A couple years ago we came out with a list of the best places to watch college football. Since then so much has happened in the sport, we thought it was high time to rethink the list—and make it bigger.
So here you go: our list of the 25 best places to watch college football in 2013. Did we leave your team out? Does that piss you off? Well good. If it didn’t we would be sad. If you are a serious college football fan you are supposed to think your team’s stadium is the best place to watch the game. And the reality is, if you think your team’s stadium is the best, then in a way it is, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
On the other hand, it’s fun to compare and rank things from an outside, objective perspective. And that’s all we’re trying to do here—be objective and have fun.
Still, if you vehemently disagree with our rankings, by all means let us hear about it. You may very well persuade us to rearrange things the next time around (Hey, it happened this time).
So, are you ready for some (college) football (stadium rankings)? Good. Then let us begin…
We kick things off with Indiana’s Memorial Stadium. The program may be (okay, is) the worst in the Big 10, having not one a conference title since 1967 and appeared in just nine bowl games ever. But the stadium is definitely an old-school beauty. If the football team ever somehow managed to string together three or four consecutive years of not sucking, this place could definitely move up the list.
By all accounts, South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium leaves much to be desired with regard to modern amenities. However, those same accounts also say that, when it comes to the passion (and decibel level) of the fans, this place is second to none—especially after two consecutive top ten finishes. Plus, you get to see a live rooster (Mr. Big Spur) and yell things like “Go Cocks,” which is fun.
You certainly don’t get to see many college football powerhouses visit Sun Bowl Stadium. The UTEP Miners play in Conference USA, and although they have a respectable program they also have not won a bowl game since 1967. That being said, Sun Bowl Stadium, which is carved into the rocky El Paso landscape, is absolutely one of the most unique venues in North American sports. How many other places can you watch a college football game from a rocky hillside overlooking the stadium?
The Sun Devils have never own a National Championship, so it’s not like their stadium is steeped in tradition or anything. However, the kids at Arizona State know how to party, and their football team plays in the Pac-12. Combine that with gorgeous fall weather in Arizona and a picturesque location, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic place to watch college football.
Speaking of ridiculously picturesque locations, get a load of Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado Buffalos. Yes, the giant stadiums are fun, but in college football there is something magical about the older, intimate venues—if you can call a stadium that packs in 50,000 people “intimate.” With the old-school feel and stunning view of the Boulder skyline, this place is definitely worthy of a pilgrimage.
We struggled with the placement of this one. On the one hand, in its role as the home of the UCLA Bruins football team, the Rose Bowl isn’t that special of a place to visit. The Bruins have finished ranked in the top 25 just four times in the last 20 years. They are not exactly a college football powerhouse, and the gameday experience is definitely lacking.
On the other hand, in its capacity as the home of the Rose Bowl and a ton of other major events over the years, this place is amazing. It is officially designated at a National Historic Landmark, and if you were to pick one venue in the United States to call “America’s Stadium,” the Rose Bowl would probably it.
So that’s why it comes in at number 20. The Rose Bowl is a great place to watch sports but, on a weekly basis, not the best for college football.
There aren’t many football programs more successful than the Oklahoma Sooners over the last 50 years. The school has seven National Championships, 44 conference championships, and five Heisman Winners. That kind of success breeds a rabid fanbase, and when you put more than 80,000 members of that fanbase in a gorgeous stadium renovated as recently as 2003, that’s a recipe for a great college football experience.
Jordan-Hare Stadium isn’t a fancy place, but when packed with blue and orange clad fans, it’s a sight to behold. Currently there’s is a plan in place to add an upper deck to both end zones and build a brick facade, which will only make it better. But even without those upgrades this place is dripping with pride and tradition, and it provides a first-rate college football experience.
College football is more than the big name schools. There are tons of small colleges playing Division III football whose fans are just as rabid as those at a BCS school. And among these Division III football madhouses, St. John’s University is like Penn State. Their former coach, John Gagliardi, is the winningest college football coach of all time (480-131-11) and, along with Bobby Bowden in 2006, he became one of the first two active coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The St. John’s University Johnnies play football in Clemens Stadium, also known as “the Natural Bowl” because it’s built in a natural amphitheater enveloped by pristine Minnesota pines. On game days, the quaint venue fills with about 10,000 fans and the smell of fresh baked “Johnny Bread” (baked weekly since 1895 by the Benedictine monks who run the school). In other words, this place is what you would get if Kevin Kostner made a Field of Dreams about football.
There are two stadiums on this list nicknamed “Death Valley,” and both are home to football teams called the Tigers. The first is Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
The nickname “Death Valley” became set in stone, so to speak, when a Clemson alum gave head coach Frank Howard a rock he’d taken from California’s Death Valley in 1966. A booster named Gene Willimon then took that rock and placed it on a pedestal at the top of the hill above to east end zone and called it “Howard’s Rock,” thereby ensuring that the nickname “Death Valley” would stick forever.
Today, before every home game, the entire Clemson team takes buses from their locker room to the other side of the stadium. There they enter at the top of the hill, and everyone touches the rock before running down onto the field.
So yes, Memorial Stadium is an awesome place to watch college football.
You want history? How about this: the Wisconsin Badgers’ home field is named Camp Randall Stadium because it was built on the site of a Civil War training camp. It became the grounds for Badgers football in 1895 and the site of a permanent structure in 1917. Today, this place is one of the most lively venues in college football thanks in large part to the Wisconsin Marching Band’s raucous post-game party known as “The Fifth Quarter.”
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and their passion for football is certainly no exception. So of course the home of the football team at the biggest school in Texas is going to make the list. Everything you encounter at this stadium has a distinctly Lone Star feel, from the outfits worn by the marching band to the ritual unfurling of the largest Texas flag in the world to the passion of the fans.
These days college football is dominated by the SEC, so it can be easy to forget that the Washington Huskies are one of college football’s great programs. They’ve won 15 Pac-10 championships, 7 Rose Bowls, and 4 National Championships—though none since 1991. Moreover, they have a stadium to match their historic pedigree.
Husky Stadium is one of the great old bowl-style venues, and though additions have greatly expanded the capacity, they have not taken away from the old-school feel like, say, the renovation of Soldier Field did in Chicago.
As for the fans, they’re pretty awesome, too. The average attendance at Husky Stadium in 2008 was 68,000. The team went 0-12 that year.
Oh, and did I mention that this is one of the few stadiums in college football where people tailgate right outside on boats? Yeah, they call it “sailgating,” which is fantastic.
Prior to the mid 1990s, this place probably wouldn’t have made the list. It’s not that it would have been any less lovely of a venue. It’s just that the team, the tradition, and the fans matter. And prior to the Ducks’ revival in the mid 1990s under Mike Bellotti, those aspects were lacking. However, the Ducks currently have a sellout streak that dates back to 1999. And after Chip Kelly turned the program into a perennial National Championship contender with his revolutionary blitzkrieg offense, this place suddenly became one of the best places to watch college football. (Of course, we’ll have to see how long that holds true now that Kelly is gone.)
It’s been a long time since the Aggies won a National Championship. Assuming they don’t win this year—and after losing to Alabama, it looks like they won’t—their streak will run to 74 years.
However, that hardly matters to A&M fans. Despite the long championship drought, they’ve always been some of the most loyal fans in sports, and Kyle Field has always been an intimidating place to play. And now that the Aggies are relevant again with Johnny Football at the helm, Kyle Field is more intimidating than ever. If your team is scheduled to play there, you’d better hope they can ignore “the 12th man.”
Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States, which is a status they’re going to have to maintain if they want to keep calling it “The Big House.” Word on the street is that the buzz inside this place isn’t quite what you expect given the capacity, save when their biggest rivals come to town. But who knows—that could just be Ohio State fans talking. It’s still a pretty amazing place to watch a game.
Officially named Ben Griffin Stadium, they call it The Swamp because, there, it’s always the gators who dominate. Of course, Florida being a member of the SEC, the passion of the fans needs little explication. So I’ll say only this: they’ve sold out every game for the last 30 years. As for the environs, as you can see from this picture, this place is probably the most intimate 88,548 seat stadium on the planet. With rabid fans practically right on top of them, it’s no wonder opposing teams fair so poorly here.
Here is what we wrote about Penn State’s Beaver Stadium two years ago:
Beaver Stadium, opened in 1960, is the second-largest stadium in North America (after Michigan’s Big House) with a capacity of 106,572. But it’s not just a shrine to one of the nations greatest college football programs. It’s also a shrine to living legend, football idol, and one of the greatest coaches (of anything) ever: Joe Paterno. When he comes out before the game to great the student section, you’d think it was Santa Clause greeting a pack of sugared up 6-year-olds—that’s how big a deal JoePa is. Sadly, Joe aint gonna be around forever. Hopefully this place will still be magical after he’s gone.
Obviously, pretty much everything has changed since then. And while the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium on game day is probably still pretty awesome, it’s going to take a few more years until an outsider can watch a game there and not be reminded of the awful child abuse scandal. Hence, we bumped it down from third to eighth on our list.
The Horseshoe didn’t make our list the last time around. However, back then the list stopped at 13. If we had gone all the way to 25 it surely would have made the cut. Moreover, you have to keep in mind that there was a lot of bad stuff going on at Ohio State back in 2011. As a result, there was a big black cloud hanging over Ohio Stadium.
These days? Well, the program is being run by Urban Meyer, who’s not exactly our favorite guy in the world. But even still, time has healed some wounds, and we’ve come around to seeing Ohio Stadium for what it really is: a ridiculously awesome place to watch college football.
At number six we have the second stadium named “Death Valley” on our list, and there may not be a louder, wilder, or more intimidating venue in college football. Apparently, after you attend a game in Death Valley your ears ring like you were at a rock concert. Part of the reason for all the insanity must surely be the fact that the Tigers play mostly night games—meaning their fans have extra tailgating time to get all liquored up. However, they also really love their football down there in the bayou.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have one of richest traditions in college football. Their Memorial Stadium opened back in 1923 and is named to honor Nebraskans who have served the nation in times of war. Classy, right? (Okay, in fairness, it seems as though about 40% of college football stadiums are “Memorial” stadiums. But still.) On game days, the stadium is subjected to a deluge of 80,000 fervent Nebraskans dressed entirely in red. They call this, appropriately enough, the “Sea of Red.” Of course, all this sounds amazing, but good luck getting tickets. They’ve sold out every game since 1962. (Yes, that’s a record.)
Opened in 1929, this stadium was originally just “Denny Stadium.” In 1975, however, the Alabama state legislature decided the stadium should also honor legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant— winner of 6 national championships. So now it’s the Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Of course, the fact that the state government concerns itself with honoring football coaches ought to tell you something about the importance of football in Tuscaloosa. However, in case you still don’t get it, just go on down there on game day and see how worked up the 101,821 spectators get.
Army’s Michie Stadium much smaller than most of the other stadiums on this list. However, this place is old, gorgeous, and overflowing with tradition, and thanks to the descration of Beaver Stadium it’s gone from fourth to third on our list.
This 38,000-set gem was built in 1924, designed to overlook the Hudson River and West Point’s picturesque neogothic campus. Combine this with about 4,000 men and women in sharp uniforms, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a place to watch college football.
Opened originally in 1921, this behemoth located on the banks of the Tennessee River has one of the most picturesque locations in college football. And it’s not just home to a football team, but to one of the grandest football “experiences” anywhere. At least, that’s according to both the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Hey, if a stadium is an experience unto itself, that’s pretty good, right?
Notre Dame haters will say that this place is a dump, and that the atmosphere sucks compared to pretty much anywhere in the SEC. However, the fact is that Notre Dame used to be the greatest college football program in the country, and they were the first team to develop a truly national fanbase. That’s history. Moreover, the school has maintained the stadium’s old-school vibe, right down to the lack of graphics in the end zones. As a result, when you go to a Notre Dame game, you feel a connection with college football’s past, kind of like you do when you watch a baseball game a Fenway. And that is awesome.
So yeah, once gain Notre Dame Stadium is number one on our list of best places to watch college football. What do you think?
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