Power Ranking Top 25 College Football Stadiums of 2016
Depending on your TV, watching college football from home has almost become as immersive as being at the game itself. But no amount of technological advances will ever truly replicate the feeling of being there in person, not with the atmosphere that college stadiums add to the experience.
While NFL stadiums tend to veer more toward luxury and keeping the fans a safe distance from the highly paid players, college venues are much different. It's all about creating an environment that's welcoming for the home team and hostile for the visitors, but regardless of the allegiance, the common goal is a memorable experience.
Earlier this month, we ranked college football's best stadiums for night games; now it's time for the overall top 25. These rankings are based on a combination of amenities, environment and history, and are limited to venues where the college team is the main tenant.
25. Yulman Stadium, Tulane
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Year built: 2014
Three FBS programs christened new stadiums in 2014, though technically Yulman Stadium is the newest because Baylor and Houston had their first home games that season in late August, while Tulane's home opener was held on the first Saturday of September.
That's also the only time the Green Wave have filled every seat in their first on-campus stadium since 1975. However, their average crowd of 22,930 from last year (when they went 3-9 and 2-4 at home) still looks a lot better than when they struggled to fill the lower bowl of the Superdome—the place they called home for nearly four decades.
Yulman Stadium didn't skimp on the amenities despite its relatively inexpensive price tag—$75 million, compared to the $266 million and $128 million that Baylor and Houston spent, respectively—and by being on campus instead of downtown, the atmosphere before and after games stands out.
24. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida
Location: Gainesville, Florida
Year built: 1930
When Florida opens its 2016 season at home Sept. 3 against Massachusetts, it will be doing so on the newly crowned Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The school recently announced the addition of Spurrier's name to honor its winningest coach.
He's also the guy credited with the name most people use to describe the home of the Gators: the Swamp.
"The Swamp is where Gators live," Spurrier said in the 1990s, per the Tampa Bay Times. "We feel comfortable there, but we hope our opponents feel tentative. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous."
Numerous expansions have quadrupled the stadium's capacity, but because of the SEC's fondness for enormous football complexes, it's only the fifth-largest in the conference.
23. Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State
Location: Starkville, Mississippi
Year built: 1914
A $75 million expansion was completed in 2014 on Davis Wade Stadium—the second-oldest active college football facility in FBS behind Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium (1913). That project was timed to finish in conjunction with the 100th anniversary, but it was pure coincidence that Mississippi State has produced two of its best seasons in program history since then.
Or is it?
The addition of another 6,000 seats—mostly in the now sealed-off north end zone—makes all those cowbells ringing from the crowd that much louder. Davis Wade is the only stadium in the SEC in which artificial noisemakers are allowed, which enables the school's cowbell tradition to live on, though fans have to stop going #clanga once the center is over the ball and play is about to resume.
The Bulldogs have won 19 games the past two seasons, which is the best two-year stretch in program history.
22. Michie Stadium, Army
Location: West Point, New York
Year built: 1924
Army doesn't win much on the football field, but the Black Knights are undefeated when it comes to views from atop Michie Stadium.
Located alongside the Lusk Reservoir in upstate New York, there's only one level of seats on that side so fans can glimpse the water and miles of greenery beyond that. And if Army is struggling to score—it is 8-15 at home since 2010—the views can serve as a welcome distraction.
21. Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
Year built: 1934
South Carolina's rise to prominence during the Steve Spurrier era opened the nation's eyes to Williams-Brice Stadium as a bucket-list venue. Those associated with the SEC had been aware of the stadium known as much for its size as for its tendency to undulate.
Back in the 1980s, after a new upper deck was built on the east side, students and fans discovered that just enough movement (and the right music to move to) could cause the structure to sway. From this, the phrase "if it ain't swayin', we ain't playin'" was born and became synonymous with the Gamecocks program.
The swaying isn't as pronounced anymore—thanks to a risk management plan adopted by the school in 1987, per AL.com—but it still gets bouncy when the techno song “Sandstorm” is played before kickoff and after South Carolina touchdowns.
20. Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
Year built: 1965
A middle-of-the-pack stadium in terms of overall seating, Lane Stadium makes a name for itself by the way those seats are situated. It's not fully enclosed, with openings on either side of the north end zone, while on the opposite side is a two-tiered edifice that holds roughly one-sixth of the crowd.
And those 11,000 seats tend to look like a lot more when an opponent has its back to them. Much like the Cleveland Browns' Dawg Pound, though with much better results, that part of the stadium has been unofficially credited with helping Virginia Tech record many of the blocked punts it became known for during Frank Beamer's tenure.
While most of the structure is made from concrete and steel, there's also a healthy amount of Hokie Stone, a type of limestone that's pulled from a quarry near Tech's Blacksburg campus.
19. Glass Bowl, Toledo
Location: Toledo, Ohio
Year built: 1937
Big college football fun can come in small venues, as the Glass Bowl has shown for nearly 80 years. Its original 8,000 seating capacity was pretty sizable in the 1930s, but nowadays, the home of the Mid-American Conference's Toledo Rockets checks in as the 16th-smallest stadium in FBS.
The Glass Bowl is a mixture of stone and glass, the latter a homage to Toledo's long history in the glassmaking industry. Don't let the name fool you, though, as the stadium is quite sturdy.
Toledo only drew 20,842 fans on average during the 2015 season, but the bigger crowds show up for the important games. A September win over Iowa State—one of six victories the Rockets have had over power-conference teams at home since 2001—drew 23,104, while rival Kent State brought out 23,118 fans.
18. Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Year built: 1950
Its size has remained the same since adding 300 seats in 2003, but improvements are ongoing to make Doak Campbell Stadium as state-of-the-art as it was when first built for $250,000. That amount nowadays probably doesn't even cover the paint being used in an $85 million renovation that began last year.
New seats are replacing old bleachers, making for a more comfortable experience when Osceola rides Renegade onto the field and plants his spear into the turf to signal game time.
The largest venue in the ACC, Florida State has a distinct advantage at home. The Seminoles take a 21-game home win streak into the 2016 season.
17. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Year built: 1960
College football's second-largest stadium is regularly No. 1 when it comes to fan organization. What started as a student gimmick in 2004, the whiteout games at Beaver Stadium have become a crowd-wide endeavor and managed to turn this already-impressive venue into a breathtaking sight.
A giant edifice that rises above nearby farmland and forests, it might not be big enough to be seen from space, but it's still managed to be picked up by satellites. And in 2010, Beaver Stadium was given the Google Street View treatment—the first such stadium to earn that distinction.
Though much larger than its original version from 56 years ago, a good portion of that structure was transported across campus from New Beaver Field, where the Nittany Lions played from 1909-59.
16. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Year built: 1923
The last time Memorial Stadium had an unsold seat for a Nebraska football game, John F. Kennedy was president and current Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley was nine years old. That October 1962 win over Kansas State drew 30,701 fans back when capacity was 31,000.
Several expansions have happened during the past 54 years, lifting Memorial Stadium into the top 20 among college football venues. But no matter how big it gets, there's never a shortage of fans. The last 347 games have been sold out, with a high of 91,585 squeezing in for a 2014 visit from Miami (Florida).
The city of Lincoln is home to more than a quarter-million people, but on game days, it seems like every one of them is inside that stadium.
15. Kyle Field, Texas A&M
Location: College Station, Texas
Year built: 1927
They tend to do things bigger in Texas, and to better fit into its new league, Texas A&M decided to take this adage and run with it. Since moving into the SEC in 2012, the Aggies' already-large stadium has gone through numerous face-lifts and expansions and now is the largest one in the conference.
Kyle Field was actually even bigger in 2014 than it is now, having a capacity of more than 106,000 before the second phase of the $450 million project bulldozed the west side of the stadium and the new version featured fewer standard seats in favor of luxury boxes and other high-end areas.
One thing that hasn't changed, though, is the intensity of the fans. Known as the 12th Man, they rarely sit down and hardly ever get quiet.
14. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Year built: 1921
Time travelers from 1920s Knoxville would have to think the massive Neyland Stadium they stand in front of today was built on the site of Tennessee's original football complex. There's no way anyone back then could have envisioned the 3,200-seat venue built more than 90 years ago would eventually have another 99,000-plus seats erected all around (and above) it.
The original structure still stands, part of the lower level of Neyland's west side. Opposite of that is where many Volunteers fans spend their time before contests tailgating, or rather “sailgating” in boats parked along the Tennessee River.
At kickoff, Neyland is a sea of orange for as far as the eye can see, except for when Tennessee organizes a fan effort that results in a brilliant checkerboard pattern through the crowd.
13. McLane Stadium, Baylor
Location: Waco, Texas
Year built: 2014
The newest stadium built for a power-conference team, McLane Stadium is a major improvement on the decrepit Floyd Casey Stadium that Baylor played in for 60-plus years. The facility was the product of the Bears' rise in prominence the past decade, during which they produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III and multiple Big 12 titles.
With Baylor facing an uncertain 2016 season in the wake of Art Briles' firing and numerous recruits wishing to leave the program, stadium capacity won't be hard to meet. Baylor averaged 46,160 fans this past season and probably could have sold more tickets had it not opted for a smaller venue.
McLane Stadium was specifically designed to be wide open, with one end zone spilling out to the Brazos River. A bridge takes fans over that waterway to get from the main campus to their seats.
12. Sanford Stadium, Georgia
Location: Athens, Georgia
Year built: 1929
It's big, it's old and it's regularly filled to the brim. Sanford Stadium sold out every game in 2015 as well as April's spring game. But plenty of other college football venues meet these criteria, especially in the SEC, so there needs to be more in order to stand out.
How about meticulously manicured shrubbery ringing the field? Or a mausoleum that serves as the final resting place for Georgia's beloved Uga mascots?
Sanford Stadium was the first to have privet hedges, though the current batch was planted in 1996. The canine tomb has been in existence since the 1960s.
11. Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
Location: Auburn, Alabama
Year built: 1939
In the never-ending battle to have the biggest and best of everything, Auburn began its latest upgrade to Jordan-Hare Stadium with the most eye-catching addition possible: a $13.9 million video board that's the largest in college football.
Auburn has bigger plans for its 77-year-old facility, though, with AL.com noting the project would include "an expanded concourse and walkways, club seating, additional concessions, new locker rooms, video board, recruiting lounge and other amenities."
Yes, another giant video board, as if one screen that can be seen from miles away wasn't enough.
Jordan-Hare is the 13th-largest stadium in college football but only the seventh-biggest in the SEC, so rather than add seats, the school is turning more toward improving the experience for those already coming out each Saturday.
10. Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama
Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Year built: 1929
Fall weddings are a big no-no in SEC country, where Saturdays are reserved for college football at some of the biggest and best stadiums around. Plan your nuptials in the offseason, though, and Bryant-Denny Stadium might just be available for a quaint ceremony.
Or maybe you have to be Alabama head coach Nick Saban's daughter, who in May 2015 tied the knot and then held her reception on the field where dad later piloted the Crimson Tide to their fourth national title since 2009.
Bryant-Denny's also a great place to watch a game, with multiple decks of seats in all directions seemingly hanging over the field.
9. Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Year built: 1917
Happen to be a fan of college football, '90s hip-hop and group celebrations? Then Camp Randall Stadium is for you.
Wisconsin fans have made House of Pain's “Jump Around” their unofficial theme song for football since 1998, as they play the tune in between the third and fourth quarters of every home game to get the crowd amped up. The first experience can be a bit unsettling since it causes the nearly century-old stadium to wobble thanks to the coordinated bouncing, but you get used to it.
A centerpiece of one of America's top college towns, Camp Randall is roughly seven times larger than when first built to accommodate 11,900 fans.
8. Husky Stadium, Washington
Location: Seattle, Washington
Year built: 1920
Spend a day on the lake or go to a college football game? At Husky Stadium, you can do both.
TV timeouts are no bother when at a Washington game, because fans can pass the minutes gazing out at glistening Lake Washington—which bumps right up to the stadium—and beyond that to the Cascade Mountains. And a large portion of the crowd doesn't need to worry about Seattle's frequent rainstorms, either, thanks to large overhangs that shield the upper decks.
Washington completed a $280 million update in 2013 that took out a few thousand seats but made sure not to impact any of Husky Stadium's noted aesthetics.
7. Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame
Location: South Bend, Indiana
Year built: 1930
A $400 million expansion has been underway since 2014 and is set to be finished next year, at which time Notre Dame Stadium will be able to hold close to 85,000 thanks to the addition of some premium seating as part of one of several new buildings going up on the east, south and west sides of the facility.
These upgrades will help get one of the best venues in the country on par with both the new stadiums and other old ones in need of a face-lift. As long as the project doesn't take away from the history or impact the sight lines, it should end up being well-received.
There won't be any difficulty filling those new seats. Notre Dame takes a 249-game sellout streak into the 2016 season—second only to Nebraska's 347 straight sellouts at Memorial Stadium.
6. Autzen Stadium, Oregon
Location: Eugene, Oregon
Year built: 1967
There's a pretty strong correlation between crowd size and stadium noise—the more people packed into a venue, the louder it's going to be. Autzen Stadium is the exception that proves the rule.
Ranked somewhere in the 50s among FBS stadium capacities, Autzen makes up for its lack of clicks through the turnstile by the decibel level those crowds produce. And this is by design, with its "potato chip shape" contributing to the way sound bounces off the stands and down onto the field.
"It is like a double-sided amphitheater," architect Christopher Mitchell, who worked on the stadium's 2002 renovation, told Sports Illustrated. "All the energy is concentrated."
The crowds are also louder now that Oregon has entrenched itself as one of the top programs in the country. Ducks games routinely have standing-room crowds, and they averaged 106.2 percent capacity last season.
5. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Year built: 1922
Every visit to Ohio Stadium is a life-changing experience, even if the game doesn't count. How else can you explain the crowds that Ohio State has drawn for its last few spring games, which effectively are glorified scrimmages?
The Buckeyes drew 100,189 fans in April to get a sneak preview of what's in store for the 2016 season, which broke their own national record set the year before.
For the games that count, OSU regularly has six figures in attendance, and Ohio Stadium could possibly hold even more if the school ever decided to turn its horseshoe shape into a full oval. Not bad for a stadium that opened in the 1920s with room for only 66,000 fans.
4. Michigan Stadium, Michigan
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Year built: 1927
The largest college football stadium in the country—and one of the biggest venues in all of sports, worldwide—is capable of holding enough people to rank as the seventh-largest city in Michigan on game days. Ann Arbor's population of roughly 114,000 has been surpassed three times in the last five years by Wolverines crowds.
It's not just the sheer size of the crowds or how all that maize and blue looks huddled together on a cold, upper Midwest fall Saturday. It's the way every seat is configured to provide the best possible view of the field, whether that be in the corner of an end zone at field level or in the back row of the upper deck.
Michigan Stadium holds the record for largest attendance in college football history, drawing 115,109 for the 2013 visit from Notre Dame. Virginia Tech and Tennessee are sure to crush that mark in September when they meet at Bristol Motor Speedway, but there's no way a football game at a NASCAR track can provide the same cozy experience that Michigan Stadium does.
3. Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Location: Clemson, South Carolina
Year built: 1942
There are two college football stadiums that have come to be known as Death Valley—this one and LSU's Tiger Stadium. Neither is an easy place to win for visiting teams, but Clemson has kicked it up a few levels during its recent run of dominance under head coach Dabo Swinney.
And now the rest of the country knows what those in the ACC have been privy to for a while: Don't go into Clemson expecting to win, at least not without a fight. The Tigers have won 16 in a row in games that are preceded by two storied Memorial Stadium traditions: rubbing Howard's Rock and then running down the hill onto the field.
Those customs whip the home crowd into a frenzy, and the 80,000-plus orange-clad fans remain that way until the final buzzer.
2. Tiger Stadium, LSU
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Year built: 1924
The top school on our list of best night-game college venues, Tiger Stadium is universally regarded as one of the toughest places to play in as a visiting team. Even the great Bear Bryant thought so, saying it got so noisy on the field it was "like being inside a drum" (h/t ESPN.com).
And that was back in the 1960s and '70s, when capacity was in the 60,000 range. Numerous expansions later, LSU regularly packs more than 100,000 fans in there thanks to the 2014 addition of another 10,000 seats in the south end zone.
LSU's dominance when the lights come on only adds to Tiger Stadium's aura, with an all-time nighttime win rate of almost 79 percent.
1. Rose Bowl, UCLA
Location: Pasadena, California
Year built: 1921
It's "The Granddaddy of Them All," and not just because of the iconic bowl game for which it's named. The Rose Bowl, which has served as UCLA's home stadium since 1982, has been a mainstay of the college football landscape for more than 90 years.
If every college football player in the country were to be surveyed, there's little doubt the Rose Bowl would be the overwhelming No. 1 choice for the stadium most would want to play in. That would ideally be as part of the New Year's Day bowl game that's been around since 1923, but for most school, a regular-season visit to Pasadena would have to suffice.
The venue itself doesn't have any fancy bells and whistles or any amenities that add to the comfort. However, with its simple low-rising bowl shape, there's not a bad seat in the house. Somehow, even when you're in the back row, you feel like you're on top of the action.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.