 fans back the place wearing green and white.
The fans at Husky Stadium are some of the most dedicated in the nation. While Washington was losing at a record pace, the fans kept packing the place.
Now that Steve Sarkisian has Washington winning again, those same fans finally have a reason to get loud—and UW fans know how to yell.
There is also the special waterfront setting that allows a large number of pregame activities on the river.
And let’s not forget the stadium is one of the most scenic in the nation with the Cascade Mountains to the east and Mount Rainier to the south.
17. Virginia Tech
With a capacity crowd of 66,223 at Lane Stadium, the place is absolutely nuts when the team gets ready to come out while "Enter Sandman" is blaring.
Virginia Tech’s fans have a few interesting traditions that could be considered quirky, but they make the game-day experience worth experiencing.
On third-down plays, fans pull their keys out of their pockets and try to make even more noise (I’ve been on the sideline for this, and I hate to tell you that the players can barely hear it).
There’s also the whole "Hokey Pokey" thing with the band before the fourth quarter that also includes the crowd doing its best to sing along.
At Oklahoma, it starts with the University-sponsored Sooner Fan Fest outside Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
The Sooner fans are considered some of the more knowledgeable in the nation, and they love to fill up the 87,000-plus seats on Saturdays in the fall.
You can’t talk about Oklahoma’s game-day experience without mentioning Sooner Schooner, which remains one of the best pregame spectacles ever.
And unless you are a Texas or Oklahoma State fan, listening to the "Boomer Sooner" chant just says football.
Georgia fans are like the rest of their SEC counterparts in that they love to tailgate and watch their team win. After the game, though, is when Georgia’s fans take it to another level.
They love to celebrate a win.
Of course, Sanford Stadium has those famed hedges around the field, and you may get a close-up look at UGA—each one just adds to the lore.
Another reason the experience is worth it: the talented players you normally get to see play for the Bulldogs.
The city of Austin is considered one of the "coolest" places in the U.S. There’s the music scene, the trendy loft apartments and so on.
So that clearly adds to the atmosphere, and you never know when you might bump into uber-Longhorn fan Matthew McConaughey.
There is more to the Texas football atmosphere, though.
Check out the Earl Campbell statue and raise your hand to do your best Hook ’em Horns.
You’ll also get to see one of the largest Texas flags in history unveiled.
Autzen Stadium has been called the loudest stadium in the country, and the fans are a passionate group. The fanbase has grown as the Ducks have become much more successful on the field.
Naturally, this group of fans knows how to tailgate, and that is one of the factors that leads to such a loud in-game experience.
It’s also fun to see which uniform combination the Ducks will come out in as they enter the stadium.
Let your day begin by getting something to eat at Big Ten Burrito, Blimpy Burger or Zingerman’s Roadhouse, or you can head over closer to Michigan Stadium for some tailgating on the golf course.
If you want to see the largest college football stadium filled with more than 113,000 fans, then the Big House will deliver.
Michigan also has loads of tradition and history on its side. There are those iconic helmets, and if you are lucky enough to attend The Game with Ohio State, then you actually feel like you are part of history.
Watching the Michigan Band play "The Victors" is something you’ll never forget. If you enjoy that, then you won’t be disappointed by their halftime show and the small concert they perform after the game.
Auburn deserved to be included in this company before this happened, but the AU students garnered some serious national respect in 2009.
During a severe thunderstorm that included lightning close to Jordan-Hare Stadium, officials cleared the stands for safety reasons. Not the students; they refused to exit, and their dedication did not go unnoticed.
The experience for an opposing fan is much more pleasant at Auburn than most of the other SEC locations. Auburn fans love the Tigers, but they also have a solid reputation as being friendly rivals (except for Alabama).
Topping off the experience, other than a perennial Top 25 program, is the flight of the eagle during Auburn’s battle cry, "War Eagle."
If Auburn wins, you can also roll Toomer’s Corner. Well, hopefully the fans will get to enjoy the tradition this season and in the future.
10. Texas A&M
Texas A&M is chock-full of great traditions that make for a great game-day atmosphere.
There are the Yell Leaders. The night before a game, the Yell Leaders serve as the masters of ceremonies at a pep rally known as the "Midnight Yell." They help fire up the crowd during a game.
Another must-see is the "Aggie War Hymn." More than 80,000 fans sway together, singing the "Aggie War Hymn" before the fourth quarter of home games.
There is also the 12th Man. Be prepared for the noise; it’s gets loud at Kyle Field.
9. Ohio State
Ohio State fans pride themselves on having one of the best tailgating scenes in the country.
Once again, this is another activity I’ve had the good fortune of experiencing. My friends get there at least five hours before kickoff to work through the burgers, pulled pork and beverages. The conversation among most of the fans focuses on game-planning and blasting anything Michigan.
You can also go into St. John Arena about two hours before the game for a rowdy pep rally. Another bonus is Ohio State’s players walk through en route to Ohio Stadium.
And you don’t want to miss TBDBITL (The Best Damn Band in the Land).
Once again, tailgating is an art for the Tennessee fans outside Neyland Stadium. You get orange tents, orange RVs and a whole lot of "Rocky Top."
Then there is the Vol Navy. Boats big and small line the river by the stadium, and the fans get into a festive mood while floating along.
There is also the Vol Walk, which started under Johnny Majors in the late 1980s. While it’s a relatively new tradition, Tennessee fans cherish this tradition.
When you finally get inside Neyland Stadium, you will see orange in every direction, and the place is one of the loudest stadiums in college football.
The checkerboard end zones are also cool to see in person.
7. Penn State
I’ve already told you about my experience there.
Now, I didn’t get to take in everything because I was working, but College Station is one of the iconic college football towns.
Don’t miss the opportunity to soak it up one day.
Wisconsin fans eat, drink and breathe Badger football.
On game day, they start early on Regent Street with Bloody Marys, and they work their way up to the harder stuff as it gets closer to kickoff.
Once inside Camp Randall, you’ll get a chance to see one of the best student sections in the nation. It’s like watching Animal House in the bleachers.
At the end of the third quarter of every home game, House of Pain's "Jump Around" is blasted over the stadium's sound system. That’s when the place begins to jump in unison. It’s just good ol’ fun.
5. Service Academies (Air Force, Army, Navy)
When talking about the academies, you have to evaluate the atmosphere a little differently.
It’s not about the pregame parties. When you go to a game at Air Force, Army or Navy, it’s about tradition and respect.
You can watch the cadet march about three hours before kickoff at Army’s Michie Stadium or get some autographs after the game.
It’s easy to point out the former Midshipmen who have come to tailgate before a game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. Almost every one of them is still in tip-top shape, and they are wearing khakis. Another bonus is Navy has been playing some great football the past few years, so you get a good game.
It’s also worth the trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., to see a game at Falcon Stadium. They have a live Falcon that will fly around the stadium, plus you get to see the Rocky Mountains.
I don’t know how many times you’ll hear that salutation, but you’ll hear it a lot.
The student section fills up quickly, so if you are hoping to sit there, you better arrive early and wait until the gates open.
If you are looking for the tailgating, you need to hit the Quad. You should also make it a point to catch the Walk of Champions. When the players arrive at the north end zone, there will be about 6,000-10,000 fans erupting in unison as Nick Saban leads the players to the stadium.
Bryant-Denny Stadium doesn’t really have a bad seat, and it has all the amenities you would expect from a modern facility.
LSU is one of the best game-day experiences anywhere. But there is a slight difference between a day game and a night game in Death Valley.
It all starts in the parking lot, where you can find some of the best tailgating food in the nation. Maybe you want a little jambalaya or some other Cajun special—the LSU fans have it all.
If it’s a day game, the hardcore fans are up by 6:00 a.m. and ready to start. If kickoff isn’t until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., well, the fans may sleep in until 7:00 a.m.
You can’t forget Mike the Tiger, the live Bengal tiger that welcomes the opposition.
Tiger Stadium is a must-visit for any college football fan.
There may not be a more dedicated and passionate group of fans than the group that makes up the Sea of Red at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska’s fans have sold out the joint for every home game dating back to 1962. Of course, the Cornhuskers have been consistently good during that time.
But that streak also includes the Bill Callahan era. How many of you would have kept going with Callahan coaching your team? That’s what I thought.
That’s what makes Nebraska No. 2 on this list. The fans go for the experience.
There is a motto outside the stadium, "Through these gates, pass the greatest fans in college football."
Maybe. The experience is definitely near the best.
1. Notre Dame
Yes, I’ve been to a game at Notre Dame, and I wasn’t there to root on the Irish.
But the entire experience in and around Notre Dame Stadium was by far the best I’ve been a part of, and the family members who were there as well, agree.
The setting is classic college football. It’s not corrupted by marketing and sponsorships.
There’s the famous band playing the most recognizable fight song in all of college athletics, and there is the leprechaun doing flips all over the place.
Before the game, the Notre Dame tailgate scene doesn’t come close to the SEC fare. But there’s still plenty to do.
Walk the campus and eat a steak sandwich being sold by some campus group, or watch the band march to the stadium.
You have to experience game day at Notre Dame once.