College Football Rankings: Ranking Week 5's Best Games for Tailgating

Russ StantonContributor IIISeptember 29, 2011

College Football Rankings: Ranking Week 5's Best Games for Tailgating

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    So here we are in Week 5 of the NCAA college football season.

    Where did the weeks go?

    The big news in the AP Poll is that Oklahoma was ousted as the No. 1 team by LSU for the first time since they were put there in preseason.

    Both teams still make our top 20 in tailgating this week, but frankly the Sooners’ opponents haven’t been that daunting, and this week is no exception.

    There are some newcomers to the tailgating list this week, including Navy, Troy, North Carolina State, New Mexico, Illinois and Stanford.

    Some of our regulars remain intact because frankly they do an extraordinary job at getting the party started.

    Some exciting matchups are afoot this weekend with some make-or-break games going on in conference play, and believe me, there is a lot of conference play.

20. Air Force at Navy

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    A military matchup in Annapolis, Md. is a prime spot for tailgate partying this weekend.

    Not only is the area beautiful with the water, the boats and a sailing atmosphere, but the Naval Academy itself is also impressive in this quaint Maryland town.

    One thing to keep in mind is that Navy Marine Corps Stadium is not actually on the campus; it’s about a mile and a half northwest of the campus and downtown. So to see the campus—impressive, to say the least—plan ahead if you’re tailgating at the stadium.

    The Midshipmen also march onto the field about 30 minutes before kickoff so you’ll need to plan accordingly. That is also quite a sight to see.

    The recommendation is to see the campus the day before and get your tailgating supplies as well. Then, start the tailgating festivities around 7:00 a.m. when the lots open.

    The kickoff Saturday is at noon eastern time, so this will give you plenty of time to enjoy the sites, get in the stadium and tailgate.

    Partying at Navy is a bit more upscale than your typical college parking lot. It usually includes expansive spreads and tends to be a bit more civilized.

    Drinking is just fine, but there aren’t a lot of stores around the stadium, so plan ahead. Most convenience stores sell beer, but you’ll have to check because not all convenience stores have a license.

    The closest liquor store is located in a drugstore next to Grauls Market, so ask around. 

19. New Mexico State at New Mexico

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    These two teams have one win between them; New Mexico is at 0-4, and NM State is at 1-3. Nevertheless, it is an in-state rivalry, and you’d have to admit that they’re pretty evenly-matched, so it is probably going to be a good game.

    New Mexico even states the fact that winning isn’t a consistent part of football there, so tailgating has picked up the slack.

    Trucks, barbecue grills and body paint make up the UM experience and, of course the necessity, alcohol.

    According to DailyLobo.com, student Joseph Vigil said, "Of course you have to have beer," he said. "It’s like, yeah, we come to get pumped for the game and we come to eat a burger and stuff, but really it’s about having a few drinks and trying to talk to girls."

    Notice there was no mention of the game, and fistfights do break out occasionally (usually over bad parking), but in general it's a good-natured crowd.

    One thing to keep in mind is that tailgating is only allowed six hours before the game, and fans have to be in the stadium by the end of the first quarter, which means no partying after the game (unlike most campuses in the country).

18. Ball State at No. 1 Oklahoma

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    The Sooners have moved out of the top 10 tailgating venues this week since they have vacated their No. 1 position in the AP Polls.

    The only reason is because of the matchup, which should easily favor Oklahoma over Ball State, even though Ball State is 3-1 on the season and the Sooners are 3-0.  It could be a better game than expected, but the fire should be in the eyes of the Sooners.

    Oklahoma got a bye week early in the season, but they have already hosted two home games for tailgating and a squeaker win over Missouri last week in their first Big-12 matchup.

    So it's party time again in legendary Norman, Okla.

    Just like most schools, the parking lots and frat house lawns are fair game for setting up your tailgate party. Keep in mind that it is convenient to the stadium—but free, it is not.

    The party starts pretty early in the morning, and this game has a 7:00 p.m. CDT start; plenty of time to get rowdy.

    You have a range of food from Oklahoma Chili, to ribs, barbecue, hamburgers and the normal fare.

    Beer is also common, as are full bars and tailgating trailers decorated in Sooner fashion. They take a lot of pride in what they hitch to their cars for this time-honored event.

17. No. 21 Georgia Tech at North Carolina State

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    This is an ACC matchup with Georgia Tech having the clear advantage at 4-0 on the season, 1-0 in conference play. The Yellow Jackets are playing some incredibly solid football right now.

    North Carolina State is 2-2 and 0-1 in the ACC; more reason that tailgating in Carter-Finley Stadium on the campus of N.C. State in Raleigh has to take on its own victory.

    Tailgating at State is another in the tradition of Southern tailgating, and what it may lack in the small-town charm of Oxford (Ole Miss) it makes up for in intensity and panache—panache in the sense that it's different, not haughty.

    Almost everyone has some sort of pork, barbecue and pigs on rotating spits. And the fans are not hung up on decorum.

    However, N.C. State is making a tailgate comeback after a tragedy that occurred in 2004.

    A rowdier than normal group of tailgaters got out of hand, and there was a shooting back then. The University reacted with major restrictions on the whole idea of tailgating, and whether or not you agree with their actions, tailgating at N.C. State is making a comeback.

    Under new leadership, the tailgating experience is back with a fanbase that can now fully celebrate N.C. State football.

16. Northwestern at No. 24 Illinois

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    The Fighting Illini are having a banner season, 4-0 overall. This is their first Big Ten conference game, and they take on the boys from Chicago; Northwestern is their cross-state rival, and it is also homecoming.

    The Illini have plenty of reason to celebrate their accomplishments this season, and tailgating on the campus at Illinois is also steeped in tradition.

    This is the land of beer, and it seems that only beer will do. They play beer-pong, as do others at colleges all over the country, but on Oct. 1, Oktoberfest Marzen beers are plentiful here.

    Not too far from Chicago, this is also the land of the brat, and the brat is the meat of choice for the barbecue. You’ll also find the usual burger, dog and a beer. Simplicity is king for the Fighting Illini.

    In the end, it’s Hail to the Orange at an 11:00 a.m. CDT start, which means a very early tailgate beginning, but there are plenty of opportunities for postgame tailgating into the night.

15. Wake Forest at Boston College

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    Here is another ACC conference game as the conference battles increase across the entire schedule.

    Boston College isn't having that great a year at 1-3 and 0-1 in conference matchups so far.

    Wake Forest, on the other hand, is 2-1 and 1-0 in the ACC, but these are the Boston College Eagles; a team with some tradition of winning, and they're at home.

    Tailgating at BC is also steeped in tradition, and they have documented the steps with a laundry list for the party-goer. I’ll take that cue from a party blog to give you the four things essential to tailgating at Boston College:

     

    1. Shotgunning (as in beer): This helps aging alums reconnect with their college youth and also creates some healthy drinking competition.

    2. Cornhole is key (this is a game): It’s a great way to break up the drinking/eating routine, which keeps you from getting too drunk and too fat.

    3. Rain gear: There is a value in having a large tent and being near a covered area. Tailgating in rain makes for a messy situation

    4. Mary Ann's: This is the favored bar on the BC campus and a tradition for after the game.

14. UCLA at No. 6 Stanford

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    Stanford fans can find no fault with this season or where they will be tailgating.

    The Cardinals are No. 6 in the polls, they have a second-year Heisman candidate in Andrew Luck, they are undefeated at 3-0 and they’re 1-0 in Pac-12 conference games.

    The UCLA game marks another Pac-12 game in which they intend to improve that stat, but another element is that the fans love their venue.

    Located in Palo Alto, Calif., Stanford's stadium has individual seats instead of benches, so each fan feels special because of that—and the seats are cheap, starting at $14.

    On the tailgating front, you have to remember that this is California; instead of chips and dip, it's garlic fries everywhere.

    But the menu doesn’t stop there, and I have to say it's unique compared to the majority of the campuses.

    For example, I found this statement on a blog talking about the upcoming tailgate experience at Stanford. "I am thinking a Dungeness Crab Cioppino, paired with a nice dry Barbera from Italy’s Piedmont region."

    Sounds a little like USC (see them in an upcoming slide).

13. UAB at Troy

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    These two teams are cross-state rivals of sorts.

    UAB (University of Alabama, Birmingham) is about an hour north of Troy, Ala., and Troy is only 30 minutes away from SEC neighbor Auburn.

    Both are relatively new to the national football scene with UAB having the newest program, but they're quite aggressive in how fast they’ve moved their programs forward.

    Neither team is having a stellar season,—UAB is at 0-3, and Troy is at 1-2—but that makes the game a pretty even matchup.

    Troy is a small Alabama town, and Troy Trojan football has been around quite a while, so there are traditions. Basically, the whole town shuts down on game day—at least to traffic.

    University Avenue, which runs through the campus, is closed off to become Trojan Walk. It’s a family atmosphere with tents, grills, coolers, food and games.

    The Trojans have already christened that tailgating ritual with their first home game last weekend. That also marked the opening of their new $12 million dollar dining hall, which if you're there, you have to try.

12. No. 13 Clemson at No. 11 Virginia Tech

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    This weekend seems to be all about the ACC and key games between conference strongholds.

    This game is no different.

    Both teams are undefeated and each week marks a milestone that gets them noticed on the national stage.

    As far as tailgating, this is the land of the Hokies, nestled in the Appalachians within the sleepy little town of in Blacksburg, Va. 

    Blacksburg is a bit more upscale than the typical tucked-away country college. There are Internet businesses, a robust student body and Starbucks.

    The Hokies have been home twice before, and the tailgating has gained momentum just like the team has. You could compare it with Morgantown, WVa., which got the national stage last week on ESPN College GameDay.

    Hokie tailgates are primarily about food and beverage, the food being ribs, Boston butt (or marinated whole chickens) and grilling is the centerpiece of the VT tailgate.

    For the local fare, Hokieland is barbecue country, and different sauces make it something special.

    But beverages are the backbone of any tailgate. They call it tailgating with "brown water," AKA bourbon. A fine Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey will certainly get you ready for the game, and with a 6:00 p.m. EDT start, both fanbases will be fueled.

11. Michigan State at Ohio State

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    Yet another classic matchup in the Big Ten with each team at identical 3-1 records. This is the first conference game for both, too.

    Despite their lack of a national ranking, this has got to be a good game in the making.

    The Buckeyes have been looking to make a statement after a tempestuous offseason, even though their preseason ranking at No. 18 has slipped away.

    But there is hope for the remainder of the season, and the OSU tailgaters rally their red tents in one of the many parking lots that are turned into giant outdoor bars.

    Or you could make friends with one of the many groups that have their own Buckeye-fashioned school bus. 

    The best tailgating at Ohio State happens a little bit away from the stadium and across the river near the basketball and track stadiums.

    That’s where you’ll find the most variety and probably some unique approaches to imbibing and eating.

    Typically, they’ll serve breakfast with a Bloody Mary, then chili, brats, pork, hot wings and so on.

10. Arizona at USC

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    The Pac-12 is hot with conference games this weekend. You’ve already heard about UCLA vs. Stanford, but this is Southern California, the home of the Trojans who are looking better than the Wildcats of Arizona at this point.

    As far as tailgating goes, the weather is great, fans are laid-back (except after kickoff) and outside of the legendary Coliseum you'll find just about everything under the sun.

    Because of such a diverse ethnic population, the food is a smorgasbord of every flavor you could think of. You'll see lamb on spits, tacos, enchiladas and many exotic foods, along with the usual chicken, ribs, burgers and dogs.

    When it comes to tipping back the glass, the USC fans do have Bud Light, but more often you’ll see bottles of wine, premium or imported beers, and when it's time to do shots, it's not the bar brand tequila—it's Patron.

    In a previous tailgating article, one comment that came from a USC fan said they’d rather have a $500 bottle of Chardonnay than a $5 beer any day.

9. SMU at No. 20 TCU

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    In this weekend's lineup, a non-conference game like this is a rarity.

    However, the teams' records are close with both at 3-1.

    TCU has made strides in the polls with their level of play thus far, only dropping their opener to Baylor in a much-publicized upset.

    But this is a cross-state game in Texas, a state that prides itself on tailgating, no matter what school in the Lone Star State.

    "Grills Gone Wild" is the way one site put it. Tailgating at TCU has increased with the popularity and performance of its team over the last half-decade, much less the season.

    On game day, fans bring it all. They drive up in specialty cars, grill at monstrous smokers, watch games from around the country on flat-screen high-definition televisions and show off elaborate decorations.

    Well, that's fairly typical for most campuses in the country, but at TCU it used to be that fans would pull up to the stadium 20 minutes before kickoff with the wife and kids to see the Frogs play.

    Now fans arrive hours early and set up quasi-living rooms on the asphalt for an all-day celebration of feasting, football and fraternizing. It's a place to see and be seen.

    It's such a big deal that the TCU athletic department regularly receives calls from brides-to-be wanting to plan their weddings (and tailgate-type receptions) around Horned Frog games 12-24 months in advance.

    Another caller who was deadlocked in a divorce settlement wanted to know if TCU would allow joint custody of a parking space.

    Tailgating has certainly come of age—maybe a bit too much at TCU.

8. Buffalo at Tennessee

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    The Tennessee Volunteers haven't quite gotten to the state that their preseason press predicted. They started out on a two-game win streak, but then hit No. 16 Florida last week for their first loss, a conference loss to boot.

    But tailgating in the hills of Tennessee is quite special, memorable in fact.

    Neyland stadium on the campus of the University of Tennessee is located in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains, and the scenery is spectacular.

    This is one of two stadiums in the country with water access, and on game day the Tennessee River is crowded with boaters having their own tailgate afloat in front of the stadium.

    While singing "Rocky Top" so many times that it permeates the brain by the end of the day, the morning starts with Bloody Mary's, but very soon migrates to bourbon.

    This is Tennessee, and your visit wouldn't be complete without some Tennessee sippin' whiskey.

    Every now and then you'll come across a drink called Calvados, although it is also referred to as apple moonshine, homemade of course.

7. No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin

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    This is another classic Big Ten matchup; No. 8 vs. No. 7, both teams undefeated and this one is the location for ESPN's College GameDay. The fanbase will be rabid.

    Why isn't this one the No. 1 tailgating venue this week because of GameDay, you ask? 

    Well, all that is classic tailgating is not GameDay, so you’ll have to see when you get to No. 1.

    Tailgaters in Madison are getting a lot of practice with this being the Badgers' fifth home game in a row. 

    Okay, the Northern Illinois game was in Chicago, so that one doesn't count, but it was technically listed as a Wisconsin home game. (It truly was a neutral site game.)

    In the land of cheese you'll find an abundance of it, along with the local favorite: brats and beer.

    An 8:00 p.m. EDT kickoff (7:00 p.m. in Wisconsin) gives the students and fans plenty of time to load up and celebrate beforehand.

    The stadium is nestled within neighborhoods, so parking can be difficult, but most of the enterprising neighbors will let you park on their lawns for a fee.

    These are some of the most passionate fans in the country, and Badgers fanatics will party hard.

    Let's see if Lee Corso puts on the Badger head or the plastic corn hat. Either way, this is going to be an incredible game and party.            

6. Minnesota at No. 19 Michigan

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    Big Ten conference play continues in Ann Arbor, Mich., where an undefeated Wolverine team will go up against the 1-3 Gophers from Minnesota. This will be the first conference game for each.

    These are old foes and not too far from each other geographically, which means the tailgating is similar in terms of food and drink.

    Tailgating in Ann Arbor goes back generations and is steeped in traditions handed down within Michigan families.

    But some of the newer traditions are taking hold—especially at Michigan.

    At Michigan Stadium, 42" LCD TVs with satellite dishes are quite the norm. You'll also find iPads for streaming music in between games and generators for powering it all.

    This is an early kickoff game with a 12:00 p.m. EDT start, but there'll be plenty of time to set up early in the morning, have a Bloody Mary (or two) and then watch football and party after the game until the wee hours of the night.

    Then, how about a remote-controlled cooler that drives up to your guests to pop a cold one?

    I guess for every old tradition, there's a new one to take its place. What better place for the new ones to take hold than at Michigan, where most traditions were born?

5. Mississippi State at Georgia

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    The SEC is in full swing and tailgating is legendary, especially at Georgia. This is a matchup between Bulldogs and Bulldogs.

    Both have identical records overall, but Georgia has an edge in the SEC at 1-1, and State is at 0-2. Still, they are from different SEC divisions, which matters little when it comes to this conference.

    The Ga. Bulldogs have something going for them when they’re home in Athens—and that’s the tailgating.

    Classes mostly exist at Georgia to take up time in between games and tailgates. That's a joke, but some folks around there believe it to be true.

    Southern specialties, grilled delights, catered affairs—the food at Georgia tailgates is one of the main attractions and ranges from chic to college-style.

    Some fans haul out grills and smokers, deep fryers, chairs and picnic tables—everything but the kitchen sink.

    The University website even states that tailgating is one of the, "factors used to attract future freshmen and transfer students from all over the country."

4. Auburn at No. 10 South Carolina

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    This is a make-or-break game for the Auburn Tigers who have struggled all season, but still have a decent record at 3-1, 1-0 in conference play.

    South Carolina, on the other hand, is undefeated with two conference games under its belt.

    But if you ask Gamecocks fans, they’ll tell you they have to be a little nervous heading into this one, given the sloppy play of their offense lately.

    They may need a little boost or bracer before the game begins.

    The Gamecocks are known for their tailgating in the southern tradition, with something no other stadium has: the Cockaboose.

    Okay, if you’ve read the previous tailgating articles, you've heard about them, so I’m going to pass on telling you again.

    But you’ll have to admit that 22 cabooses lining a railroad track just outside of Williams-Brice Stadium with amenities like running water, cable television, air conditioning/heating and a living room is something never before associated with tailgating.

    This should be a good game as the Gamecocks shoot for winning the SEC East title again this year.

3. Kentucky at No. 1 LSU

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    The No. 1 LSU Bengal Bayou Tigers should have no problem with the Kentucky Wildcats in yet another SEC matchup.

    After two weeks on the road, I'm sure LSU is glad to be back in Baton Rouge where the traveling party can call home and take advantage of some of the delicacies of Louisiana cooking that will definitely make for a lavish tailgate experience: pots of crawfish boiling on the grill, crawfish etouffee and other unique dishes that only the Ragin' Cajuns can concoct.

    The cooking in Louisiana is the best around and sets the LSU tailgate parties apart from any you’ve ever experienced.

    The stadium in Baton Rouge is called Death Valley, and the noise created by the fans is deafening. That's an experience not to miss—unless of course you're a Kentucky Wildcat. 

    LSU should retain their No. 1 status in the polls, and I only wish I could be there for the party Saturday night.

2. No. 14 Texas A&M at No. 18 Arkansas (Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas)

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    It’s official: Texas A&M will be a part of the SEC, the timing of which is currently being worked out.

    So consider this game a little preview of what a conference game would be like for the Aggies.

    Arkansas returns from Tuscaloosa where No. 3 Alabama beat them up pretty good.

    However, even though they slipped in the polls, the Razorbacks are on track to have a stellar season.

    This is a neutral site game in Texas, although Arkansas is officially the home team. This tailgating experience will be much like the season-opener in Arlington between Oregon and LSU.

    In that one the Tigers had the advantage since their home was just a few hours away, thus the traveling party was easier to transport.

    This matchup is within easy distance for both teams, so consider it a truly collaborative tailgate experience, with each team bringing their own flair to the party.

1. No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida

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    Now, this is a classic SEC party, with the Crimson Tide and the Gators having a great deal of legacy to play out.

    Recent history had 'Bama against Tim Tebow and the Gators twice; one win and one loss for each, and they really don’t like each other very much.

    You can bet that the Tide will relocate their tailgating expertise from Tuscaloosa to The Swamp in Gainesville just to prove the point.

    Before potentially getting eaten alive in The Swamp, you need to take advantage of some eats of your own out in the tailgating section.

    This is Florida, so seafood is in abundance with a lot of shrimp cooked in a variety of ways and the usual burger, dogs, steak—and, of course, beer.

    This is a hard-partying school too, and nobody is safe from getting caught up in the revelry.

    The University of Florida was voted the best party school in the country in 2008 by the Princeton Review—and I don't think things have changed that much in three years.    

    There is a Florida tailgating website dedicated to events, cooking, eating and drinking, at home or away. Gatortailgating.com provides details about away games and the opponents' tailgate venues.

    You gotta love a school that asks the question, "Do ya’ll think 60 Jello shots is enough?"