Bleacher Report's Top 25 College Football Tailgating Schools for 2014
College football is about so much more than just the game.
While football is the main reason why upwards of 100,000 people (sometimes more) congregate on Saturdays between late August and early December each year, the game serves as only one piece of the puzzle.
If college football games were part of a meal, it would be the main course. But it's the courses that lead up to the entree—and the accompanying beverage pairings—that often separate one dining/game-day experience from another.
Yes, we're talking about tailgating—the age-old practice of setting up temporary camp near a football stadium and usually spending more hours in that festive party atmosphere than at the game that drew us there.
Every school has its tailgating traditions, practices and approaches, but some stand out from the pack. Here's our completely unscientific ranking of the top 25 college football tailgating schools for the 2014 season.
25. North Dakota State
We'll start things off by sending a little love to the FCS ranks, where for the past three years North Dakota State has dominated. But the Bison aren't just a good team—their fans put together a heck of a game-day experience.
This was on display back in September when ESPN sent College GameDay to Fargo. And while the set was placed downtown, plenty of footage from around the FargoDome showed how devoted NDSU's fans are to the team as well as to cooking and hanging out.
Besides being one of the few schools on this list from out west, Colorado's tailgating prowess also shows that a football team doesn't have to be among the best to have a great pregame party.
While the Buffaloes haven't had a winning season since 2005, that hasn't stopped thousands from flocking to the quintessential college town of Boulder to take in the amazing sights of the nearby Rocky Mountains while eating and drinking with friends old and new.
23. Florida State
Florida State doesn't limit its tailgating to just in and around Doak Campbell Stadium, as one of the school's most well-known pregame party destinations is a nearby apartment complex called Indian Village.
But if you prefer to just stay close to where the game will be, you won't be lacking in things to see, do and experience. And if you show up on the right Saturday, you might get a chance to sample some roasted alligator, a tradition that honors (or, rather, degrades) the mascot of rival Florida.
Most people are aware of the giant party that sets up shop outside the Cotton Bowl for the annual rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma, but Sooners fans put on a pretty good pregame show back in Norman, too.
Saturdays in the fall transform the already college-centric town into an explosion of crimson and cream, with the entire community participating in the festivities leading up to (and often continuing after) home games.
The first thing to prepare yourself for when attending Arkansas tailgates is the yelling: lots and lots of yelling.
The famous "Woooo Pig Sooie!" scream will echo from every corner of Fayetteville on game days—actually, this is a daily occurrence among Razorbacks fans, but it's much more prevalent on fall Saturdays—and your only options are to fruitlessly plug your ears or join in the chant.
Once you've made peace with a day full of calling the Hogs, the rest is just gravy.
20. West Virginia
There's a certain smell in the air at football tailgates. At most places, that aroma is an amalgam of the food that's grilling and the drinks that are pouring, which together tickles the nostrils with the promise of great treats to enjoy.
You can smell all of that at West Virginia, too. But after games, the smell might get overpowered by that stench from the many couches that are burning around Morgantown—one of the oddest traditions to be found anywhere in this country.
Come on, who doesn't want to party with a giant longhorn?
While that's not really part of tailgating at Texas, you get the picture. They do it big in Austin, whether it comes to food, frills or fanfare. Expect big things from the pregame party around Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The Longhorns have a new coach this season in Charlie Strong, but don't think that's going to make for any major changes to the off-field antics on Saturdays this fall.
Many schools have established traditions of having the home team walk through a crowd of fans on the way into the football stadium before each game. Auburn takes this to another level with its Tiger Walk.
Thousands partake in this event, many of whom line the path with a belly full of smoked venison—one of many great dishes you can find in the tailgating village, a gathering that gets filled up with campers days before kickoff.
17. Notre Dame
Some college football tailgate setups can get a little PG-13 but not at Notre Dame. While there's fun and excitement everywhere you look, the atmosphere is far less raucous and out of control as it can be at other schools.
But that doesn't take away from the fun. In fact, it might enhance the experience, as Notre Dame is one of the more welcoming places for an opposing fan to visit. Home fans will treat you with kindness, even as your team likely gets beaten later that afternoon or evening.
16. Ohio State
You'll need to get up very early to fully experience the tailgating scene in Columbus, as the school traditionally plays many of its home games at noon. But that doesn't take away from the atmosphere around campus, which transforms nearly every available square inch of land into a party scene.
Because of the early hour, the tailgate fare tends to veer a little more toward the breakfast menu than at other schools. Once you're done eating, there's plenty to walk around and look at, from the Mirror Lake that OSU students jump into during Michigan week to the bevy of decked-out buses that put RVs to shame.
There are many perks associated to having your on-campus stadium also double as a lakefront property. It means not only having amazing views for the fans whose seats face Lake Washington but also being able to tailgate on a boat.
Boatgating isn't exclusive to Washington (Tennessee does it, too), but there's something about the casual nature of this tradition in Seattle that takes it to another level.
Clemson's football team has a great tradition of running down a grassy hill from its locker room to the field at Memorial Stadium before kickoff, a practice that gets the crowds riled up and ready for a big win.
But before the Tigers ever start down that hill, their fans have already been partying all over the tiny town in northwest South Carolina. Clemson goes all out on game days, and all parties are all-in.
USC's games aren't just what you see. Like most things in the Los Angeles area, they're about who you see, too.
Celebrity sightings are a way of life at USC football, and this extends to the tailgating, with actors and other famous people mingling with the masses in and around Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That could mean Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg, a former Trojans sport star or that guy who was in that movie but whose name no one knows.
Tuscaloosa isn't just a title town, it's also a great place to tailgate before a football game. And though the crowd is overwhelmingly pushing for the Crimson Tide, there's a certain level of friendliness extended to fans of most opponents—almost sort of out of pity for what will likely be yet another victim.
The confidence that exudes from Alabama coach Nick Saban and his players extends to the fanbase, but that faith doesn't come across as cocky. Rather, it translates into a great pregame party that serves as the perfect warm-up to an afternoon of success on the gridiron.
If you do nothing else at a Wisconsin tailgate, do this: Eat one of the state's famous bratwursts. Have a beer or two as well, if that's your thing.
But tailgating in Madison before Badgers games isn't just about the great food and drink—though that's a big part of it. There's also the transformation of this college town into a giant party each autumn Saturday, one that keeps going inside Camp Randall Stadium.
10. Penn State
While tailgating is usually made up of alumni and other adult fans who come to campus to spend the day enjoying their favorite team, there's also a student component to these outings. And Penn State takes this to the extreme.
Known as Nittanyville, a tent city pops up before each game so that students can lock up the best seats possible at Beaver Stadium. Though there's a competitive aspect to this process, it also breeds camaraderie and turns tailgating at PSU into a two-tiered endeavor.
Tailgating around the stadiums is one thing, and Nebraska does it as well as any other school. But to truly take in the game-day experience, you have to head downtown where the action is.
Lincoln turns over its streets to the thousands who come into the community to take in a Huskers game, and that means lots of great places to eat and drink with the wants of football fans in mind. This also means turning the parking lots across town into mini-tailgating spots, further enhancing the environment.
Between the hedges, Georgia plays some great football. But outside the hedges that line Sanford Stadium's field, there's plenty of greatness going on as well.
While the Bulldogs faithful are best known for the party they put on in conjunction with Florida for the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, each Saturday home game in Athens is like a miniature version of the World's Oldest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
What Michigan's tailgate scene may lack in terms of creativity, it more than makes up for it in sheer volume. So it goes when the football stadium can hold as many people as are living in Ann Arbor on a daily basis.
Because there are so many people around on game days, the simple act of walking around and people-watching enhance the experience. Every street and open piece of land is covered with people in maize and blue, as well as the occasional person who braves the crowd in rival colors.
6. South Carolina
Pickups and RVs are the standard tailgating fare, while others tend to ramp things up with a tricked-out bus or maybe even a boat. But only South Carolina brings the railroad into the mix.
The Cockaboose is a series of luxurious caboose train cars that sit on a non-functioning track right next to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. It's tailgating at the highest level and one of the many things that makes the party before Gamecocks games something to see.
With the kind of climate that begs for outdoor partying, it's no surprise that Florida is among the nation's best when it comes to football tailgating. And the Gators are so good at it they often put on nearly just as good a show when traveling to a road game.
Beyond just its part in the Florida-Georgia rivalry, this school's tailgating prowess is one that has extended to well-organized party spots for traveling fans at every SEC destination as well as for nonconference road trips.
4. Texas A&M
The traditional tailgate for a college football game takes place between a certain number of hours before the game, depending on kickoff. But at Texas A&M, the festivities have a specific starting time no matter when the game is scheduled.
The Midnight Yell sends students (as well as plenty of onlookers) to Kyle Field to partake in a pep rally that signals the start of the pregame. Along with a march of the school's corps of cadets about 90 minutes before games, these events bookend a heck of a tailgate experience.
The state of Louisiana as a whole has a reputation for great food and even better partying, and Baton Rouge fits right into those stereotypes. Spend a Saturday there when the Tigers are home, and you'll know this as truth.
And while the standard fare of burgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken are sure to be found, you're missing out if you're not sampling the smorgasbord of options. You haven't had jambalaya or gumbo like what is served up around Tiger Stadium, and when the game is played at night, that just means more opportunities to munch.
2. Ole Miss
If you're looking for a place to get wild and crazy before a football game, look elsewhere. While Ole Miss does tailgating as good as any other school, it's not your run-of-the-mill party.
Instead, the Grove is 10 acres of some of the most well-dressed football fans you'll ever find. Though the red- and blue-clad Rebels fans will be hooting and hollering later on at the game, for the tailgate, this mass gathering more closely resembles the festive and formal atmosphere in and around the Kentucky Derby than a college kegger.
Tennessee shares a common tailgating bond with Washington, as the two schools make the best use of nearby bodies of water to help enhance the experience. But Volunteers fans don't just use the Tennessee River to get to Neyland Stadium; they make it a floating party.
Called either boatgating or sailgating, this tradition involves a group of boat-owning fans who have been dubbed the Vol Navy. They start the party out on the water, come in for the game and then keep things going all night back on the boat—a practice that puts Tennessee above all others.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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