Ranking Top 15 Venues for Night Games in College Football

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2016

Ranking Top 15 Venues for Night Games in College Football

0 of 15

    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    College football games make for an amazing in-person experience, regardless of where you are. But they're even better when the sun goes down and the lights come on.

    Night games create an even greater atmosphere, one where the darkened sky becomes part of the venue. Colors are more defined, sounds are more amplified, and in most cases, the home team has a much larger advantage.

    While TV contracts tend to drive when games are played, there are certain venues that take those late start times and run with it, making night games feel like a completely different world.

    We've ranked the 15 best nighttime college football venues, based on the ambiance created after dark as well as the success of the home team. If the host doesn't frequently win these games, it can take away from the aura.

15. Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia

1 of 15

    Tyler Evert/Associated Press

    One of the oddest traditions in college football is that of West Virginia fans celebrating victories—and sometimes losses—by setting things on fire. Burning couches have become synonymous with the Mountaineers, to the point the Morgantown City Council had to pass a law in 2015 banning "upholstered furniture outdoors" in an effort to curb this act.

    Try as they might, the fires still happen. And they're much more prevalent after a night game played at Milan Puskar Stadium, where it can get very cold late in the season and a little fire can help warm things up later on.

    A relatively young stadium by college football standards, Milan Puskar opened in 1980 and only holds 60,000, but the Mountaineers regularly fill it up. Last year, they averaged 54,826 fans, including an overflow crowd of 60,410 for a night game against Oklahoma State.

14. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, USC

2 of 15

    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has played host to a long list of memorable sporting events during its history, including the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics and multiple Super Bowls, and it even served as the temporary home of the Los Angeles Dodgers after they moved from Brooklyn in the 1950s. Its main tenant is USC's football team, though, and that's what earns it a spot on our list of great night venues.

    Because USC is the most popular team in the Pac-12, from a national standpoint, it tends to play its home games at various times to accommodate whichever channels they will be on. That includes quite a few night contests, with the hope the Trojans will draw strong ratings even then.

    All but one of the Trojans' seven home games last year kicked off at 4:30 p.m. or later, with the lone exception being the rivalry contest with UCLA to end the regular season. The results were mixed—USC went 4-2 at night, losing to Stanford and Washington—but the atmosphere was still great no matter what.

13. Beaver Stadium, Penn State

3 of 15

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Beaver Stadium's official capacity (106,572) makes it the second-largest stadium in North America, behind only Michigan Stadium. But when this cavernous venue hosts a night game, it looks like there's a million people crammed in there.

    Night games in Happy Valley aren't common, having only occurred five times in the past five years and rarely more than once per season in the stadium's history. They're usually reserved for the biggest opponents, though last year, the sole night home opponent was Rutgers.

    When Penn State combines this with its tradition of having every fan wear white to the game, the result is a crowd so bright the program could probably save thousands on electricity by shutting off the lights.

12. Rose Bowl, UCLA

4 of 15

    David Madison/Getty Images

    The stadium's biggest game of the year, the one for which it's named, holds a traditional afternoon kickoff spot that is unlikely to ever get changed. During the regular season, the Rose Bowl is home to UCLA's football team, and night games have become as much a staple as anything else in one of college football's oldest and grandest venues.

    The Bruins have had 20 home kickoffs that started at 5 p.m. or later since 2011, winning 16 of those. Recently, they've used some of these night games to break out special uniforms, including the "LA Midnight" version in 2013, the "LA Steel" set for 2014 and the "City" version in 2015.

    Traditionalists, particularly those who love UCLA's baby blue and gold color scheme, probably scoff at these alternate uniforms. But when playing under the lights, the colors really pop and make the Rose Bowl an even more electric place to watch football.

11. Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina

5 of 15

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    South Carolina's dismal 3-9 season in 2015 saw it only play host to one night game at Williams-Brice Stadium, an early loss to Kentucky in which the Gamecocks were unable to complete a second-half rally. After that, it was all day games—the team wasn't good enough to warrant a prime-time TV slot.

    That meant Williams-Brice Stadium didn't get to turn into a giant rave, which is what it somewhat resembles when the PA system belts out "Sandstorm" prior to the opening kickoff as well as after each South Carolina score. The song, released in 1999 by Finnish DJ Darude, has become as synonymous with the Gamecocks as now-retired Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier.

    South Carolina is 11-4 at night the past five seasons, winning 10 in a row under the lights from 2011-13.

10. Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech

6 of 15

    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Not everyone is a fan of legendary heavy metal group Metallica, but it's hard not to get a little amped up when hearing the opening guitar riffs of the song, "Enter Sandman."

    Now imagine those chords at night, with more than 60,000 fans jumping around in anticipation of Virginia Tech's football team coming onto the field.

    The unofficial theme song for the Hokies since 2000, "Enter Sandman" has an extra oomph to it when played at Lane Stadium at night. There have been only eight such games there since 2011, with Virginia Tech splitting those contests—last year, it lost to defending national champion Ohio State on Labor Day and then beat North Carolina State on a Friday night in October—but there will be at least one nighttime tilt this fall with the Hokies hosting Miami (Florida) on a Thursday night.

9. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee

7 of 15

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    With an 8-9 record the past five seasons, Tennessee isn't exactly setting the world on fire when it plays home games at night. That's a shame, because Neyland Stadium's orange-filled seats look so pretty under the lights.

    Tennessee is 16-6 in daytime home games during that same span, though it admittedly ends up facing the tougher foes in the evening. Last year, that was Arkansas and Oklahoma, games the Volunteers led early but couldn't pull out in the end.

    Regardless of the outcome, a night game at Neyland is a heck of a way to finish a Saturday in the fall. This is particularly true of the Vols fans who spend their time prior to kickoff with some "sailgating."

8. Memorial Stadium, Clemson

8 of 15

    Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Clemson's rise in national prominence under coach Dabo Swinney has seen it win 10 or more games in five straight seasons. And with that have come better TV slots, resulting in eight night games at Memorial Stadium in the past four years.

    By turning on the lights and letting the 80,000-plus fans let loose under the cover of darkness, Clemson's home traditions become more pronounced. The rubbing of Howard's Rock and the running down the hill onto the field just look better at night, without any glare from the sun, and the Tigers have responded by winning six of their eight home games under the lights.

    Kickoff times for only two of Clemson's seven home games have been announced, both during the day, but the Oct. 1 visit from Louisville could land an evening start.

7. Kyle Field, Texas A&M

9 of 15

    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Texas A&M is at the top of the list when it comes to college football traditions, including its trademarked (and staunchly defended) "12th Man" moniker for the rabid fans and the Midnight Yell Practice that happens the night before games. All of this gets ramped up when the Aggies play at night, since it means there's more time to build up anticipation for the game.

    Kyle Field has increased its attendance by more than 20,000 since A&M moved into the SEC and is now able to hold more than 102,000 fans. Its largest crowd was 110,631 for a 2014 visit from Ole Miss, one of 17 home games held in the stadium since 2011.

    The larger crowds and bright lights haven't translated into a decided home advantage, however. A&M is 12-5 in those night games, with four losses coming in the past two seasons.

6. Michigan Stadium, Michigan

10 of 15

    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Michigan Stadium is college football's largest stadium, with a capacity of greater than 107,000, but the school routinely pushes past that number and has averaged better than 110,000 fans in several seasons, including 2015 (110,168).

    Put that many people together in one place at night, and something memorable is bound to happen, but so far, Michigan has only played host to three night games in its history. The first was in 2011, when a then-record 114,804 fans crammed in to watch the Wolverines pull out a 35-31 win over Notre Dame thanks to 28 fourth-quarter points and a game-winning score with two seconds remaining.

    Two years later, in 2013, it was Notre Dame that again was the visitor, and again a record crowd showed up. The final count was 115,109 to see Michigan claim a 41-30 win over the Fighting Irish.

    Michigan also hosted Penn State at night in 2014, drawing better than 113,000.

5. Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State

11 of 15

    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Few stadiums have undergone more renovations and upgrades than Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, which opened in 1950 with a capacity of 15,000 and now holds more than 82,000 fans. The most recent spruce-up, which began last year and prevented Florida State from holding its spring game there this year, cost roughly $80 million.

    But no matter what tweaks and changes are made, one thing stays the same: Doak Campbell has an amazing atmosphere that is only enhanced when it's nighttime.

    Florida State will play at least one night game at home this fall, hosting Boston College on a Friday night in November, and odds are the Oct. 29 showdown with Clemson will get a prime-time kickoff as well. That's what happened when the Tigers came to Tallahassee in 2012 and 2014, two of the 10 night home games the Seminoles have had in the past four seasons.

    And they've won all 10 of them, including thrillers over Notre Dame (2014) and Miami (2015).

4. Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame

12 of 15

    Joe Raymond/Associated Press

    Until the late 1990s, Notre Dame Stadium didn't have permanent lights, and thus night games weren't a realistic option. But thanks to Notre Dame's lucrative TV contract with NBC—and the revenue that can come from a prime-time broadcast—the night game has become a staple of the Fighting Irish's home schedule.

    Whether they like it or not.

    "At least once a year, [coach Brian] Kelly mentions the grind that is playing night games," Scout.com's Tim Prister wrote in May, when the school announced that upcoming home games against Michigan State and Stanford would be at night. That will make eight evening kickoffs since 2011, after not having one from 1991-2010.

    It's not like Notre Dame struggles during these contests, however. It lost to USC in 2011 and has won every other one since. And the aura that comes with seeing a game in South Bend becomes more pronounced when the lights come on.

3. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State

13 of 15

    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The first night game held in Ohio Stadium was in 1985, resulting in a 10-7 win for Ohio State over Pittsburgh. It was another eight years before the Buckeyes would play at home under the lights again, but in the past three seasons, they've done it seven times.

    At least two more are on the docket for this fall, with back-to-back tilts against Northwestern and Nebraska in late October and early November set for evening kickoffs already. In 2014, OSU athletic director Gene Smith told Bob Hunt of the Columbus Dispatch he envisions three or four night home games per season on an annual basis. More than that could have a negative effect on the ambiance that comes with playing under the lights.

    "There’s some novelty in playing at night, and you don’t want to reduce that," Smith said.

    OSU is 15-4 all time in home night games, with the most recent loss coming in 2014 when it was shocked by Virginia Tech. But seeing as that setback sparked the Buckeyes to run the table and win the national title, in hindsight, that wasn't such a bad thing.

2. Autzen Stadium, Oregon

14 of 15

    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    Great night venues don't always have to come in oversized packages. At 54,000, Autzen Stadium is the smallest stadium on our list, but you wouldn't know it from how it feels to play games there in front of routinely overflowing crowds.

    The Ducks averaged 57,631 fans for its games in 2015, putting it at 106.2 percent capacity. That means a lot of people had to stand to watch games, and that situation often prompts quite a bit of yelling and rowdiness. And as the season moves on and it gets colder, having to stand around at night can bring out the angst in a lot of fans.

    Oregon has gone 16-3 in home night games the past five years, including 2-1 last season (losing to Utah). The Ducks don't play at night as often as other Pac-12 schools, however, since their rise in national prominence has made them a more attractive choice for afternoon TV games when more viewers are tuning in.

1. Tiger Stadium, LSU

15 of 15

    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Its official name is Tiger Stadium, but the home of LSU football since the 1920s is more affectionately known as Death Valley. That's fitting, because it's where opposing teams' hopes to pull off an upset often go to die, especially at night.

    The Tigers' 21 night wins since 2011 are the most of any power-conference team. According to the school, LSU went 231-61-4 in night games from 1960 through 2014, and last season, it was 6-1 in contests with a kickoff time of 5 p.m. or later, with the only loss coming to Arkansas.

    Darkness manages to bring out the loudness in LSU fans, with what's now a capacity of over 102,000 raining their cheers and boos down on the field with the night sky serving as a roof to hold in the noise.

    Ironically, LSU's success has been even greater in day games of late. The last time it lost during the day in Baton Rouge was 2008, to Ole Miss.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.