Ranking College Football's Top 25 Tailgating Schools for 2016
The college football season is only a few weeks away, which also means there's not much time left to get the tailgate setup ready.
While the game itself is at the center of the college football experience, it's how you spend the time leading up to the contest that matters just as much. Depending on what time kickoff is, fans get either a few hours or the entire day to eat, drink, party and get themselves ready to cheer on the home team.
Every school has its own way of doing a tailgate, and fans of that team are going to think theirs is the best. In all fairness, though, some do it much better than the others.
We've ranked the 25 best tailgating schools for the 2016 season, so if you happen to be in one of these college towns on a Saturday this fall it would be worth your while to check out the spread.
25. Florida State
You won't be lacking for food and drink options or enthusiastic fans when roaming around Doak Walker Stadium prior to Florida State games. But if you're really looking to experience something unique, you might want to see what roast alligator tastes like...unless maybe if you're a Florida fan.
Tallahassee is Florida's state capital, but it's also a place that's unabashedly behind its Seminoles. The entire community is part of the pregame celebration, and you won't go far without someone #TalkinBoutTheNoles.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 29 vs. Clemson
At most schools, the tailgating serves as an appetizer for the main course of the game itself. Iowa also often serves it up for dessert, since postgame tailgating tends to happen after most Saturdays with early kickoffs.
That means you have the opportunity to load up on great Midwestern food and drink—think a mix of wholesome dishes and county-fair food—both before the game and then again afterward. This is especially helpful for games later in the season, since the extra sustenance can help fend off the bitter cold.
When to check it out in 2016: Sept. 10 vs. Iowa State
The most passionate of Arkansas fans are "All Hog," just like football coach Bret Bielema. And that devotion to the Razorbacks extends to the tailgate scene in Fayetteville, which has remained top-notch even as Arkansas has fallen and risen over the last decade in the SEC.
A little piece of advice for your first time at The Gardens, the main tailgate locale: They're not yelling at you when hundreds of fans suddenly shout "Woo...Pig! Sooie!" That's just how they get themselves amped up for the game, and after a while you'll find yourself joining in the call.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 8 vs. Alabama
The Los Angeles Coliseum might be old and lacking many of the amenities of modern stadiums, but you can't talk away the fact it's been an Olympic stadium and hosted the Super Bowl. Not many other college facilities can say that, let alone one right on the edge of campus.
And its proximity to USC makes it so you can tailgate at University Park or over at the school, but either way you won't be able to escape the rich tradition of both the stadium and the school's football program. It also helps that you'll rarely have bad weather since it hardly rains in Los Angeles and always seems like it's 72 degrees and sunny.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 26 vs. Notre Dame
Oklahoma is finishing a massive renovation of its football stadium, bringing it up to par with the top facilities in the Big 12 and elsewhere across the country. The Sooners' tailgate doesn't need any such upgrades, since it does great just the way it is.
Norman is not far south of Oklahoma City, and on game days it may feel like the town has become Oklahoma's state capital. If there's a particular drink or a certain type of food you're hankering for, odds are you'll find it in this tailgate.
When to check it out in 2016: Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma State
20. West Virginia
Couch burning is a fineable offense in Morgantown, but that age-old tradition still happens from time to time after a big football or basketball win. And if things get particularly rowdy for a tailgate, you might just see some upholstery go up in flames and then can cross that off your bucket list.
That's not what you'll remember most from tailgating at West Virginia, though. Instead it will be how early it starts and how full-bore it goes even when kickoff isn't until after dark.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 19 vs. Oklahoma
19. Notre Dame
A walk through Notre Dame's campus is one that will fill you with awe and reverence while taking in the amazing architecture and the pristine landscapes. It's a good way to prepare you for a relatively low-key tailgating atmosphere for Fighting Irish games, but one that's not lacking in fun.
Getting there a day early isn't an excuse to get the party started sooner but instead to take the Stadium Tunnel Tour, which lets you experience the route the players take into Notre Dame Stadium. On Saturdays it's more about catching up with old friends and classmates in a relaxed manner.
When to check it out in 2016: Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State
Whether you're checking it out in Austin or for the annual Red River Shootout against Oklahoma in Dallas, a stroll through Texas' tailgate scene is worth it. You might struggle to find parking at the college, but that's just a minor annoyance that will be quickly forgotten once you're enveloped by the smells of barbecue.
The trendy hipster culture of Austin, Texas, doesn't come forth as much on campus, where it's much more about tradition and pageantry. And there's lots of both, as the massive tailgate area seems to go on for miles and miles.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 8 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas) or Nov. 25 vs. TCU
Autzen Stadium is one of the loudest outdoor stadiums in the world, despite holding less than 60,000 fans. This goes along with how the tailgate scene at Oregon manages to make the most out of not being as big as the ones you'll find at Big Ten or SEC schools.
There's quite a bit of the usual fare in terms of RVs, tents and grills, but there's also an indoor element to the Ducks' tailgate. Held at the Moshofsky Center, Oregon's indoor practice facility, up to 5,000 people regularly attend these pregame parties without having to worry about the (frequent) chance of rain ruining their celebration.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 8 vs. Washington
16. Ohio State
Ohio State tailgates for its spring game, which drew more than 100,000 people in April. Just imagine what it's like in Columbus before contests that actually count for something.
"The sheer scope is almost like a village in and of itself," SB Nation's Luke Zimmermann wrote. "Columbus is a Mecca for tailgaters."
With so many people coming to town for games, combined with the already large school enrollment, it's a sea of red, white and gray on Saturdays. It can be a bit overwhelming seeing all those people milling about, but after some food and drink and a bit of walking around, any trepidation goes away.
This is probably the best way to go about things since access to a great place to set up a formal tailgate operation is hard to get.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 26 vs. Michigan
Known as the "Loveliest Village on the Plains," Auburn is the quintessential college town that on Saturdays in the fall could serve as the textbook example of football tailgating. The mix of fan fever and Southern hospitality blends perfectly to create an experience no one will forget.
Whether it's checking out Toomer's Corner, where the famed oaks are growing again and will get rolled with toilet paper after a win, or lining up to cheer on the team as they make the Tiger Walk into Jordan-Hare Stadium, the activities are seemingly endless.
Tailgating officially begins on Friday afternoons, but sometimes the RVs will start showing up earlier, such as when rival Alabama is coming to town for the Iron Bowl.
When to check it out in 2016: Sept. 3 vs. Clemson
Florida's ranking on this list is a collective one, based not just on its ability to tailgate well for home games but to also bring the party on the road. Specifically, to the annual clash with Georgia in Jacksonville for a game that's known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."
Georgia's fans do this as well, but there's something about the Gators' side that stands out. It's almost like the opportunity to show their stuff outside of Gainesville adds to the effort, and it might be what's inspired the football team to take 10 of the last 15 meetings (including the last two) over the Bulldogs.
On campus and around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the atmosphere is more laid back, possibly because the humidity in northern Florida saps the energy, but it's still festive despite the muggy conditions.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 8 vs. LSU, Oct. 29 vs. Georgia in Jacksonville
Two great things to do in the Pacific Northwest are to watch football and hang out at the lake. At Washington, you can do both at the same time since Husky Stadium is open on the east side, allowing for great views of Lake Washington as well as all of the boats on which fans spend much of their pregame time on Saturdays.
"The occupants of Husky Harbor emerge near the stadium’s east end like some sort of tailgate flotilla," the New York Times' Greg Bishop wrote in 2011. "Once docked or anchored, they tailgate with a twist, a practice the locals have alternately called boatgating, sailgating and sterngating."
Similar to what Tennessee fans do along the Tennessee River, the ability to party on water and then celebrate on land is an experience that can't be passed up.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 12 vs. USC
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has done so much to revive Michigan's football program in such a short time, but one place where it didn't need any help was in the tailgating department. The Wolverines know how to pregame and how to somehow make a six-figure crowd feel like a cozy gathering of friends.
"Wolverines fans are awfully welcoming, sharing whatever food and drinks are under the tent," Bleacher Report's David Kenyon wrote. "The common spots to find the friendly people are parked on the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club course or at neighboring Pioneer High School."
Michigan Stadium's capacity (107,601) makes it the unofficially seventh-largest city in the state, just slightly behind Ann Arbor itself. Yet you'd never know there were that many people there considering how comfortable everything feels.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 1 vs. Wisconsin
The Quad is where to be for Alabama tailgating, but even if you're away from that part of campus, you're not going to miss out on the full game-day experience. Much like the Crimson Tide's football team rarely misses a beat, there's really no bad place to hang out in Tuscaloosa before a home game.
Whether it's heading over to Gallettes for a famed Yellow Hammer drink or just taking in the scenes around Bryant-Denny Stadium, by the time the gates open to head to your seats, you'll be fully prepared for the game.
The Alabama tailgate is also quite welcoming to opposing fans, possibly as a way of readying them for the likely on-field loss that's soon to come.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 26 vs. Auburn
10. Penn State
Penn State's football program has been through some hard times the past decade, including an NCAA postseason ban and plenty of bad press. But the Nittany Lions' fan support hasn't waned through it all, and nowhere is this better exemplified than through tailgating.
University Park is in the middle of nowhere in north central Pennsylvania, yet tens of thousands flock to that little town for PSU games—and they get there early. That makes for an extended tailgate, one that begins on Thursday and is often still going long after the final whistle.
And because student tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis, that means camping out is necessary. This creates "Nittanyville," Penn State's version of the "Krzyzewskiville" that Duke has outside its basketball arena.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 22 vs. Ohio State
As Clemson's football program has risen up the ranks to elite status under coach Dabo Swinney, so too has its tailgate scene become more respected and appreciated. It's not much different than a year ago, but the on-field success means there are far more people paying attention to the Tigers for things other than Clemsoning.
It starts on Thursday and continues right up to the moment the Tigers rub Howard's Rock and run down the hill onto the field. Clemson is a tiny town, with less than 15,000 permanent residents, but what it lacks in populace it makes up for in atmosphere.
The fans also aren't afraid to tailgate in unfavorable conditions. The remnants of Hurricane Joaquin last October turned the campus into a wet mess prior to the showdown with Notre Dame, but that didn't stop the pregame fun.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 26 vs. South Carolina
The city of Lincoln is Nebraska's capital and is also the center of the Cornhuskers universe. And when it comes to college football, the entire population of 250,000 (plus all those coming in from out of town) becomes part of the tailgate on Saturdays in the fall.
To further this concept, the tailgate scene revolves around downtown rather than on campus, where alcohol restrictions limit the ability to have the full tailgate experience. But with plenty of options in the downtown area, no fan will be missing out on the chance to enjoy themselves before games.
It's no longer up for sale, but in July, an Omaha-based Nebraska fan was unloading his Cornhusker-themed tailgate RV—complete with exterior keg taps—on Craigslist for $1,000. Don't be surprised if you see that bad boy in Lincoln this fall.
When to check it out in 2016: Sept. 17 vs. Oregon
7. South Carolina
You haven't lived until you've tailgated in a caboose.
The 22 decommissioned train cars—known as "Cockabooses"—are the signature item at South Carolina's tailgate scene. And we're not talking about old commuter cars, these are souped-up luxury ones that have been retrofitted to become the ultimate in rail-based partying.
Picture a scene from a movie that involves people mingling around the bar in a train's drink car and multiply it by 100.
The trains aren't the only part of what makes South Carolina's tailgate hum, though. The entire area around Williams-Brice Stadium is buzzing on Saturdays, so you won't be missing out if you have to stay on land.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 8 vs. Georgia
Have you ever been tailgating before a college football game and suddenly thought, "Hey, I really feel like visiting a dog mausoleum"? If so, Georgia's pregame scene is for you.
Sanford Stadium's exterior features the Tombs of the Ugas, where each of the school's first eight Bulldog mascots (all named Uga) are buried. This provides a moment to reflect on those we've lost but also can make the rest of the tailgate experience that much more enjoyable.
Georgia's tailgate also spills out into downtown Athens, enveloping anyone who happens to be in that area on Saturdays.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 26 vs. Georgia Tech
The Wisconsin fans are famous for their rendition of House of Pain's "Jump Around" while inside Camp Randall Stadium, but they do their fair share of bouncing and partying outside while tailgating.
Beer, brats and various types of cheese are in ample supply on game days in Madison, considered one of the best college towns in America by numerous media outlets, including Bleacher Report. That ranking is based on everything associated with the community's support of the school and its athletic program, and tailgating is one of the best examples of this.
Camp Randall is a downtown stadium, which essentially transforms everything around it into a staging area for the game. Fans can go back and forth between their tents and local watering holes to enhance the experience.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 15 vs. Ohio State
4. Texas A&M
When Texas A&M moved from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2012, it began a major project to adjust everything about the football program so that it fit in that ultra-competitive league. This included a massive stadium expansion, making Kyle Field the largest in the conference, and the upgrades have also extended to the tailgate experience.
To ensure a good spot to pregame, fans start setting up on Wednesdays and have plenty of activities to pass along the time camping out. There's the Midnight Yell practice, held on Friday nights, and a kid-oriented version on Saturdays. In between, there's plenty of barbecuing, drinking, chatting and dancing.
Once it's time to move into the stadium, it's like the tailgating hasn't stopped, as A&M's passionate fans morph into the 12th Man and provide some of the best crowd support around.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 24 vs. LSU
Say what you want about bright orange as the school's primary color, but Tennessee fans know how to make this hue look good on game days. And not just on land but also along the Tennessee River that flanks Neyland Stadium and allows tailgaters to become "sailgaters" by doing much of their pregame partying on a boat.
Known as the Vol Navy, the Tennessee fans who come to the game via the waterways also have a quick way to escape the massive crowd after games. With the stadium holding more than 102,000 fans who can make for some major traffic jams getting out of the parking lots, with a boat, you can leisurely depart.
Tennessee is expecting big things from its team this fall, which is apt to amp up the festive nature of the tailgate. Add water and a motorboat and you've got a potent cocktail.
When to check it out in 2016: Oct. 15 vs. Alabama
A college football team's biggest fans probably wouldn't mind being buried in a team-themed coffin. At LSU, they're not waiting until death to get the most out of their love of the Tigers.
In 2014, an LSU tailgater introduced a gold and purple coffin that he'd retrofitted to become a cooler, further enhancing the scene outside Tiger Stadium. This season, that beverage casket might be holding Bayou Bengal Lager, a new LSU-themed beer produced by Tin Roof Brewery.
Combined with the amazing food selection, you'll find items such as jambalaya, gumbo and a seemingly never-ending supply of grilled items. LSU's tailgaters won't head into Death Valley thirsty or hungry.
When to check it out in 2016: Nov. 5 vs. Alabama
1. Ole Miss
When a school has a part of its campus specifically reserved for tailgating and very little else, you know it deserves to be on top of the rankings. Ole Miss is our No. 1 school for many reasons, but the biggest is The Grove, a 10-acre expanse that begins to transform on the Friday before home games into a world of superfandom.
Giant oaks provide ample shade and add to the cozy experience of The Grove, where you'll find your fair share of standard Rebels jerseys, hats and pennants but also some of the most well-dressed tailgaters in the world. Your Sunday best is reserved for church, but what many Ole Miss fans wear to tailgate is almost as fancy.
Ole Miss' team will do the "Walk of Champions" through the grove on the way to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, whipping themselves and the fans into a frenzy. And with the Rebels program at one of its highest points ever, this pregame celebration has gone from being one brimming with hope and optimism to one fueled by anticipation of another big win.
When to check it out in 2016: Sept. 17 vs. Alabama
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.