College football stadiums run the spectrum of venues from enormous to miniscule, and from expansive to intimate. Some are unquestionably better than others, and any list of the top stadiums in the country will—and should—change as the seasons pass.
With the completion of the 2011 college football regular season, we're provided the opportunity to take a quick look back at some of the great games we saw over the course of the season in some great settings.
Here's our look at the 50 greatest stadiums in college football, taken from the perspective of the now-complete 2011 regular season.
You really have to like a college football stadium that incorporates a NASCAR-sanctioned racetrack, too. That's exactly what you have at Winson-Salem State, where the No. 4 Rams earned their first-ever berth in the Division II national semifinals on Saturday with a win over No. 11 New Haven.
After an impressive run through the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the No. 4 Bison have begun their playoff run to the national quarterfinals, where they will host No. 6 Lehigh on Saturday in the Fargodome—yes, the Fargodome—in, you guessed it, Fargo, North Dakota. There aren't many indoor venues in college football, but the few that do exist at the non-FBS level are very unfriendly to any visiting team. That effect is only amplified in a playoff atmosphere.
The Grizzlies are back in a familiar place: the FCS playoffs. No. 5 Montana will host No. 2 on Friday, December 9 in another FCS quarterfinal round in Missoula, Montana where the Grizz are almost impossible to beat. If there's one fan base that really knows how to “welcome” visiting teams during the playoffs, it has the be the December-experienced fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Houston Cougars went on an absolute tear this season, eventually rising at one point into the top ten of the BCS rankings. Heading into the conference championship week, it looked as if the Cougars were a lock for their first-ever BCS berth.
The problem was, Houston had yet to be tested in 2011, and faced their first ranked opponent in the Conference USA Championship Game: Southern Mississippi.
The result? Houston was thoroughly embarrassed on their home field.
So it turns out Houston was a BCS fraud this season. That doesn't mean they don't have a great stadium filled with incredibly loyal and supportive fans.
On top of that, Houston plays in one of the more intimate venues in the FBS. If you were lucky enough to catch a Houston game in person this season, you were also treated to the exploits of record-breaking quarterback Case Keenum.
While Houston may not have a BCS bowl berth to take away from the 2011 season, the Cougars and their fans will have the memory of a great and record-breaking season.
Built in 1914, the Yale Bowl is home to one of the storied old programs in college football.
It not only ranks as one of the oldest college football stadiums in the nation (regardless of division), it also ranks as one of the largest FCS stadiums, with a capacity of 64,246. At its largest, the stadium boasted 70,869 seats, but that number shrunk due to renovations to the stadium.
When the Yale Bulldogs host Harvard, the stadium is packed, and it gets very, very loud. While this classic grudge match no longer holds the nation's attention as it did a century ago, it is still a rivalry game that should be high on a football fan's bucket list.
The 2011 season wasn't one of the most memorable seasons for Yale. Including a loss to hated rival Harvard, the Bulldogs added four more to finish 5-5 (4-3). Although the 4-3 record was good enough to finish tied with three other teams for second in the Ivy League, it wasn't the hoped-for improvement on last season's 7-3 success.
Built in 1903, Harvard Stadium is the original “horseshoe” stadium from which so many stadium designs are taken.
The stadium seats 30,000 (although rarely full), and may not be the loudest or most comfortable of venues (even in the FCS), but it's classic design and unique Greco-Roman architecture still earn this venerable stadium a place in our top 50.
The Crimson finished 2011 as Ivy League champions with a 9-1 (7-0) record and No. 16 ranking. As usual, the Crimson turned down an invitation to participate in the FCS playoffs, as is Ivy League tradition.
Since it was built in 1924, Ross-Ade Stadium has hosted the Purdue Boilermakers.
The Boilers haven't been a team worthy of much cheer for the past few years, but that doesn't seem to have dampened the atmosphere at Ross-Ade. The fans are some of the most loyal you will find anywhere in the nation, the band is second to none, and night games bring out the best in everyone in West Lafayette.
After another lackluster season (6-6, 4-4 Big Ten), you really have to begin wondering how long it's going to be before Purdue is no longer considered one of the top 50 places to watch a football game.
Arizona Stadium, located on campus in Tuscon, Arizona, was built in 1928 with a capacity of 7,000. Add 50,000 seats, and you have the stadium as it is today.
The Wildcat fans create a wonderful atmosphere each Saturday, and with when seating was added to the end zones, it really began to give Arizona a true home-field advantage.
The Wildcats finished just 4-8 (2-7) this season, tied for last in the weak Pac-12 South Division, and fired head coach Mike Stoops after six games.
Maybe with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez as head coach, the Wildcats will be able to climb out of the Pac-12 basement, and up the list of top venues in the nation.
Jones AT&T Stadium is where the Red Raiders of Texas Tech call home. “The Jones” has 60,000 seats, although attendance frequently outpaces capacity.
The stadium is also known for it's atmosphere, and a a big win over a rival will frequently see Tech fans celebrating on the field with players as time expires.
But with this season's 5-7 (2-7) finish (9th in the 10-team Big 12), there wasn't much celebrating to be done, and tickets weren't that difficult to come by this year. Texas Tech wasn't very high on the list of college stadiums to begin with, but a few more years like 2011 and Jones AT&T Stadium risks falling from the ranks of mid-range venues.
Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of Sun Devil Stadium is the Arizona State student section.
There are very few student sections anywhere in the country that are more enthusiastic or more boisterous than the ASU student section.
Built in 1958, the stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl until 2006 The capacity of the stadium has been steadily increased over the years to its current 73,000.
Unfortunately, this season didn't provide those 73,000 fans the expected success everyone though was coming back in September. Despite returning nearly every starter from a 2010 team that finished 6-6, Arizona State couldn't improve upon that record, and limped across the finish line 6-6 (4-5) after a massive late-season collapse.
When the losses begin to mount, the fan furor begins to die down. That's exactly what happened in Tempe this season.
For an old, storied program, Boston College has a pretty small venue. Alumni Stadium holds just 44,000 fans, but that usually guarantees a packed, noisy stadium to cheer on Boston College.
It's also helpful that the stadium is located on campus, and that campus is located just a few miles from downtown Boston—a city that is home to some of the nation's most loyal fan bases.
But like the other teams we've seen so far on our list, the 2011 season didn't do any favors to the ranking for the stadium. BC finished 4-8 (3-5), good enough for just fifth in the ACC's Atlantic Division, and the Eagles will be watching bowl season from their couches. Boston College already has a recent reputation of being a sleepy venue. Seasons like this won't help the fan base create a hostile environment for opponents, and Alumni Stadium is in serious risk of falling from any top 50 list.
Utah plays its home games at beautiful Rice-Eccles Stadium. Built in 1998, Rice-Eccles also played host to the 2002 Winter Olympics. It is one of the newest football stadiums in the nation, and has a breathtaking backdrop—the Wasatch mountains.
If you're looking for a beautiful vista, a stop in Salt Lake City to take in a Utes game is a must. It also helps that the Utes are building themselves one heck of a program.
Now that this season is over, I think we can safely say “welcome to the ranks of the BCS-AQ conferences, Utah,” and do so with a little smirk.
Utah has had as much success in BCS games as any non-SEC team, but Utah has always relied on the non-AQ Cinderella status to gain entry. Now that Utah faces a week-in and week-out schedule of AQ programs, the Utes managed a record of just 7-5 (4-5), finishing with the fourth-best record in the Pac-12's South Division.
Making the jump to an AQ conference is certainly going to involve some growing pains, but losing conference records won't earn your venue much praise on top stadiums lists.
David Wade Stadium is home to the Mississippi State football team, and it is one of the oldest existing stadiums in the United States.
Built in 1914, the stadium currently has a capacity of 55,082.
One word of caution: if you don't like the ringing of cowbells, a Mississippi State game is bound to give you a headache. Although the SEC has rules banning the use of “artificial noisemakers,” Mississippi State reached a compromise with the conference allowing fans to bring cowbells provided they only use them during timeouts, between quarters, halftime, pregame, post-game, and after a Mississippi State score. Of course, that's not exactly how it happens...
One of the great up-and-coming venues in the FBS, Mississippi State was becoming a place that SEC foes were beginning to fear.
That was before the 2011 season.
Lofty preseason expectations was quickly dashed, and the Bulldogs finished the season with a meager 6-6 overall record. But the real disappointment came in conference play, where Mississippi State managed just two wins. So much for aspirations of a run at the SEC-West title.
Our first military academy stop is in Colorado Springs, home to the United States Air Force Academy.
Falcon Stadium (52,480) is located as the base of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, and like Utah, the vista provides for a spectacular view. Like the other military academies, the pomp and pageantry at the Air Force Academy is unlike anything you'll see elsewhere around the nation. It's also helpful that the US Air Force runs the show, as there's almost always some sort of Air Force flyover—always cool, no matter what stadium it is.
For a second season in a row, Air Force captured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, beating both Army and Navy. The Falcons also finished with a 7-5 (3-4) record, good enough to earn a place in the Military Bowl in Washington, DC on December 28 against Toledo.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (34,000) is the home venue of the Navy Midshipmen football team.
While considerably smaller than Air Force, the stadium is another current venue to have hosted an Olympic event (the stadium hosted soccer games during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles).
Interestingly, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial has never hosted an Army-Navy game. That annual rivalry match is now held at a neutral site each year. It was last held in Annapolis during World War II—before the current stadium was built.
Even by Navy standards, the 2011 season was terrible. The Midshipmen took a huge step backwards this season, failing to qualify for a bowl berth for the first time since the 2002 season.
Even though Navy finished just 4-7, attending a game at one of the nation's military institutions is still a treat, and you can't find a student body or alumni base more dedicated and loyal than at the three academies.
The Army Black Knights call Michie Stadium home. With 40,000 seats, it is slightly larger than Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, but still quite a bit smaller than Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
Unlike Navy-Marine Corps Memorial, Michie (pronounced “Mike-ee”) has hosted an Army-Navy game—the 1943 game. After that year, the annual clash moved to a neutral location each season.
The stadium sits particularly high relative to its surroundings (335 feet above sea level), which provides an amazing view of the Hudson River and the West Point campus.
Like Navy, Army also struggled this season, finishing 3-8. The two academies will clash in their annual pomp-filled rivalry game on Saturday (December 10) at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. Neither team can qualify for a bowl game this season, so this 112th installment of Army-Navy will be the “bowl game” for each team.
When you think about Ole Miss football, you probably think more about the tailgating at The Grove than Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580).
The stadium opened in 1915, which puts it right up there with the oldest stadiums in the nation. When the most recent renovations were completed back in 2002, the stadium was finally enclosed, and the massive video board installed in 2008 is a whopping 4,032 square feet and cost $6 million.
That alone is worth seeing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to on-field performance, there isn't much worse in the nation than Ole Miss. The Rebels were an abysmal 2-10 (0-8) this season, and despite SEC-lovers telling the rest of the nation that their conference is the best “top-to-bottom” in the nation, it's hard to take that statement seriously when your conference still sports a team that can't win within it's own conference and its non-conference 2-2 record include wins against an FCS program and 4-8 Fresno State.
The Rebels also were fairly well lit up by “powerhouse” Louisiana Tech, 27-7.
At this point, the modern wonder of the world video board is probably the only thing keeping Vaught-Hemmingway from sinking well out of any top 50 list.
At 49,250 seats, the Carrier Dome isn't even close to the largest domed stadium. But it is the largest college dome, and incredibly intimate feel combined with the typically noisy Syracuse crowd gives the Orangemen a distinct home-field advantage.
There's nowhere for the sound to go, and during big games, it's impossible to hear yourself think. Opposing quarterbacks call audibles at their own peril.
West Virginia found that our the hard way this season, as the Orange got one last Big East jab in at the conference co-champions and Orange Bowl participant Mountaineers before Syracuse hightails it for the ACC.
That was, unfortunately, the only conference win for the 5-7 (1-6) Orange this season, but upsetting the then-No. 11 Mountaineers shows that the Carrier Dome is still a dangerous place for visiting teams.
Heading back out west, we find another great stadium situated as the base of a beautiful mountain range.
LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,725) was expanded with metal seating, which makes a perfect noisemaker for all 63,000-plus BYU fans—giving this Provo venue one of the loudest feels in the country.
It's also worth noting that dinosaur fossils used to be housed under the bleachers at the stadium. In 2005, the fossils were removed and prepared for display. You can visit these football fossils at the BYU Earth Science Museum.
When BYU dumped the Mountain West and decided to go it alone in the conference-dominated world of college football, we're pretty sure 9-3 is about where the Cougars were hoping they'd end up. But BYU was left to fend for itself when it came time for bowl selections, and the Cougars found a home in the relatively under-appreciated and little-watched Armed Forces Bowl on December 30, which will be played at noon on a Friday.
Still, 9-3 is a great place to start your independence, and if things continue in that direction, expect BYU to be entertaining some non-con game suitors in the years to come.
Folsom Field was built in 1924 at a cost of just $65,000—cheap even for those days.
The field sits at 5,360 feet—more than a mile—above sea level, and is lower than only two stadiums in the nation (Wyoming and Air Force). A capacity crowd of 53,613 will eagerly greet some of the Pac-12's best programs in 2011, and the noise created can be impressive for such a small stadium.
Combine the noise with thin air, and some Pac-12 teams (most of which are pretty close to sea level) will find a very hostile environment.
The stadium is also another venue providing breathtaking views of mountains—probably the best mountain vista on our list. Any trip to Boulder, Colorado wouldn't be complete without taking in a Colorado football game.
If Colorado fans thought moving to the Pac-12 was going to help their football fortunes, think again. The first season for the Buffs in the Pac-12 saw them post a conference-worst 3-10 record. If things don't turn around soon, Colorado could find its role in the Pac-12 becoming eerily similar to its role in the Big 12: perennial cellar-dweller.
If there was one team out of the Pac-12 this season that exceeded expectations, it probably has to be the Washington Huskies.
After Jack Locker graduated, it seemed as if Washington's great equalizer was at last gone, and the Huskies would be left to eek out what few victories they could. Yet, somewhat amazingly, the Huskies found their way into the BCS rankings at one point this season, and finished with a 7-5 (4-5) mark, good enough for a Alamo Bowl berth to face Baylor.
That certainly will keep one of the nation's more unusual stadiums firmly entrenched in the top 50.
First, you have to partake in what has to be the most unique tailgater in the nation. The tailgating at Husky Stadium is done as much by boat as it is by car. On football Saturdays, Husky fans sail on up to the shoreline of Lake Washington, right next to Husky Stadium. The UW Crew Team then provides shuttles for fans from their boats to the stadium for the game.
While other stadiums claim to be “the loudest” in the nation, Washington actually has the proof. During the 1992 game against Nebraska, the sound level was recorded by ESPN to be over 130 decibels. The average person begins to feel pain at 120 decibels.
The extreme noise at Husky Stadium is likely due to the fact that more than 70 percent of the seats are between the two end zones, and the stadium noise is “reflected” in and down thanks to cantilevered metal roofs overhanging the sides of the stadium.
Williams-Brice Stadium is home to the Gamecocks of South Carolina.
“The Cockpit” is frequently recognized by SEC fans as having one of, if not the best game day experience in the conference. With a capacity of 80,250, the stadium is home to many grand traditions, including the playing of “Dawn” (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) as the players run onto the field, the rooster crow, and the game-concluding singing of “Amazing Grace.”
While South Carolina's season didn't end quite the way many had envisioned when the season began, the Gamecocks still finished with ten wins and a No. 10 ranking in the B/R Top 25 poll.
Because of the performance of the top teams in the SEC this season, the Gamecocks are shut out of the BCS bowls, despite finishing at No. 9 in the rankings, but South Carolina fans will still be looking forward to a Capital One Bowl clash with Nebraska on January 2.
We can't forget about the stadiums that don't have a permanent, weekly resident, and so we're going to include the Cotton Bowl on our list.
The Cotton Bowl is one of those stadiums that has become a landmark onto itself in the college football world.
The stadium has hosted so much history, it's hard to know where to start. The Dallas Cowboys once called the Cotton Bowl home. So did SMU. The annual Texas-Oklahoma game still calls the stadium home.
Sadly, the actual Cotton Bowl game (now the Cotton Bowl Classic) has moved to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but the Cotton Bowl itself still proudly stands as a monument to the game. At 92,100 seats, the stadium is one of the largest anywhere to not have a home team.
The Cotton Bowl also hosted matches of the 1994 World Cup.
While the list of accomplishments for this grand stadium is certainly impressive, it's annual college football draw, the Red River Rivalry, was a bit... lopsided. Over 96,000 people watched the Oklahoma Sooners absolutely roll over the Texas Longhorns.
Besides that one high-profile game, the stadium today is mostly unused, now that the Cotton Bowl Classic game has moved to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Another temple to the history of the game is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Unlike the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl still hosts its namesake bowl game each season, and the Rose Bowl also serves as the home venue for the UCLA Bruins.
The stadium has seen the “Grandaddy of Them All” every year since 1923 played on its surface (the 1942 game was moved to the East Coast due to fears of a Japanese invasion and the US Navy's inability to provide protection due to the massive losses at Pearl Harbor), and the 94,392 seat capacity for the bowl game makes it one of the largest-attended bowl games each season.
The Stadium has also hosted the Super Bowl on five occasions, the World Cup final in 1994, the Women's World Cup in 1999, and hosted events at both the 1932 and 1984 Olympics.
Interestingly enough, the stadium itself is a money loser—which is why you don't see modern improvements made to the facilities. The only way the city-owned stadium stays afloat is through revenue generated from the adjacent golf course—operated by the Rose Bowl Operating Company.
The Rose Bowl's main tenant, UCLA, had a 2011 season that could best be described as interesting.
While the Bruins finished 6-7 (5-4), that mark was good enough for the Pac-12 South Division crown and a berth in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game (thanks to USC's ineligibility). Despite winning the divisional title and earning a berth in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, head coach Rick Neuheisel lost his job after four seasons. His players responded by carrying him off the field following their final practice.
Interestingly, the Bruins' foe for the bowl game will be Illinois, who also recently fired their head coach, Ron Zook. Two interim coaches will guide their respective teams to a much-needed bowl win (Mike Johnson for UCLA and Vic Koenning for Illinois).
Bronco Stadium makes its unique appearance on our list.
There are a few things that keep Boise State from having one of the last stadium's mentioned.
First, the stadium includes a track between the stands and the field. While certainly not the only field to have such a feature, it does separate the fans from the action, and can diminish the experience.
Secondly, the stadium has only 33,500 seats. There are much larger stadiums much lower on our list.
The reason for Boise State even appearing on the list is obviously for its unusual (but no longer unique) non-green surface, and the fact that the small crowd can make such an impressive impact on the game. Boise State hasn't lost a home game since a loss to then-No. 18 Boston College in the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl (which arguably wasn't technically a “home game”). Boise State hasn't lost a home conference game since the 1998 season.
You just can't find another stadium which is in the middle of a 62 consecutive win streak by the home team.
Some people might think Boise State should rank much higher on our season-ending list than No. 26. But consider the fact that Boise State still has one of the smallest FBS venues in the nation, and the much vaunted home win streak was broken by TCU, and it's easy to see why an admittedly wonderful venue finds its way onto this list in a relatively depressed position.
Speaking of depressed, how bad must Broncos fans feel after seeing their top ten Broncos get screwed out of yet another BCS bid?
Bobby Dodd Stadium opened in 1913, making it the oldest FBS stadium still in use today. It has seen more games and more wins that any other FBS venue, and is perfectly located in the midst of Atlanta.
Other than the football game, there are so many things to do around Bobby Dodd Stadium, that a single trip to Georgia Tech probably won't suffice.
The stadium has a capacity of 55,000, and night games can be particularly exciting, and the football crowd spills out into the Atlanta nightlife (or vice versa).
The Rambling Wreck had a fine season, finishing an impressive 8-4 (5-3). Sure, this isn't where Georgia Tech fans envisioned the season ending back in October, but considering the fact that the Yellow Jackets were a team getting almost no attention in the preseason, there are worse fates than ending up with a Sun Bowl bid.
The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is quite a mouthful. The stadium holds 82,112 fans and one of the best football programs in the nation.
The stadium first opened in 1925, and has since seen more than its fair share of college football history.
It is one of the more difficult venues for oppsing teams, as the partisan crowd seems to surround you at every turn.
The fact that the stadium only ranks as the third-largest in the Big 12 keeps this venue from finding itself higher on our list. A larger-than-life program like Oklahoma should expect to have a larger-than-life stadium.
A shocking home loss to Texas Tech, which began the fall of Oklahoma from the top tier of ranked teams this season hurts Oklahoma's ranking on our 2011 list of top 50 stadiums. While OU's two subsequent losses occurred on the road, it was the home loss to Texas Tech that began the questioning of the Sooners' fitness to remain a highly-ranked team this season.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum isn't just for college football fans. The “Grand Old Lady” has seen so much history, it's staggering. Other than USC, its current tenant, the LA Coliseum has hosted two Olympics, Super Bowl I (then called the AFL-NFL World Championship) and Super Bowl VII. It has served as home to no fewer than 12 college or professional teams, and has been home to USC since it opened in 1923. If all of that wasn't enough, it is the only stadium in the world to host the Olympics twice.
A trip to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum isn't just a visit to college football history, it's a visit to American history.
What keeps the Coliseum low on the list is the fact that its age is beginning to show. The Coliseum isn't in the best part of LA, and consequently isn't high on the list for renovations. Add to the fact that the stadium is jointly owned by the cash-strapped governments of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, and City of Los Angeles, and it makes it very unlikely we'll see any big improvements anytime soon.
With sanctions and post-season bans comes rough times. Apparently USC didn't get that memo.
The Trojans were supposed to struggle through this season, not finish 10-2. While there's no bowl game for USC this year, the Trojans are certainly in a prime position to compete for a BCS berth in 2012. So what keeps USC's home digs so low on our list? It's the seemingly constant inability to sell out the joint, even when the Trojans finish 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in the AP poll.
Kinnick Stadium opened in 1929, and since that time, it has provided Iowa with a home that opponents absolutely hate.
With its 70,585 seats, Kinnick Stadium has many unusual features, including a pink visitor's locker room. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry had the visitor's locker room painted pink because he believed it was a “passive” color, and a “sissy” color. Michigan's Bo Schebechler hated it so much, that prior to his players entering the locker room, he had team assistants go into the locker room, and cover the walls with brown paper.
When the locker room was renovated, Iowa not only painted the new locker room pink, they installed pink lockers and even pink toilets and urinals. This caused some to protest Iowa's move as “demeaning to women and homosexuals.”
Needless to say, this protest was rejected by the university and Iowa fans alike, and the visitor's locker room remains pink.
Kinnick also lacks stadium lights. Any night games, or games that stretch into darkness require the university to rent portable light trucks to illuminate the field.
Lane Stadium is next on our list, and the Hokies call this 66,233-seat stadium home.
Built in 1965, the stadium has become one of the “scariest places to play” according to ESPN.com.
In 2005, Rivals.com ranked Lane Stadium as the No. 1 most difficult place to play in the nation.
If those two tidbits don't earn a stadium a place on this list, not much else will.
Despite losing at home to Clemson during the regular season, and getting absolutely smoked by the Tigers again in the ACC Championship Game, the 11-2 Hokies found their way into the BCS, earning a Sugar Bowl berth to face the surprising Michigan Wolverines.
Doak Campbell Stadium is home to Florida State's football Seminoles.
The stadium opening in 1950 with just 15,000 seats, but that has since ballooned to 82,300. In Tallahassee, football rules autumn Saturdays, and there's no better place to be than Doak Campbell Stadium.
Of all the cool things that happen at any given university on any given Saturday, including all of the great things that go on at Florida State, one of the coolest has to bee Chief Osceola riding a horse to midfield, and plunging a flaming spear into the ground.
As it turned out, the preseason hype surrounding Doak and its occupants turned out to be nothing more than that: hype. Florida State finished a meager 8-4, far off their preseason expectations of competing for possible berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Georgia Bulldogs call Sanford Stadium home, and it is one of the most iconic stadiums in the nation.
The games are played “between the hedges,” as the stadium has two privet shrub hedges the run the length of the field behind the sidelines and end zones. Even though the stadium was opened in 1929, one wouldn't know that to look at it. UGA has done a very careful job of fitting new expansions into the original look and feel of the stadium, so that it appears as if was all built at the same time.
The SEC-East champs from 2011 will find themselves facing a very good Michigan State team which also lost their its respective conference championship game. These two titans will clash in the Outback Bowl this January.
Since 1924, the University of Texas Longhorns have played their home games at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium.
The stadium is also the first on our list to surpass the 100,000 seat mark, as it has an official seating capacity of 100,119. DKR-Texas Memorial is also the largest stadium in the state of Texas, seat-wise. The new Cowboys Stadium has a higher overall capacity, but only 80,000 actual seats (standing room plazas make up space for the other 31,000 spectators).
While playing at DKR-Texas Memorial, the Longhorns have won in excess of 77 percent of their games, making it one of the most favorable home fields in the nation.
Future expansion plans have included the enclosing of the south end zone and the addition of a second deck on that end, as well. The expected final seating capacity of the stadium would be nearly 120,000, making it easily the largest stadium in the nation.
Texas did manage to crack the final BCS rankings with a 7-5 finish, two games better than last season's 5-7. While seven wins isn't anywhere close to what Longhorns fans are used to, it's a far sight better than sitting at home watching everyone else play in a bowl game.
The University of Auburn plays their home games at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. With a current seating capacity of 87,451, Auburn is home to the fifth-largest SEC stadium.
While the recent expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa has knocked Jordan-Hare to second place in the state of Alabama, the Tiger faithful haven't lost any of their fabled intensity.
Jordan-Hare is also home to one of the coolest live mascot events in the nation. There's not a whole lot that can compare to War Eagle's flight.
Last season, Auburn would have been near the top of the list, as it was absolutely impossible for opponents to find a win at Auburn.
But, it turns out the preseason predictions of a depleted Auburn team in 2011 were true—no matter how long Tigers fans hopelessly clung to their belief that Auburn could do the impossible this season.
“The Sea of Red” is a new addition to the long list of great Big Ten stadiums on this list, but at 81,067 seats, it's not anywhere near the largest stadium in the conference. What it does have is undying fan loyalty.
Nebraska has seen 311 consecutive sell out games at Memorial Stadium, something that no one else in the NCAA can claim. The record is on going, and with Nebraska's fan loyalty and a new conference full of potential rivalries, it's probably a safe bet the streak will continue for quite some time.
Despite the preseason bluster from the Cornhuskers' faithful, Nebraska did not dominate the Big Ten this season. In fact, Nebraska third in the Big Ten-Legends, and fifth overall with a 9-3 (5-3) record this season.
Still, the Huskers gained valuable Big Ten experience, and it won't be long before Nebraska finds itself cracking those abbreviated Big Ten preseason polls.
Clemson's Memorial Stadium (80,301) was known as “Death Valley” before any other stadium of the same nickname, and its name is well earned.
First, the stadium is actually in a valley. Second, the Clemson cemetery overlooked the stadium before the upper decks were built. Thirdly, mean visiting teams have met their figurative death within the confines of Memorial Stadium.
Howard's Rock is also a prominent feature of the stadium, and it's one college football tradition that should not be missed.
Clemson managed to find its way from a preseason “who's that?” to an ACC champion and BCS participant. Even a disappointing mid-season loss didn't derail the Tigers from their ultimate goal of winning the conference—as had happened to so many Clemson teams past.
Kyle Field at Texas A&M is known as “The Home of the 12th Man.”
Anyone who has ever attended a game at A&M will tell you why. Kyle Field has sides that seem to rise up forever, three decks tall. The fan base is as loyal and as vocal as any, with some even showing up the night before for “Yell Practice.” CBS Sportsline listed Kyle Field as the nation's best college football atmosphere.
Texas A&M has a fan base that follows Aggie football like a religion. The nation's top military officer commissioning institution (outside of the service academies) runs many of their crowd interactions with military precision, and the fans in the stands never bother to test out those 83,002 seats—they stand for the entire game.
There were a number of Big 12 teams that were surprising this season, and a number that were a definite disappointment. Texas A&M clearly falls into that latter category, as the Aggies finished a paltry 6-6 (4-5), good enough for just 7th in the Big 12 this season.
The Tennessee Volunteers cram102,455 of their faithful fans into Neyland Stadium on Saturdays to provide one of the great college game day atmospheres.
It is the largest stadium in the SEC, and third-largest stadium in the nation.
There are so many reasons why a football game at Tennessee should be high on your to-do list, but suffice it to say that the football game is just the icing on the cake to what Sports Illustrated called “the best college football weekend experience.”
It might be hard to imagine putting a stadium hosting an SEC-East-worst 5-7 (1-7) team, but the sheer magnitude of Tennessee's stadium and it's great atmosphere surrounding game day keeps its position elevated.
For a stadium that only holds 54,000, you wouldn't expect it to rank high on many lists. If you're talking about Autzen Stadium, you'd be dead wrong.
The first thing you might notice about Autzen is that the field is not laid out in the traditional north-south direction, but rather slightly off an east-west line. Once the game gets underway, you'll immediately notice the second thing about Autzen. It's loud. Really loud.
The crowd noise has been recorded at 127 decibels (just a hair behind Washington), and after a 2003 upset of then-No. 3 Michigan, a columnist of the Michigan Daily wrote, “Autzen's 59,000 strong make the Big House collectively sound like a pathetic whimper.” Considering the size of the crowd is slightly more than half as large as a crowd at Michigan, that's really saying something.
But Oregon sitting this low on the list? Really?
For a stadium that hosted the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game and is home to the 2011 Pac-12 champion Ducks, you'd expect the stadium to be much higher on the list.
Unfortunately, there's that little matter of a relatively small capacity combined with an embarrassing home loss to USC.
Still, the Ducks shouldn't hang their heads. A third-straight BCS trip, this time back to Pasadena, should be more than enough to keep most Oregon fans happy.
Ohio Stadium is known as “The Horseshoe,” or simply, “The Shoe” in Columbus, and it's capacity of 102,329 ranks it as the fourth-largest stadium in the nation.
Whether you love it or hate it, Ohio State is home to some of the greatest tradition in college football. The pure tonnage of college football history that has played out at Ohio Stadium is only matched by a few programs scattered around the nation, and the tradition that evident in the cult-like following is something one must witness to truly believe (understanding is probably still beyond the grasp of non-Ohioans).
If nothing else, it would be a shame to miss one of the greatest marching band traditions in the country: Script Ohio, performed since 1936. Just don't mention that is was first performed by the University of Michigan band in 1932.
Ohio State certainly had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, finishing 6-6 (3-5), fourth in the Leaders Division, and tied for eighth overall in the Big Ten. At times, Ohio State even found it difficult to sell every ticket available for home games. After all of the off-field distractions over the off-season, a down season is probably expected.
Still, it's a far cry from the Ohio State swagger we're used to.
Penn State is our next stop, and Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the nation, coming in just behind Michigan Stadium.
With a capacity of 107,282, the Nittany Lions have a huge following, usually all clad in white providing one of the most unique looks in all of sport.
There are several great traditions in addition to the white out at Beaver Stadium. First, the “S-Zone” which can be clearly seen every Saturday is a section of seniors given white and blue shirts in formation to form a large block “S” in an otherwise white field of fans.
“We are Penn State” chants can often be heard after big plays, shouted over a recording of “Kernkraft 400” being played incessantly over the stadium's loud speakers. Annoying to everyone in the world—except Penn State fans.
And one of the greatest traditions—Paternoville—cannot be missed. What started as a few die-hard students camping out in front of Beaver Stadium for a week leading up to the game against Ohio State in 2005. That act of loyalty and camaraderie is now duplicated each week by thousands.
Rather than getting into a rehashing of all of the horrendous goings-on in State College, PA, we're going to focus on the positive. The Penn State community seemed to rally around the current crop of players that were forced to play through a scandal they didn't have anything to do with, and n the end, Penn State finished a respectable 9-3 (6-2), earning a TicketCity Bowl berth to face dangerous Houston.
It's not very often you'd find Ben Hill Griffin Stadium ranked No. 13 in anything, but in our final 2011 rankings of stadiums, here it is.
Originally opened in 1930, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium hosts the Florida Gators football team, and 88,548 of their closest friends for every home football game. The crowd stacked right on top of the field provides one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the nation, and the home-field advantage provided by “The Swamp” is second to none.
Although Florida has many great traditions, almost too many to mention, the main thing about this stadium is the general atmosphere and feeling of excitement generated by the Florida fan base.
Unfortunately, that great atmosphere wasn't enough to Florida from mediocrity this season. The Gators finished just 6-6 (3-5), and as a result, “The Swamp” falls out the top tier of stadiums for the 2011 season.
For as long as anyone alive can remember, Notre Dame has been the cradle of football history.
There's something almost magical about Notre Dame. It's truly hard to explain. Notre Dame isn't just one of the greatest football programs in history, it's stadium just oozes tradition. With a capacity of 80,795, Notre Dame tickets are notoriously difficult to obtain, and the stadium has seen 218 consecutive sellout crowds—a streak that is still active.
With all of the tradition, pomp, and pagentry that goes on every Saturday in South Bend, Notre Dame Stadium is clearly a don't miss. In fact, it should be one of your first stops.
While the Fighting Irish may have fallen well short of their BCS goal this season, Notre Dame Stadium is still one of the greatest places to watch a college football game. And if you happen to be the opposing team, it's still a difficult place to win a football game—just ask Michigan State.
When the stadium originally opened in 1923, it was called College Field. Not a rousing name, but then again, neither was the Michigan Agricultural College's football team.
A few decades later, MAC had become the Michigan State College of Agriculture (MSC), and had adopted the Spartans moniker.
Now Michigan State University and a member of the Big Ten, the university has invested in the athletic program, and Spartan Stadium in particular. The stadium is known for it's rowdy student section and its confining field perimeter.
The 75,005 seats in Spartan Stadium seem to be almost on top of the field. In fact, along the sidelines, the front row of stands is uncomfortably close behind the benches, and fans in the front row can peer down directly at the players squeezed on the sidelines. In the end zones, padding had to be placed at strategic places on the wall to prevent punishing collisions with the concrete.
MSU fans also have several game day traditions that play upon the popular movie 300, including the call from Spartan king Leonidas, “Spartans! What is your profession?” to which the MSU crowd responds in the same manner as the Spartan warriors in the movie. The “Gp Green! Go White” chant is also a MSU favorite.
Finally, as weather frequently plays a role in games in Michigan, as the pregame forecast is read, the announcer (along with the crowd) concludes it with, “it's a beautiful day for football!” regardless of rain, snow, sleet, wind, or a combination of all four.
The Spartans managed another season without losing a game at home. Spartan Stadium is quickly becoming one of the most difficult stadiums in which to win a road game.
Michigan State's 10-3 finish to the 2011 regular season marks the second-consecutive 10-win-plus season for the Spartans—a first in the long and storied history of the program.
Camp Randall Stadium opened in 1917, but the Wisconsin football team has played on the same site since 1895, and is the oldest stadium in the Big Ten.
Its 80,321 capacity is not exceptionally large (especially in the land of giant stadiums, the Big Ten), but it is completely enclosed, and can be one of the loudest stadiums in the conference—and the nation.
The 2011 Big Ten Champions showed that Camp Randall is a difficult place in which to steal a victory, as they plastered pretty much every opponent faced in Madison.
When it comes to unique chants from fan bases, there aren't too many chants quite like “Woo, Pig Sooie!”
There's something deliciously redneck about the chant, and it certainly gives Razorback games a unique atmosphere.
Expanded to 72,000 seats, the stadium opened in 1938 with just 13,500 seats. Over the history of the stadium, it has been home to some spectacular football teams, as well as what was at the time the largest video display at any sports stadium in the world.
For someone who is a fan of good old southern football, a trip to Fayetteville is a must.
The Razorbacks rose as high as No. 3 in the BCS rankings this season, and the Hogs' 10-2 record's only blemishes are to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama—both on the road.
Bryant-Denny has technically been the home game for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team since it opened in 1929, but prior to the 1990's, most of the big Alabama game were actually played at the then-larger Legion Field in Birmingham. In fact, Alabama has played just 265 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
With a new seating capacity of 101,821, Bryant-Denny is now the venue of choice for the Tide, and the stadium has become one of the most difficult venues in the nation for opposing teams.
One unique (and pretty funny) feature of Bryant-Denny is the visitor's locker room. Alabama alumnus James Fail decided to mane a donation to the university, and he wanted to have the visitor's locker room named after him. The room is now officially “The Fail Room.”
As great as Alabama's home venue is, the thing that keeps Bryant-Denny from an even loftier spot is the home overtime loss to LSU—a loss which the Tide can avenge in the BCS National Championship Game against the Tigers on January 9.
Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State is the oldest stadium in the Big 12. Although the stadium as we would typically define it was completed in 1920, the Oklahoma State football team has played at the same venue since 1913.
After oil man T. Boone Pickens emptied out his piggy bank and gave Oklahoma State a $165 million gift, the stadium got one heck of a facelift. Now, 60,218 screaming Cowboys fans create one of the loudest environments in college football, and the football team is creating quite a reason to cheer.
This season, those fans were able to cheer their Cowboys all the way to their first-ever Big 12 conference championship and BCS berth.
The other “Death Valley” on our list is at Louisiana State. Originally “Deaf Valley,” the name morphed into its current form as LSU's on-field prowess began to match the crowd's ear-splitting cheers.
Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant famously said that LSU was the worst place for a visiting team. “It's like being inside a drum,” Bryant said. It is frequently ranked as one of the top SEC environments, and a night game in Baton Rogue, in front of 92,542 screaming LSU fans, is second to none.
The most famous “event” or legend in the history of LSU probably occurred in 1988. As the final seconds of the clock ticked off, LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson threw a game-winning touchdown to Eddie Fuller to beat Auburn 7-6. The Louisiana Geological Survey office on campus registered an earthquake at that moment, supposedly caused by the euphoric fans at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers finished the 2011 regular season as SEC Champions and the only undefeated FBS team in the nation.
The obvious reward is a berth in the BCS National Championship Game where the Tigers will (curiously) have to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide again if they hope to bring the Coaches Trophy on the short trip home from New Orleans.
We come to our fiftieth and last stadium on our list of stadiums to see before you die, and it's a big one. In fact, it's the biggest one.
Michigan Stadium, “The Big House.”
With an official capacity of 109,901 (the extra seat being for former U-M athletic director Fritz Crisler), Michigan Stadium is not only the largest stadium in the United States, it's the third-largest in the world. Opened in 1927, this stadium is quite simply a piece of college football history. Unlike other giant stadiums, Michigan Stadium is one, gigantic bowl. There is no upper deck. There is no overhang. The stadium just is.
With the addition of the new press box and luxury boxes, the stadium has gained some much needed definition, and the sound of 113,000-or-more fans now comes crashing back into the stadium, rather than leaking out the sides (as previously mentioned). The crowd is louder, the stadium bigger, and win Michigan seemingly back on its way back up the Big Ten ladder, “The House that Yost Built” is something that every football fan must see in their lives, just once.
There's just something about a stadium that can pack in nearly 115,000 screaming fans. Add in the fact that Michigan was a surprisingly good team this season under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, defeated every opponent that came to Ann Arbor, and earned a Sugar Bowl berth, and you have all the makings of the top stadium of the 2011 college football season.