With college football landing safely for yet another year, what could be better than an annual “who has the best college venue?” column to get us amped up for conference play? Well there you have it fans. You didn’t ask for it…but you sure got it; my top college football venues for 2013-14 heading into conference play. You’re welcome.
Honorable Mentions (21-17):
Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium: K-State has always been the lovable losers of the Big-12 since their “Mildcat” days, with the occasional flash of intrigue. Not taking anything away from Bill Snyder (one of the greatest coaches never to win a title), but one thing stands pat; the Wildcat fans. Loud as they may be, they are some of the most accepting bunches out there. Take a trip to the Little Apple to see for yourself.
Boone Pickens Stadium: With Oklahoma #2 on the rise, booster Boone Pickens took it upon himself to build the Cowboys a home worth living in. While the atmosphere in Stillwater is impressive, it’s yet to be decided if newfound success in the ”Air Raid” offense will poise the success it needs to become a national powerhouse again….or just a fad. Time will tell all, and will especially tell if West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson’s impressive “skullet” will make a return or not.
Husky Stadium: Steve Sarkisian has done wonders for a program that was on the edge of disaster. In a few short years, Sarkisian has spearheaded a movement to restore some kind of relevance to a program that hasn’t been revived since the mid-late 1990’s. With that said, the fans have responded nicely. Not to mention the University has done a fabulous job upgrading an otherwise deteriorating Husky stadium. And speaking of the stadium, if you have not been or even Googled the stadium, I highly suggest it. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful landscapes for a college football stadium in the entire nation. Still, this team is on the way up and will continue to grow behind Sarkisian. In a few years, we might hear a different story out of Seattle. For now, honorable mention is where the Dawgs sit.
Reser Stadium: Beaver fans are that of a myth. Unless you travel to Oregon…they are nowhere to be found. But explore the mighty unknown they call Oregon, find your way through the crowd of Duck fans, and you have found the NCAAs “black hole” of college football venues. In every conference, there is one team that is poised to “jump up and bite” their ranked opponent on any given Saturday. Oregon State is that and much more. When the Beavers take the home field, they might as well be an ad for Under Armour. They protect their house (cheesiness and all). In the last three years, OSU has only lost three games at home, including a tough rivalry loss to Oregon. Translation; when you travel to Corvallis, get used to seeing a loss. End of story.
Camp Randall Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium boasts one of the friendliest and (at the same time) most avid fan bases in all of college football. From the minute you step onto Camp Randall grounds and smell the bratwurst, you know there is something to be desired from this small Wisconsin University. From the famous Wave, Jump Around through the loud speakers, and ESFU chants, this is a stadium that reeks of college football paradise. And if you’re REALLY a college football fan, stick around for the 5th quarter, a Camp Randall tradition. But beware, Green Bay Packer/UW fans are one in the same. Loud, proud, and intense. Much like the team that Barry Alverez built, the fans are well aware of the Wisconsin’s old-school/smash mouth tradition. What you see is what you get, and there is no disappointment in Madison.
Best of the Rest (16-11):
Sanford Stadium, “Between The Hedges”: Deep in the heart of the SEC stands the Georgia Bulldogs. Between the hedges (pun intended) stands a Georgia team that has seen its share of ups and downs the past few seasons. Upon arrival to Athens, you get the feeling you’re not in Kansas anymore. From the frequent “How ‘Bout Them Dawgs” to the heavy thunder of Glory, Glory, Athens boasts one of the most electric atmospheres in college football. Every college venue has their way of entering the home team, but the “Dawg Walk” is unmistakably Georgia through and through. With the arrival of Uga, there is clearly a sense that maybe you might be in the right place after all. Combine the tenacity of the Bulldogs themselves, the gameday experience with and undeniable urge to yell out “How Bout Them Dawgs”, and you will see why Athens has truly possessed magic somewhere between the Hedges. Rest assured, the Dawgs are making their way back into the mix, being one game away from the national championship last year. Mark Richt has made an impression on the rest of the SEC by building a contender the old fashioned way. Through hard work, pride, and determination, the Bulldogs seem to be climbing their way back into the national spotlight. How Bout Them Dawgs…
Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at Owen Field: I’ll start out with nothing but respect for the Sooner Nation. Never has there been a football program as solid and as long-lasting as OU. Oklahoma could play at the smallest high school stadium in the nation, and would still field a great team. Along with some of the tradition of the team comes than fans. OU fans are some of the nicest, humble, and most respectful in the entire country. This says a lot, considering how well the program has done the last few decades. So why isn’t this team one of the top venues in college football? Norman isn’t about show and lights (besides the entrance of Boomer Sooner). It’s about straight football. The stadium was only remodeled due to a 75 plus year history hosting the team, and was in SERIOUS need of repairs. Granted, not Kingdome-type repairs, but in need of some TLC. And OU fixed it. No flash, no Touchdown-Jesus statue, and certainly no huge jumbo-tron to punt footballs off of. Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at Owen Field is all about football as far as Boomer Sooner is concerned. If you expect a great game with great fans, Norman is your man. But if lights, camera, action is more your speed…then Norman is a little too business for you.
Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium: When you think of Florida State football, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Oceola? The War Chant? How about Bobby Bowden? Regardless of your answer…the fact remains you KNOW Seminole football. Florida State has been hanging around the Top 25 for many years now, and doesn’t look to be giving up anytime soon. Since the retirement of legend Bobby Bowden, the ‘Noles have taken a bit of an unexpected route with coach Jimbo. With some pretty big shoes to fill, Jimbo has shown he was worth the wait in Tallahassee. We all know the War Chant, but what else does Seminole nation bring to the table? Amidst one of the most successful campaigns in college ball in the last 25 years, Seminole fans have done their part to make sure the ‘Noles stay in the polls. With a beautiful campus and roaring fans on Saturday, what else could you ask for in the cream of the Florida crop? From the time Osceola lights that spear, to arrival of the Marching Chiefs, the infamous War Chant at EVERY possible turn, and even the very symbol of sportsmanship out on the front lawn, Florida State is everything college football should be. Witness it with your own eyes.
Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium, “DKR”: DKR is home to the University of Texas and the Hook ‘em Horns Hive for those that bleed burnt orange. Named after the legendary coach, DKR has posted one of the most intimidating home records in college football, going 353-100 (77%). From the moment Smokey the Cannon fires, you know you are in the midst of something great. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and this certainly applies when you mention the quality of larger-than-life scale Texas plays on. Serving as self-proclaimed “cash cow” for the Big-(now ten) 12, Texas has the means necessary to continue upgrading their already outstanding facility. But the Longhorn fan base is that of a double edged sword. Much like the Wolverines in Ann Arbor (but not as sharp of fangs), Longhorn fans demonstrate what it means to be passionate about your team. DKR displays some of the most passionate fans in all of college football. On any given Saturday Texas, as a whole, bleeds football. There is no doubt that when it comes to Longhorn football, UT fans mean business. I mean, what more could mean business as lifting your index and pinky finger in the air, and calling that a horn?
Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, “Death Valley”: Death Valley is nothing new to the college football experience. But like a bottle of fine wine, Memorial Stadium only got better as the years went by. Back in 1941, the stadium was constructed against the regard of previous head coach Jess Neely, who reportedly stated that “10,000 seats would be all you ever needed.” And then Death Valley was born. Clemson hasn’t always enjoyed success on top of success, but that hasn’t stopped the fans from enjoying the many traditions/rich history that accommodate the stadium. For better or for worse, the rich extent of history to Death Valley seems to be that of a love story gone wrong. But even the saddest of love stories sometime have some of the happiest endings. From the infamous rub of “Howard’s Rock”, the run down the hill, touchdown cannons, even down to Tiger Rag, Death Valley has got to be the very definition of tradition and college football at its best. As one of the best kept secrets in all of college football, Clemson fans are sure to let you know just how much they plan on keeping the Clemson traditions going. If college football tradition and wholesome fans are what you are looking for, then look no further than Clemson. It won’t disappoint.
Bryant–Denny Stadium: Bryant–Denny Stadium has no nicknames attached to the stadium. This, quite frankly, says more than most care to think about with the University of Alabama. Saban and the boys are all business. And the fans follow the same path. With three national titles in the last five years, Alabama has shown exactly what it takes to be a winner. The stadium is built so steeply that, from the field, it looks as if there is no escape from the Crimson Tide. Built on the threshold of honor, stability, and a sound desire to win, Alabama has shown college football nation just exactly what it means when Tide fans holler “Roll Tide!” to each other. It’s more than just a goofy commercial. It’s a business. Expect the Tide to force the issue this fall.
THE Best (10-1):
Notre Dame Stadium: The honest truth is, you either think the sun rises and sets in South Bend, or hate the very thought of the blue and gold. There is no in-between. With one of the most beloved teams in all of college football, comes one of the most hated, as well. Opinions aside, while Notre Dame has kept a lot of the tradition and pride of past success teams in-tact, the stadium’s venue worth leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s look at the good and bad:
Good: The stadium is absolutely beautiful. For how old and decrepit it SHOULD look, the stadium is in pretty good shape. Touchdown Jesus is something one can only experience to understand fully. And the traditions that follow are simply astounding. Overall, the atmosphere/team tradition is enough to put South Bend in the Top Ten.
Bad: The fans are generally not accepting of “outsiders” and have been known to be rather…egotistical of their stadium and team.
Translation: It all comes down to which side you’re on. The blue and gold…or not.
Kyle Field, “Home of the 12th Man”: Notorious for being the original home of the 12th man, Aggie fans have always prided themselves on being the loudest and proudest in Texas. And if you don’t believe it, just ask a Longhorn or Tech fan. Through the 1990s, Texas A&M had one of the nation’s best home records losing only four games and had 31 straight wins at home from 1990 to 1995 and 22 straight from 1996 to 2000. Since then, the winning percentage has sunk to 65% at home. Rest assured, the Aggies are on the rise. Look for the Aggie fans to come out of the woodwork. With a successful year one in the SEC (compared to Mizzou) under their belts, expect the Aggies to get back to the standard they are accustomed to and make their way back into the top ten best programs in the nation. With renovations to the stadium in talks, an already sturdy but growing fan base, and a relatively new adjustment to a power conference, sports nation is witnessing all the tools for a strong uprising in College Station. So the question is begged; is this the year of the Aggie?
Michigan Stadium, “The Big House”: Michigan Stadium coined “The Big House” is exactly that. Big. Home of the prestigious-Michigan Wolverines, Ann Arbor holds one of the loudest, proudest, and biggest stadiums in the entire world. Michigan fans are the fans you love to hate. But whether you love Big Blue or not, you cannot deny how massive the Big House is. In 2011 over 114, 000 attended a game versus Notre Dame, making it the largest crowd to see a college football game since 1927 and setting an NCAA single-game attendance record. So you ask yourself, “If the Big House is so big, why is it eight on the list of top college venues?” I’m so glad you asked. Michigan fans are a part of something very special, and they know it. As noted by many traveling fans (inside the B1G and not), Michigan is not a place of travel for opposing team fans. As a visiting fan, if you feel at home with a hostile environment (seek help immediately), poor sportsmanship, rude spectators, and an all-around crappy environment, you probably need a hug somewhere down the line. For the rest of us, Ann Arbor is somewhere to think about avoiding on Saturdays. However, if you happen to support the cause in Ann Arbor, you will feel as if you have found your long-lost sanctuary. And that’s exactly what Michigan is about. Brotherhood. What could be more intriguing than that?
Memorial Stadium, “Sea of Red”: Memorial Stadium aka the “Sea of Red” aka Tom Osborne Field is where you are said to be in the presence of college football’s greatest fans. From the Tunnel Walk to the random “Thanks for coming” comments by Nebraska fans, there’s no doubt the college football experience at Memorial Stadium is nothing short of astounding. As it says on the stadium entrance, “Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football.” Nebraska has always prided themselves on being the rejects of the mix. The all-around outcasts of the league. And from this Nebraska has churned success, sparking three Heisman trophy winners, five national championships, and countless memories. Nebraska fans are known for their impeccable hospitality and a rich extent of generosity. Yes, such words declare Lincoln a visiting fan’s paradise for an afternoon at the stadium. But buyers beware, Nebraska fans are passionate. And if you step onto their turf looking to take their kindness for granted, then mistaken is what you shall be. Husker nation has a level of standard unlike any other program in America. A winning tradition is what reads on the patch, and a winning tradition is what Husker fans expect. With recent renovations to the stadium (inside and out), expanding capacity to over 92,000, and an NCAA record 330+ consecutive sellouts, this is a venue worth going out of your way to visit on Saturdays. Look for the Huskers to challenge the rest of the conference into stepping into their standards, not the other way around.
Beaver Stadium, “Happy Valley”, “The House that Paterno Built”: As the old saying goes, Happy Valley is anything but happy for opposing teams. Beaver stadium, home to the Penn State Nittany Lions, is the second largest stadium in the entire western hemisphere. Let me say this again, in the entire western hemisphere. This stadium, full of a rich and dynamic history, is known for many game day traditions. From the first site of tailgating State fans, to the infamous “White Out”, to fans crooning (the now banned) Sweet Caroline. Yes, Penn State is that of a little piece of heaven to anyone wearing navy blue and white. The only problems in Happy Valley are anyone NOT wearing blue and white.
Translation; Penn State fans are avid, to say the least. After basking in years and years of success from the late great JoPa, State has seen its share of ups and downs since then. Regardless, the beat goes on in University Park. Loyalty is what drives Nittany Lion Nation. If you visit Beaver Stadium this fall, be prepared. State fans do not tread lightly. Whilst they seem warm and cuddly like the Nittany Lions they root for, State fans will roar (and depending on who you are) will bite. But in the end…if the fans don’t show, State doesn’t win. Enough said.
Autzen Stadium: Here are the facts for the Oregon Ducks and Autzen stadium; yes, the capacity is only 54,000. Yes, this is considered one of the loudest stadiums in all of college football. Yes, the Ducks have too many uniform combinations to count (sorry, I had to). Enough said. As the production for Oregon football has gone up, so has the stadium’s reputation for becoming one of the loudest stadiums in all the land. Autzen stadium, brilliantly designed by a UO alum, was actually built within an artificial landfill to alleviate the need for ramps. To compliment how thought out the design for Autzen was, the field is laid out in a non-traditional east-west stature, so players wouldn’t play with the sun shining in their eyes. Even with the small capacity, the sound is said to bounce throughout the stadium, never really leaving (recorded sound levels have been at over 120 db). Believe it or not, the stadium was actually said to be even louder prior to the expansion in 2002. But don’t fret Duck fans; the University of Oregon has stated that its future expansion will look to trap more noise like the original design called for. Who would’ve thought that a smaller venue could rank as one of the loudest stadiums in all of America? From the ingenious layout of the stadium to the colorful (and highly trendy) environment of the University of Oregon, the Ducks continue to show just how much they can reinvent college football. Any trips to Eugene this fall should involve a new pair of Beats noise canceling headphones and some sunglasses to block out any green glare.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, “The Swamp”: What is one of the best things about the University of Florida? No, not Erin Andrews (but she’s a VERY close second). Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field aka “The Swamp” has to be one of the most talked about college football stadiums in the entire league. Period. Often labeled as one of the most intimidating stadiums in all of college football, this stadium holds the unique feature of being built below sea-level, exploiting a multitude of disadvantages for opposing teams. With this added difference in architecture, not only does the humidity become a serious factor, but the fans are closer to the field than most venues making another obvious advantage. With the heat on in Ben Hill Griffin and the roar of the Gator fans directly in your ear, things have a tendency to get a little hairy in for anyone not wearing blue and orange. It’s no surprise that this kind of fanfare has aided in taking the Gator football squad to unforeseen levels in college football. With the departure of Urban Meyer, Florida had a slight dip in production, but proves to be on track with a solid campaign in from Muschamp’s squad in 2012. Expect the fellas in Gainesville to really kick it into gear this season and, as always, Chomp Chomp.
Neyland Stadium Shields-Watkins Field, “Rocky Top”: There’s no place like Rocky Top. Located in Knoxville, Tennessee amidst the Smokey Mountains, the University of Tennessee has been placed on top of the premiere college football venue list for quite some time now. At over 102,000 seats, the home of the Vols is the third largest stadium in the world. When you get the opportunity to experience college football from Neyland, born is a new meaning to the term “southern hospitality”. From the time you step on campus, you are greeted by the “Pre-Game Showcase” for fans far and wide to kick off the “Vol” experience. After moving closer to the stadium, you can’t help but feel a sense of feeling at home, even for opposing fans. From the Vol Walk, the arrival of Smokey, the “T”, and the unmistakable catchiness of “Rocky Top”, Neyland stadium offers one of the best venues in college football to date. The fans are some of the kindest, give the feeling of people willing to give the shirt off their back for you. So if you want to feel the “home” environment and witness college football beauty simultaneously, head on down to Knoxville. The fans will show you why Neyland is what college football was always supposed to be like.
Tiger Stadium, “Death Valley”: For visitors of the great state (loosely-used term) of Louisiana, it is no secret that this state can throw one helluva party. Whether you are down the Bayou swimming with the alligators or eating cajun on Bourbon Street, this state is unlike any other. The same can be said for Death Valley. As the great Paul “Bear” Bryant said, “Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team. It’s like being inside a drum.” All is said to be true for the stadium. With over 92,000 roaring fans, this place is unlike anything college football fans have ever seen. From the white jerseys at home, 5-yard line markers, or that Death Valley is the only stadium left in NCAA football with “H” style goalposts, this school prides itself on being here for the party and setting their own trend. Expect the party to keep rolling on until the Mad Hatter runs out of tricks.
Ohio Stadium, “The Shoe”, “The Horseshoe”, “The House that Harley built”: Home to TOSU (THE Ohio State) Buckeyes, “The Shoe” is a one-stop shop for college football central. It’s loud, filled with good fans, and contains some of the greatest college football memories to date. At over 102,000 seats, Columbus is known to be home to some of the most passionate and worthy fans in all of college football. The clever Horseshoe like design has a way of giving visiting teams a sign of blue skies and smooth sailing in the open ended field, and then is quickly muted to a spiritual flat line when Buckeye Nation stares back at them on the other end. This GIANT university has had a tremendous amount of support over the years (through good and bad), and their love isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. From Brutus Buckeye, the O-Block, Hang on Sloopy, to the Bucks oft-rung victory bell, Columbus IS the ultimate college football experience. Even The Marching Band, often referred to as “The Best Damn Band In The Land” or TDBITL, is located in Columbus. Every single facet of this environment screams perfection. It’s true, OSU has had a few bumps in the road the past few years, but now hear this; hell hath no fury like that of Urban and the gang.Witness Buckeye nation this season. You’ll understand why it’s numero uno.
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