The Best Tailgate Experiences in College Football
Tailgating is as much a part of college football as Lou Holtz, marching bands and SEC championships.
No trip to the game is complete without at least a few hours spent in pregame revelry.
There are some places where tailgating is not just a precursor to the game, it is also part of the main event, and those experiences are documented here.
Great food, crazy fans, competitions, music and football are all key parts of tailgating, and each school listed here offers its own unique twist on these favorite activities.
The top 20 best tailgating experiences can be found here, stretching across the country from California to Florida and Wisconsin to Texas.
20. South Carolina
This list starts off with the experience that can be found in Columbia, S.C.
Gamecocks fans are crazy, especially right now. After decades of mediocrity, Steve Spurrier has them consistently in the thick of the race for an SEC East division title, with an outside shot at a BCS appearance.
Yes, regular fans tailgate with a panache that only SEC schools seem to be able to muster, and yes, there is excellent food, a beverage for everybody and competitions galore. But let us focus for a moment on the height of tailgating style, the "Cockaboose."
A Cockaboose is not a rare form of bird, but rather, old train cars that have been converted to privately owned tailgating stations near the stadium.
They are outfitted with bars, bathrooms, tables, chandeliers, televisions...all depending on the private owners' tastes. There is one currently on the market for nearly $300,000.
That is one expensive tailgate.
Michigan, in spite of what some might like to tell you, is still one of the elite programs in college football.
The program has top-flight facilities, the largest stadium in college football and one of the most recognizable brands anywhere in the nation.
The marching band serenades fans on their way to the stadium. "Go Blue" can be heard no matter which way you turn, and the plethora of fans dressed in the Maize and Blue are focused on one thing, and one thing only: football.
Well, there are some focused on tailgating, and those who are do an excellent job of it.
Michigan's experience is one of the few in the Big Ten that can match those taking place on a regular basis in SEC country.
It is in California, and it's definitely a unique experience.
The weather is incredible, the people are beautiful, and the experience of a tailgate in Southern California is worth experiencing at least once. The L.A. Coliseum itself is worth a visit, as a national historic landmark and the largest Pac-12 stadium.
There is no pro football team in Los Angeles, so USC and UCLA football are it for the second-largest market in the U.S.
USC fans have enjoyed a rich tradition of winning and also enjoy rousing games of beer pong. A picture in front of Tommy Trojan's statue is a must, as is a trip to see the athletic department's trophy case littered with hardware.
While not possessing the same atmosphere as one of the tailgates in the South, USC provides a unique experience that should not be missed. Plus, there is an off chance that Will Ferrell will wander by. That alone should pull you into this tailgate.
Lincoln, Nebraska, is nobody's idea of the most exciting town in the U.S. of A. However, on football Saturdays, it comes pretty darn close.
Huskers fans are the most knowledgeable fanbase in the nation. They can recite to you on a whim the exploits of Tom Osborne, Tommie Frazier and Sam Francis and discuss the history of the vaunted Blackshirts and their recent struggles.
Memorial Stadium, that edifice built to hold a football team and honor the memory of those lost in battle, is a venue that should be on everyone's bucket list.
The success of any tailgating experience is proportionate to the intensity of fans and their passion for the game.
Owners of the longest home sellout streak dating back to 1962, Nebraska fans raise the bar with their intensity and provide an excellent atmosphere in which to enjoy tailgating and all things football.
You might hear this several hundred times throughout the course of a game day spent down on the Plains.
It will also be abbreviated to WDE, which is vaguely reminiscent of the lubricant WD-40 but stated with such fervor that even the most uneducated Yankee knows this is not about such a trivial product.
This is a way of life in Auburn. The school has taken steps to provide more space for tailgating going into 2013. As if this party wasn't wild enough.
Some folks arrive the day before to prepare for game day. And why not? This is SEC football, and the tailgating is superior to that of most schools.
Auburn's Toomer's Corner is worth a pilgrimage on Saturday to buy one of the myriad Auburn items for sale or to enjoy some kind of diner-style fare for lunch at Toomer's Drugs store.
Seeing Toomer's Corner get rolled used to be the best postgame tradition in football, and watching the War Eagle fly around Jordan-Hare Stadium prior to kickoff contributes a unique experience to the tailgating at Auburn if also attending the game.
The reigning kings of college football, Alabama also has one of the best tailgating experiences to be found.
Barbecue in Tuscaloosa is an art and can be enjoyed in a variety of forms and styles across town. The fans are proud, and rightfully so, as between coach Nick Saban and the "Bear," they boast two of the greatest coaches in college football history.
Just the opportunity to see fans of a team at the top of its game is reason enough to make a trip to Tuscaloosa before this cycle of dominance ends.
These are some of the most passionate fans, and though they are a little irritating at times in their arrogance, it is understandable given the past several seasons.
For an excellent example of the experience one can have tailgating in Norman for a Sooners game, look no further than the Crimson Nation Tailgate.
This is what you might call a league of extraordinary tailgaters—a group of fans that prefers to prepare for game time with an outdoor bar, plenty of television screens and a sign above the entrance that reads "Tailgate like a champion."
Sooners fans know what's up.
The steak, ribs and other sundry meats available for general consumption are ridiculously well prepared, and the conversation is second to none.
Just don't bring up Texas.
Athens is a great town in which to enjoy a tailgate experience. The unique music scene is something of a side bonus.
The real fun happens at Sanford Stadium and surrounding areas, where students and fans are engaged in cooking, drinking and other standard pregame festivities with a gusto that can only be found among Dawg fans.
The people can be downright scary in their intensity at times, but Southern hospitality is easy to find among the screaming masses of people clamoring for the good ol' days of Larry Munson and Herschel Walker.
Athens is a great college town, Sanford Stadium is one of the best venues in football, and Georgia fans are "good people."
Before visiting Athens, Greece, make a point of tailgating at its namesake in Georgia.
12. Notre Dame
South Bend is something of a football mecca. If SEC fans want to deny that the glory days are going to move on, they need look no further than Notre Dame.
The Irish are far removed from the glory years, and their last national title was 25 years ago. But that doesn't stop South Bend from being a place filled with lore, high football IQ and good cookin'.
Just for the experience of tailgating in the shadow of the Golden Dome and spending time visiting the landmarks—football and otherwise—around this campus, a visit to South Bend is worth it.
The biggest upside?
You will see more leprechauns floating around campus than you would see in a St. Patrick's Day parade.
The University of Washington is not the first school that comes to mind when thinking about tailgating. That said, the beautiful scenery, great atmosphere and the ability to sailgate make it a must-visit.
UW fans, while going through a mediocre period in their football fandom, are loyal and know how to cook.
There is nothing like fresh fish on a boat for lunch prior to an afternoon Pac-12 game in Seattle.
If you can't make it to Tennessee for the sailgating, Washington is the place to be.
10. Texas A&M
From "yell practice" at midnight the night before a game to the incredibly passionate fanbase scattered across College Station, Texas A&M features one of the best tailgating experiences in the nation.
When it comes to food, don't forget you are in Texas. The barbecue is second to none, and Aggies fans always seem to be willing to share.
If bumming food isn't your style, Freebirds is one of the best college-town restaurants in the nation and deserves a visit.
The experience of tailgating at Kyle Field provides fans a glimpse into the intensity of the Aggies fanbase. There are TVs, grills, smokers and coolers all over the place, and the passion with which Aggies fans address tailgating is the same passion of A&M's famed "12th Man."
If you can make a trip to College Station for an overnight visit and experience the entire range of available activities, take advantage of it.
Tennessee is another SEC team that knows how to party. Neyland Stadium is a huge venue with orange-checked end zones and Volunteers fans hungry for the team to rise back into the ranks of the SEC elite.
Sailgating is what sets the tailgating experience here apart from the others. Neyland is one of only two facilities in the nation that allows fans to party out on the water, then step right off the boat and walk into the stadium.
It is an experience that cannot be enjoyed anywhere other than Washington.
For this reason, as well as the passionate fans and excellent food available, Tennessee checks in at No. 9 on this list.
Clemson is one of the most underrated college towns in the nation. At least, SEC fans look down on it as an ACC program, and Big Ten fans don't know what's up at Clemson.
On game day, the sleepy little college town turns into a party of epic proportions.
Orange and purple are everywhere. South Carolina-style BBQ takes place on front lawns and in parking lots around the beautiful campus.
State Highway 123 from Greenville to Clemson is one long parade of cars, following the huge paw prints on the ground to Tiger Stadium, the original "Death Valley" and home to Dabo Swinney and his Tigers.
Southern hospitality has not been exaggerated; Clemson fans, though fiercely loyal to the Tigers and avid haters of Steve Spurrier, are gracious, kind and usually extremely intelligent when it comes to football.
Make this place a stop on your bucket list—you won't regret it.
7. Ohio State
On a fall Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, the air is crisp, fragrant with the wafting scents of all things football—beer, smoke and masses of humanity.
Buckeyes fans flock to Columbus for the game, and as far as the eye can see in the pregame scene, there is the Scarlet and Gray, on hats, shoes, cars, cups, coolers, shirts, faces and vehicular devices.
Football isn't a way to pass the time—it is a religion.
There are three large parking lots surrounding the Horseshoe, each of them packed on game day. And the streets are packed with fans gaily displaying their Buckeyes pride, exchanging high-fives and hurling expletives at all things Michigan, even though they don't play for two months.
There is nothing like a cool fall Saturday to get one in the mood for football, and when it comes to tailgating, Ohio State is a great place to be.
Florida tailgating has it all.
The "Gator Walk," food, crazy fans and even the opportunity to meet with Gator athletes from other sports participating in all of the football fun.
Three hours before the game, Gator FanFest opens up, allowing fans to play interactive games, win prizes and listen to pregame radio coverage. The food is great—from gator meat to burgers to ribs, there is a little bit of everything, as long as one is not vegan.
Crazy Gator hats can be found all over the place, and the "Gator chomp" is prevalent, especially if one is not dressed in the Orange and Blue. The Gainesville weather is perfect, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is one of the best in the nation, and the team continues to field a quality product.
Tailgating at Florida is nothing short of incredible.
There is no food in the world like Texas barbecue.
That's an opinion, but it's a valid one. The brisket is amazing, the fried foods are worth tackling someone to get to, and Texas fans know how to make it happen with a grill. The football team isn't half bad, either.
Hook'em horns are everywhere, the beautiful people are out in force, and football jargon is thrown around more than manure in a cattle drive.
This program has been brushed aside in recent seasons due to struggles on the field, but it won't be long before the team is back among the ranks of the nationally elite.
The tailgating is already there.
4. Penn State
Penn State fans are unbelievable.
That's right, a party takes place from Thursday through Saturday.
Beaver Stadium is massive, and hearing 100,000 Penn State fans chanting "We Are Penn State" for two days doesn't get old. Rather, it amplifies the already amazing atmosphere.
Penn State fans are as supportive right now, during the Nittany Lions' NCAA sanctions, as they have ever been and are as avid about their Nittany Lions as any team down south.
If you have a chance to experience Happy Valley during game week, take it.
ESPN's Scott Van Pelt named Madison, Wis., America's best college town.
And he is not far from wrong. The city itself is beautiful, sitting on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.
The parties on State Street, particularly following a Badgers victory, are incredible, and from the stadium all the way to the outskirts of town, there are tailgates in yards, parking lots and driveways.
While all teams have fans who try to give all teams' fans a bad name, Wisconsin fans are more amenable to intelligent conversation than one might imagine at first glance.
Sure, they hate Ohio State, Minnesota and the Chicago Bears, but they make up for it by giving us cheese, brews and bratwurst.
The experience of a tailgate at Wisconsin is easily one of the best in the nation.
2. Ole Miss
When asked about the best tailgating experience in the nation, there are many who would answer "the Grove at Ole Miss."
The experience at Ole Miss stands above the rest with its early arrivals, chandeliers hanging around the venue and folks young and old dressed to the nines for the occasion, all in Ole Miss colors, of course.
The Walk of Champions allows fans to get in close proximity and interact with their team. Tailgating is a way of life in some parts of the country—at Ole Miss during the fall, it is life.
Sorry, Ole Miss, LSU has a slight edge.
LSU fans are insane and know how to have a good time, and there are few fanbases as avid—win or lose—as the Tigers fanbase.
For a football fan visiting from another part of the country, the LSU tailgating experience is as good as it gets. Night games at Tiger Stadium provide plenty of time and motivation for fans to get amped up, and the atmosphere is far north of festive by the time mid-morning rolls around.
What really sets the Baton Rouge experience apart, however, is the food. Shrimp gumbo, gator gumbo, jambalaya (plus all of the usual tailgating fare) can be found in abundance.
Plan on gaining at least 10 pounds over the course of one day.
You can't lose when tailgating—everybody wins. LSU just wins better.