Ranking College Football's Top 25 Tailgating Schools for 2015
We’re less than three weeks away from the opening of the 2015 college football season. It’s been a long, cold winter and a hot summer waiting for the season to get here, but it’ll be worth it once the nation’s best teams hit the gridiron again.
While your favorite players are preparing for the season, you should be preparing, too—for tailgating.
Done properly, college football is an all-day experience, from loading up your car with the day’s supplies to the celebration following a thrilling victory for your team.
Tailgating is a huge part of that equation. Great food, beverages and friends all make tailgating special, and there’s no better place to do it than at a college football game. Some places do it a little bit better than others, though.
Here’s a look at the top 25 tailgating schools in college football. This is not a scientific list, but rather one that was ranked based on my travels as a college football writer and on national reputation.
Oregon has firmly established itself as one of the nation’s best football programs, as evidenced by last season’s run to the national title game, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. The huge influx of Nike money from Nike president and Oregon superfan Phil Knight has given the program a vibrant aura, and the fans have bought in.
Want proof? Look at film from ESPN’s College GameDay appearances, which attract thousands of excited fans even at 6 a.m. local time. They all pack into Autzen Stadium, which at 55,000 fans is one of the nation’s more intimidating environments.
If you go to Eugene, the lots around Autzen are filled with fans who are generally considered friendly, but don’t overlook the Ducks’ practice facility, the Moshofsky Center. On game days, it hosts an indoor tailgate party that can accommodate up to 5,000 fans with food and drink.
That’s an impressive and unique way to start your football experience in the Pacific Northwest.
2014 was a truly disappointing season for Iowa football fans, as the Hawkeyes finished 7-6 despite a very favorable schedule. One thing that’s never disappointing in Iowa City? The tailgating.
On Melrose Avenue, which leads directly to Kinnick Stadium, tailgates bloom like clockwork every Saturday home game, and the parking lots surrounding Kinnick are covered with fans who grill, drink and revel.
Iowa fans get to their spots early (for those 11 a.m. Big Ten kickoffs) and stay late. After every Iowa win, the Hawkeye Marching Band plays “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” a rousing polka that starts the celebration anew.
There may be no beer in heaven, but there most certainly is at Iowa football tailgates. It’s a fun Midwest experience.
23. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher has restored Florida State to national power status. The Seminoles have won three consecutive ACC titles and a national title and made a College Football Playoff appearance last fall, falling to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
FSU has an SEC-style atmosphere, and Doak Campbell Stadium, which seats 82,300, boasts a tremendous, raucous game experience.
Are the tailgates as good as the SEC’s best? No, but they’re improving.
The parking lots and parking garages surrounding the stadium are packed with exuberant fans, and Tallahassee has many bar options for pregaming, if that’s how you want to roll. Just north of the stadium, Tennessee Street is lined with college bars, or if you prefer a more mature scene, midtown Tallahassee also offers numerous options.
It’s hard not to have fun on a Florida State game day.
This fall, Oklahoma fans will welcome new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with hopes of breathing some life into a lackluster attack. Fans will have fun inside the stadium, and you better believe they’ll be having fun outside it, too.
Norman, Oklahoma, has a population of just over 118,000, which rises over 200,000 when you count the 82,112 who regularly cram into the Sooners’ stadium.
First-time visitors to Oklahoma are regularly blown away by the friendly nature of OU football fans. It has a reputation for being a place where you can walk right up to a tailgate full of strangers and make new friends, as they’ll offer you food and drink. Hope you like "Boomer Sooner"!
Bret Bielema is rebuilding Arkansas football into an SEC power, and the first step was 2014’s 7-6 campaign and a return to postseason play. Anticipation for 2015 is high, as you might imagine, which means that the tailgates will be even better.
If you’re heading to an Arkansas game, pack binoculars in your tailgating gear. Fayetteville is nestled in the Ozark Mountains, and the drive from Fort Smith to Fayetteville along I-540 is incredibly beautiful, with mountain vistas and scenery around every turn.
Arkansas football fans like to gather in The Gardens, a beautiful open area where Arkansas and opposing fans alike can mingle to have fun before the game. And how can we forget the Calling of the Hogs in 72,000-seat Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium?
It’s a great experience, all around.
20. West Virginia
2014 was something of a bounce-back season for West Virginia, with the Mountaineers rebounding from a 4-8 2013 record to a seven-win season and Liberty Bowl trip while remaining competitive inside the Big 12. It took some pressure off coach Dana Holgorsen from WVU’s passionate fans—and maybe saved a few couches.
One of West Virginia’s biggest traditions involves burning couches after big athletic events, and defeats only drive the amount of burned-out sofas higher. West Virginia home football games are major social events in Morgantown, and West Virginia does allow the sale of beer inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
If you make it to a game and find a couch pregame, take a picture—it might not be around by the time you leave the game.
With a 6-7 record in 2014, the first season of Texas’ Charlie Strong experience wasn’t what any of the involved parties wanted. But that won’t change the enthusiasm around Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which seats 100,119 and is one of the nation’s nicest facilities, reflecting Texas’ rich athletic coffers.
Texas’ tailgating scene is large, rowdy and somewhat spread out, as the university is located in Austin, which has a population of 912,000. If you’re in town for football, find some barbeque from one of the city’s best BBQ joints like Franklin Barbeque. Centennial Park, which is just across the street from the Erwin Center, Texas’ basketball arena, is an epicenter for tailgating, although not the only popular area.
Spend a Saturday tailgating in Austin with Longhorns fans, and there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked.
In Auburn, Alabama, football is religion. And the faithful have an incredible cathedral in Jordan-Hare Stadium, which will get even better this fall. Jordan-Hare seats 87,451 and will add the largest scoreboard in college football this season.
It’s the epitome of a Southern football experience, and Auburn fans get there early—like, days early—in their RVs, parking near Jordan-Hare and soaking up the feeling of college football in the SEC.
Auburn fans are friendly and cook a wide variety of foods, and they’re also friendly to visitors, offering a “War Eagle” to all passerby.
Get to Jordan-Hare well before the game to get a good spot for “Tiger Walk.” Two hours before kickoff, thousands of fans line Donahue Drive to welcome Auburn players and coaches as they walk into the stadium for final pregame preparations.
If you love football and a good party, Auburn is not to be missed.
17. Penn State
State College, Pennsylvania, is a remote area that’s tough to get to, but if you make the effort for a Penn State football home weekend, you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique experience. Beaver Stadium seats 106,572 fans and can be a very intimidating environment for opposing teams.
You’ve heard of Krzyzewskiville for Duke basketball games? Penn State has Nittanyville, a tent city where PSU students stay to be certain they’ll get the best tickets for games. Penn State football really matters in central Pennsylvania, which is most evident on home football weekends.
16. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is one of the more unique spots in college football, and you’ll notice that immediately when you arrive on campus. It’s a picturesque place that offers classic scenery wherever you look. One of the must-see spots is “Touchdown Jesus,” which looms over 80,793-seat Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame also opens up its practice field to fans on game day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Irish do a traditional “player walk” from the team practice facility to the stadium, with fans permitted to line the walk and interact with players as they pass by.
If you have a college football “bucket list,” an autumn Saturday in South Bend should be on it, without question.
Washington struggled to an 8-6 record in Chris Petersen’s first season as head coach last fall, but that shouldn’t dampen Husky fans’ enthusiasm for the program or tailgating.
Washington has one of the most picturesque, unique tailgating scenes in college football. Husky Stadium is right next to beautiful Lake Washington, where fans can “boat-gate” before and after games, driving to the 72,500-seat stadium in the aquatic vessel of their choice.
Washington is one of two FBS programs famous for this tradition (Tennessee) is the other, and the famously raucous Husky fans know how to pregame with such Pacific Northwest staples as lobster, oysters and salmon. Fans can dock their boats in Husky Harbor on the east side of the stadium for an unforgettable tailgating experience.
14. Ohio State
Last fall, Urban Meyer returned Ohio State to national glory, leading the Buckeyes to their first national title since 2002. The football in Ohio Stadium will be special again this fall, but Ohio State’s tailgating never slipped.
Ohio State is located in Columbus, Ohio, and the surrounding metro area has just under 2 million residents. That gives Ohio State’s tailgating scene more of an urban vibe, but it’s still a lot of fun for visiting fans. Stadium lots are full of fans cooking burgers, brats and buffalo wings. There’s also a thriving bar scene and Hineygate, a party area which can attract up to 15,000 fans on an OSU game day.
And once you’re inside Ohio Stadium (which seats 102,039), you’ll have a prime view of the OSU band, widely regarded as one of the nation’s best.
Fall Saturdays in Columbus are always memorable and fun.
13. Southern California
With Steve Sarkisian on board and the effects of NCAA probation fading, Southern California will once again be a college football hotspot this fall. The Trojans’ home, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, seats 93,607, and there’s usually a seat available: USC averaged just over 73,000 fans per game in 2014.
With its prime Los Angeles location, this is a great place to people-watch, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a celebrity fan like Will Ferrell make his way into the game. Before the game, the USC marching band plays down Trousdale Parkway on its way into the stadium.
The best spot? Near the Traveler statue. Fight on!
Michigan Stadium is known throughout college football as the Big House. This fall, however, the focus will be on its newest resident, coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is coming back home to revive the Wolverines’ flagging fortunes, and you’d better believe the 109,901-seat stadium will be rocking.
Ann Arbor is invaded by Michigan fans on fall Saturdays, and the tailgating spreads well beyond the stadium walls, given the sheer amount of humanity arriving.
Michigan tailgates are a bit more subdued than their SEC counterparts, but they’re still a lot of fun. And if Harbaugh can accomplish his mission, they’ll be even better.
Since his arrival eight years ago, Nick Saban has done plenty to restore Alabama to national relevance, most notably with three national championships. But even before Saban came to town, the Crimson Tide already boasted a rabid fanbase. His success has only ignited their fervor.
Following a recent expansion, Bryant-Denny Stadium now boasts a seating capacity of 101,821, and Crimson Tide football remains one of the toughest tickets to get in America.
It’s also a fun tailgating experience, with some fans arriving days in advance to claim parking spots for their deluxe motorhomes. On game days, the Quad becomes a wide-open area where fans congregate, but you can also tailgate in stadium lots or in downtown bars which are always hopping.
Chances are, you’ll hear more than your share of “Sweet Home Alabama” and, with an Alabama win, the famous “Rammer Jammer” chant. It’s a must for any serious college football fan.
If you’re looking for a classic Midwestern football environment, Madison, Wisconsin, is the place for you.
Wisconsin has a raucous pregame tailgate scene full of bratwursts, Polish sausages and ice-cold beer, and the atmosphere fuels the fun inside 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium. Camp Randall is surrounded by student apartments, which gives the stadium a unique feel and energy. You can also prepare for the game on Regent Street or State Street.
And be ready for the beginning of the fourth quarter, when House of Pain’s “Jump Around” blasts over the PA system. The entire student section jumps around, and the press box and upper deck sway in time.
It’s an incredibly fun environment, especially when Wisconsin is winning.
This fall, Jim McElwain will be welcomed to Florida by Gator fans hungry for a winner. Will Muschamp left a program stuck in neutral, and fans hope McElwain can change that in a hurry.
Florida’s tailgating scene is a bit different than its SEC brethren, but not in a bad way.
In fall, Gainesville can be ridiculously hot and humid, and spots with shade under trees are highly prized near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which seats 88,548. The midtown and downtown sections of Gainesville feature areas where fans can pregame away from the heat, or you can also go north of the stadium and watch the Gator Walk two hours before game time.
If McElwain turns things around quick, that walk will gain serious enthusiasm.
This fall, new Nebraska coach Mike Riley will step into one of college football’s best environments. Riley is known as one of the nice guys in the game, so he’ll fit right in with the Cornhuskers’ friendly fanbase. Nebraska has a great game-day experience. Memorial Stadium seats 87,000, and on fall football Saturdays, it’s a sea of red unrivaled in the college game.
Fans can tailgate in lots around the stadium, but downtown Lincoln is also a great option. The bars on Haymarket and O Streets cater to football fans, and be sure you catch the Nebraska band marching down Stadium Street and into Memorial Stadium before the game begins.
If you love college football and tailgating, you’ll love Georgia football. Mark Richt has turned the Bulldogs into a perennial SEC and national contender, and when you combine the Dawgs’ success with Athens' status as one of the nation’s premier college towns, it’s a special Southern-fried football experience.
Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 fans, and before games, fans get their Dawg on in areas like North Campus or Athens’ downtown bar scene. Parking can be difficult around the stadium, so be prepared to walk from your car a good distance, but the sights, sounds and smells you notice along the way will make the trip well worth it.
6. South Carolina
Last fall was a big disappointment in Columbia, with South Carolina’s four-year streak of 11-win seasons coming to an end with a 7-6 season. That certainly hasn’t dampened enthusiasm surrounding USC’s program, however.
Even before Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia, Gamecock fans were known for their tailgating prowess. Now, USC has a program worthy of such support.
Williams-Brice Stadium, which seats 80,250, is set away from South Carolina’s campus in what could be described as an industrial area of Columbia. However, on fall Saturdays, it comes alive with garnet-and-black-clad fans who flock from all over the Palmetto State to support the Gamecocks.
The centerpieces of the area are the Cockabooses, 22 tricked-out, repurposed former train cars which sit on a stretch of retired track near Willy-Brice. They attract the attention of college football broadcasters on a regular basis and sell for up to $300,000 (in the rare event one comes on the market, that is).
Over the last seven years, Dabo Swinney has transformed Clemson into one of the nation’s best programs, with four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.
That makes Clemson an elite program, but the truth is that the football is only catching up to the tailgating and atmosphere.
Memorial Stadium, which seats 81,500, will add an Oculus to its already impressive recent renovations. Clemson has an SEC-style game-day experience, with some fans arriving days before the game in their RVs to claim the best tailgating spots. On game day, stadium lots are full of fans who grill and put out amazing spreads of food that they’re happy to share with others.
If you don’t have a good spot, just walk down the hill to the Esso Club, one of America’s most iconic college bars. Just make sure you’re in your seat in time to see the Tigers run down the east-end-zone hill in what Brent Musburger dubbed “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”
4. Texas A&M
Texas A&M is only beginning its fourth season in the SEC, but the Aggies have shown they’re a perfect fit for the league on the field and in the tailgates. College Station, Texas, lives for Aggie football, and it starts on Friday nights before home games with Midnight Yell practice.
Following a recent $450 million renovation, Kyle Field seats 102,512 fans, making it the SEC’s largest stadium and the fourth-largest in college football. And just imagine how loud it’ll be with fans practicing their yells.
The Northgate area is an excellent place to fuel up before the game, and Spence Park is a popular tailgate destination. Be sure to try some brisket and beer while you’re in town, and don’t forget to visit the gravesite of A&M’s Reveille collie mascots outside Kyle Field, which famously has a working scoreboard on site.
Last fall, Tennessee football took a big step toward reclaiming its former glory. The Volunteers made their first bowl game since 2010 and belted Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, finishing with a 7-6 record and raising hopes for more under coach Butch Jones.
The Vols’ success means tailgating in Knoxville will be even more fun this fall. And it was already pretty darn good.
Neyland Stadium, which seats 102,455, is one of only two stadiums in college football (Washington is the other) that fans can access by boat, thanks to the Tennessee River, which runs right next to the stadium. The “Vol Navy” holds pregame and postgame parties on boats anchored in the river, and that’s just one area of a wide tailgate scene that encompasses stadium lots and bars near the stadium.
If you haven’t been to Tennessee for a game, why not? The tailgating is great, and the football is getting better. It’ll be a strong football hotspot for the foreseeable future.
2. Ole Miss
2014 was a special year in Oxford. With coach Hugh Freeze’s guidance, Ole Miss finally had a football team worthy of its tailgating success. The Rebels won nine games and upset then-No. 1 Alabama at home, sending The Grove into convulsions of excitement.
The Grove, a 10-acre, treelined area which does not allow automobiles, is a mecca for Rebel fans and one of the most unique tailgating environments in college football. You can find all sorts of Southern food there and a genteel atmosphere that lends itself to incredible people-watching. As James K. Gentry of the New York Times noted, tailgating goes above and beyond at Ole Miss.
"The Grove for Ole Miss people is a spiritual place," former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat said. "But on football game weekends, it becomes Mississippi's No. 1 social event."
Ole Miss fans never lose the party, with Oxford’s local food and literary culture giving it a unique bent that’s different from other SEC locales but still impressive. It’s a must-do for any serious college football fan.
If you have a college football bucket list, an LSU home game has to be on the list. It’s one of the most unique and raucous environments in college football, both for the experience inside Tiger Stadium and the atmosphere that surrounds it.
Tiger Stadium seats 102,321, which makes it the fifth-largest city in Louisiana on game days. LSU fans are rabid, arriving well before games in their RVs and setting up tailgates across campus well before kickoff on Saturday.
There are numerous options for tailgating, and each have their own charm. The Parade Ground and areas south and west of the stadium are excellent areas, and Tigerland, an area full of bars that cater to LSU students, is also a popular option.
The food might be better than the football. LSU fans are friendly and willing to share with visitors, and they cook numerous Cajun and Creole dishes that are a delight to the senses.
It’s a unique experience and the best in college football.