Ranking the Top 15 College Football Towns in the Country

Jason Fray@https://twitter.com/Jason_FrayCorrespondent IMay 4, 2015

Ranking the Top 15 College Football Towns in the Country

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    Neyland Stadium is absolutely packed before the game begins.
    Neyland Stadium is absolutely packed before the game begins.Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    The dynamic between a college football program and the city in which it resides is a special thing. 

    While not everyone living in a specific locale is a football fan, major college football programs have a massive impact on that dwelling. In many cases, the community embraces the sport with unparalleled fervor—perhaps only rivaled globally by extreme soccer fans in Europe and South America.  

    A Saturday afternoon can temporarily turn a town into a carnival. The pride one has for his or her school of choice is tangible and can take a city by storm during these events. 

    This all-encompassing topic will focus on the college football-centric towns in the United States. The correlation strictly deals with each city and its relationship to college football. These magical lands of culture and pigskin will be ranked in ascending order. 

    Note: This list is obviously splitting hairs. There are many cities qualified to be listed in this piece. However, let's be honest: Despite the rankings, they're all uniquely special places! 

Honorable Mentions

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    Here are a few towns that narrowly missed out. All of them are more than worthy enough to appear on the list: 

    Oxford, Mississippi

    Boulder, Colorado

    Boise, Idaho

    Iowa City, Iowa

    Morgantown, West Virginia 

    Tallahassee, Florida

    Seattle, Washington

    Gainesville, Florida

    Manhattan, Kansas

    Austin, Texas

    Blacksburg, Virginia 

    Tucson, Arizona

15. Eugene, Oregon

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    Located in one of the more beautiful regions in the country, Eugene, Oregon, plays home to Nike and the University of Oregon. Undoubtedly, Nike co-founder and Oregon alumnus Phil Knight is a large reason for Oregon's emergence as a power on the college football landscape.

    The assortment of green hues within the seemingly never-ending uniform choices mirrors the lush, bucolic feel of the area. With an abundance of outdoor activities, this city is perfect for the enthusiasts of natural beauty. 

    In addition to beautiful scenery, there is a thriving bar scene in downtown Eugene. There are also numerous gastropubs and restaurant choices—with many specializing in organic, locally grown items. 

    Without question, Oregon possesses some of the most passionate and rowdy fans of any program in the country. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Animal House—the ultimate college film—was shot on the Oregon campus and in the greater Eugene area. 

14. Columbus, Ohio

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    "The" Ohio State University sits within the comfortable confines of Columbus, Ohio. 

    Generally speaking, the people here loves their Buckeyes. The Ohio State fanbase travels incredibly well on the road—in large part due to the support for the program demonstrated back in Columbus. Supporters swarm the streets on game day like ants onto a fallen morsel of food. It's one of the most loyal and quality fanbases in the nation. 

    This love for the football program directly correlates with the sheer size of the university. Nearly 65,000 students were enrolled this past year at the school. At the risk of sounding redundant, one would be hard-pressed to not consider Columbus one of the best college towns in the country.

    Couple that with Ohio State's success on the gridiron, and it's a no-brainer as to Columbus' inclusion on this list. It also has perhaps the best (and most creative) band in the land. 

13. Norman, Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma is greeted during its spring game.
    Oklahoma is greeted during its spring game.Alonzo Adams/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Norman, Oklahoma, is a city completely doused in the colors of crimson and cream. The third-largest city in the state is hitched with not only the University of Oklahoma but also its football team.

    The area is a quaint, quiet city with much to offer. There are plenty of restaurants, parks and museums to sample. The annual Chocolate Festival is a big draw for tourists and natives alike. 

    However, the hot ticket here is Sooner football. The rich and successful history of the program connects multiple generations within families. The Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium becomes one of the loudest venues across the country on Saturday.

    More than anything, there's a tangible sense of community within this town. Therefore, there's an undeniable affinity for Bob Stoops' football program. 

12. State College, Pennsylvania

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    Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania, are truly connected at the hip. 

    As the flagship public university in the state, PSU acts an an intricate network reaching all over Pennsylvania. The city itself continued to evolve and grow simultaneously with the expansion of the university dating back to the mid-1800s. To say these two entities are intertwined would be an accurate description. 

    With the town primarily focused around the college, the popularity of Penn State football is unsurprising. Joe Paterno's success turned the football program into a national name. Beaver Stadium is virtually always jam-packed with over 100,000 loyal fans, who often don white and blue. 

11. South Bend, Indiana

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    Notre Dame football is both the namesake and lifeblood of South Bend, Indiana. The campus literally looks like something out of Hogwarts.

    In fact, rumors persisted that J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for the Harry Potter series after taking a trip to campus. Additionally, the English actor portraying Harry Potter—Daniel Radcliffe—was thought to have enrolled at the school. (Author's note: both "rumors" are not factual and were attempts at humor.) 

    The football program is loved by virtually the entire area. Fans come out to the games in droves to see their Fighting Irish compete. It truly is the main attraction in the town—outside of the impressive academics the university has to offer. The rich history of the football program—dating back over 100 years—is among the most impressive in the entire country. 

    For those who enjoy aquatic sports, St. Joseph River is in very close proximity to South Bend. There are also a litany of interesting museums—ranging from art to motor vehicle history. 

10. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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    Imagine encapsulating Mardi Gras within a 24-hour period; that's what a Saturday during the football season in Baton Rouge feels like. The unbridled patriotism is depicted via the vast seas of purple and gold engulfing the city on game day. 

    Additionally, which other college has a live tiger as its mascot? Even if Mike the Tiger loves his life of luxury, it's still an extremely cool thing nonetheless. This community absolutely revels in LSU football. A Saturday night in "Death Valley" rivals the enjoyment of a root canal for any visiting opponent. 

    At a tailgate, one will be afforded the opportunity to enjoy delicacies such as crawfish, gumbo and even alligator (especially if LSU is playing Florida). 

    If one's not in the mood for football, there are plenty of other things to check out in this college town, such as the Baton Rouge Zoo, the Louisiana Capitol Building and the USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial.

9. Auburn, Alabama

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    Where else can you find a university fiercely dedicated to throwing rolls of toilet paper on top of 80-year-old trees? Toomer's Corner is the site of just one of the many Auburn traditions surrounding its school's football program. 

    One of the smaller cities on this list, the town is fully immersed in anything dealing with "War Eagle!" After initially having three other names, the university was renamed Auburn University in 1960 as a means to depict the exotic curriculum offered at the school (it had previously been called Alabama Polytechnic Institute and Agricultural and Mechanical College, among other things). 

    If in the city, one has to try Toomer's Drugs. Don't let the name fool you: This is a restaurant specializing in all sorts of sandwiches and types of ice cream. The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts is also a nice spot to admire contemporary and historical works. 

8. Clemson, South Carolina

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    Dating back to 1889, Clemson University has been an integral institution in the city of Clemson. One could say the university is the heartbeat of the city.

    Centrally located to everything, the town of nearly 15,000 demonstrate relentless pride and passion for their Clemson Tigers on Saturdays during the college football season.  

    This charming city is also equipped with many educational opportunities. The Bob Campbell Geology Museum and the South Carolina Botanical Garden are two of those places. Lake Hartwell—a short distance from campus—provides a beautiful spot for fishing, hiking, biking, camping and other outdoors activities. 

    With a tight-knit, familial atmosphere, one will find few places better to take in a game than Memorial Stadium. The gigantic crowd sporting purple and orange come from all around South Carolina to cheer on their Tigers. 

7. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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    At some point, the phrase "Roll Tide" could become the Alabama state motto. 

    The popularity surrounding the Alabama Crimson Tide football program—specifically in Tuscaloosa—is ever present. The town virtually shuts down when Nick Saban and his squad play at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Houndstooth hats and crimson-colored shirts dominate the landscape of the city during the fall. 

    The sport truly runs through the proverbial blood of Tuscaloosa. A $28 million bridge created in 2004 was named after legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Bryant also has a museum commemorating his life. 

    While the fifth-largest city in the state does offer rich Native American and Civil War history, Alabama football is perhaps the most important part of life in Tuscaloosa. 

6. Athens, Georgia

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    Athens is a beautiful city situated in the northeast portion of the Georgia. 

    Aside from many tourist attractions, it's home to the University of Georgia—which is the first state-chartered university in the history of the United States (dating back to 1785). Therefore, the kinship between the academic institution and the city of Athens is considerable. 

    The city itself is very central to Sanford Stadium. There are virtually hundreds of bars within the limits of downtown itself, which makes tailgating even more of an event. The stadium is also located on campus—making it easier for students to attend the athletic contests. 

    Diverting a bit from athletics, Athens has a tremendous music scene. There are many live music establishments created for promising musicians and fans of music alike. 

5. College Station, Texas

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    In arguably the most football-crazed state in the country, College Station provides an exceptionally unique experience when it comes to the Texas A&M football program 

    "The 12th Man" is one of the more iconic sights one will see at any collegiate sporting event. Voted the happiest college in the country by The Daily Beast, there's a tremendous amount of pride displayed during contests at Kyle Field. The "Midnight Yell" is one of the coolest traditions you'll see associated with any university. 

    One of the more educated cities in the entire state, a large chunk of the population is employed by the university itself. This lends to the notion truly of how important college life is to the city of College Station. 

    Additionally, any city with the word "College" in it will likely be considered a great college town. 

4. Knoxville, Tennessee

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    Knoxville, Tennessee, pairs a rabid college football fanbase with one of the most aesthetically pleasing settings in the country. 

    The university itself sits on the Tennessee River. Boating, fishing and water sports of all kinds are popular activities for natives. The "VOL Navy" will be sure to save anyone ill-equipped to swim in the river.

    Nestled amid the Appalachian and Smoky Mountain Ranges, an array of natural parks offer many opportunities for both hiking and hunting. 

    Aside from that, a bright-orange tint radiates from the city of Knoxville. If one listens closely enough, "Rocky Top" can faintly be heard playing on a loop. The Tennessee Volunteers are arguably (and most likely) more popular across the state than the Tennessee Titans are. 

    Knoxville is a must-see for those who haven't had the chance. 

3. Lincoln, Nebraska

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    The city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Nebraska Cornhuskers football are truly synonymous with one another. 

    Memorial Stadium holds upwards of 80,000 people. On game day, the stadium becomes the third-most populated area in the entire state—behind Omaha and Lincoln. Much like many of the cities listed here, the football program is deep-rooted within the culture of this city.

    One would be hard-pressed to find a family without at least one member owning some form of Nebraska paraphernalia or apparel. 

    The city of Lincoln itself has a very underrated art scene. The downtown bar scene—located in close proximity to the football stadium—is also fantastic.

    Here is a list of 22 facts about the town. One fun fact that sticks out: The McRib was created here. 

    Simply put, the city of Lincoln epitomizes wholesome, heartland Americana.   

2. Ann Arbor, Michigan

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    Within the parameters of the idyllic city of Ann Arbor resides the winningest college football program in the country.

    Michigan's Stadiumdubbed "The Big House"—holds nearly 110,000 people. 

    Football is not the only popular attraction in this city just outside of Detroit. Ann Arbor acts as a vessel for culture of all kinds. There are numerous museums, theaters and parks scattered all throughout the area.

    In the summer, one can enjoy the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. The location is also a stone's throw away from beautiful hiking and camping options such as Bird Hills Nature Area. 

    Eating is also a singular experience. Zingerman's Deli is a must for any fans of great sandwiches. Ray's Red Hots is also terrific for those in need of an excellent hot dog. 

    For all of the wonderful aspects of Ann Arbor, football reigns supreme. In fact, the Ann Arbor Times provides a tutorial for those unfamiliar with the scene surrounding the stadium on game day.

1. Madison, Wisconsin

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    The city of Madison has everything one would want in a college football town. 

    There are copious amounts of bars and good food in the greater Madison area. Around the college, one can partake in staples such as cheese curds and a local beer called Spotted Cow. In fact, Spotted Cow is rarely made available outside the state of Wisconsin. 

    Situated around four lakes, people can partake in fishing, water skiing and all sorts of activities during the summer. In the winter, the picturesque campus looks as if blanketed by a shower of powdered sugar. 

    The Wisconsin football program is firmly embedded within the fabric of this majestic hamlet. One can see Badger iconography everywhere.

    Even more unique, the Wisconsin State Capitol building is less than two miles away from Camp Randall Stadium, where the perennially ranked Badgers play. One could tour the capital and the football stadium in one afternoon.

    Finally, the late, great comedian Chris Farley hails from Madison. This should be incentive enough to check out this Midwestern gem at some point.