Ranking College Football's Top 25 Tailgating Schools for 2014
With the opening of college football’s 2014 regular season one week away, fans across the nation are anxiously awaiting kickoff of their teams' campaigns. They’re ready to see what that highly touted quarterback can do. How stout their team’s defense looks this fall. How that new head coach or offensive coordinator looks as he charges onto the field for the first game that matters.
And, of course, they’re excited about the tailgating.
Tailgating is as much a part of fall as college football as games are. Heck, some fans never leave their souped-up RVs or SUVs, preferring the comfort of friends old and new, a flat-screen television plugged into a generator, grilled meat and adult beverages over fellowship inside the stadium with 80,000 of their closest friends.
Tailgating is an American art, and college football fans are its top practitioners. Whether you arrive a couple hours or a couple of days before the game, a tailgate is the perfect way to prepare for a college football game.
Here is a look at the top 25 tailgate spots in college football. The list is entirely unscientific and based on my travels as a college football writer, as well as national reputation.
Over the past two decades, Oregon has developed into one of the nation’s top football programs. The Ducks are flashy, unpredictable and exciting (and that’s just their uniforms). Autzen Stadium holds 55,000 fans and is regularly packed to the gills with exuberant fans, cheering on one of the nation’s most potent offenses.
If you go to Eugene, the lots around Autzen are filled with fans who are generally considered friendly, but don’t overlook the Ducks’ practice facility, the Moshofsky Center. On game days, it hosts an indoor tailgate party that can accommodate up to 5,000 fans with food and drink.
That’s an impressive and unique way to start your football experience in the Pacific Northwest.
Once a college football power, Colorado has fallen on hard times recently. The Buffaloes are coming off a 4-8 season and have won a total of four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league. But that doesn’t make Folsom Field, capacity 53,613, any less picturesque or attractive to visit.
Boulder is one of the nation’s best college towns and features a fun pregame atmosphere. The Buffs even have a family-friendly tailgate area called Ralphie’s Corral on Benson Field just south of the stadium. There, you can see Ralphie, the Buffs’ live buffalo mascot, before her traditional pregame run into the stadium.
That alone is worth the price of admission.
23. Florida State
Florida State can play with SEC schools, as the Seminoles proved last year on their way to a BCS National Championship, the program and the ACC’s first since 2000. Doak Campbell Stadium seats 82,300, and the atmosphere can get quite raucous at times.
The tailgates might not be on par with the SEC’s best, but you can still have a really good time in Tallahassee. The lots surrounding the Doak are full of hyped-up fans, and there are numerous Tally bars for pregame purposes. Just north of the stadium, Tennessee Street is lined with college bars, or if you prefer a more mature scene, midtown Tallahassee also offers numerous options.
Regardless, you can find fun at Florida State.
Oklahoma fans love their football, and they know how to show it, especially on Sooner game days. Norman boasts a population of just over 118,000, but that balloons to over 200,000 on football Saturdays when you factor in the 82,000-plus that regularly pack Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Sooner fans travel with a fervor that impresses even SEC diehards, and they’re friendly, too. OU is known as the kind of place where you can walk right up to a tailgate full of strangers and make new friends, as they’ll offer you food and drink. Just prepare to have “Boomer Sooner” burned into your brain over the next three-plus hours.
The hardest part about Arkansas football tailgating is getting to Fayetteville.
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Fayetteville is quite remote, although the drive north along I-540 from Fort Smith to Fayetteville is one of the most breathtaking and picturesque that you can imagine.
Razorback fans are hospitable, and don’t forget to check out The Gardens, a beautiful open area where Arkansas and opposing fans alike can mingle to have fun before the game. And, of course, there is the Calling of the Hogs in 72,000-seat Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Woo, Pig, Sooie, indeed.
20. West Virginia
Morgantown, W. Va., is known for its raucous, sometimes unhinged fans. After all, one of the greatest traditions among West Virginia fans involves burning couches, which, according to the Mountaineer News Service, is “almost a weekly occurrence, especially during football and basketball seasons.”
Apparently, there isn’t much to do in Morgantown, which makes West Virginia home football games major social events.
West Virginia does allow the sale of beer inside Milan Puskar Stadium, and if this fall brings another season like 2013’s 4-8 campaign, Mountaineer fans might need all the cold ones they can get their hands on.
Texas boasts some of the nation’s most rabid fans, and the Longhorns’ facilities reflect that. Darrell K. Royal Texas Stadium is one of America’s biggest stadiums, seating 100,119. The Longhorns’ tailgating scene is large, rowdy and somewhat spread out, but that’s not surprising for such a large stadium.
If you’re in Austin for football, get yourself some barbeque from one of the city’s popular BBQ joints, like Franklin Barbeque. Centennial Park, which is just across the street from the Erwin Center, UT's basketball arena, is an epicenter for tailgating, although not the only popular area. As long as you have some brisket and a cold Shiner Bock or Lone Star, it’s hard to go wrong watching football in Austin.
Auburn boasts a true Southern football experience, with the kind of fans who’ll pull their RVs into town days before a big game just to soak up the atmosphere and get a good parking spot near Jordan-Hare Stadium. In Auburn, the phrase “War Eagle” is as ubiquitous as “aloha” in Hawaii, a sign that you’re part of the Auburn family (as if the blue and orange you’re plastered in didn’t do the trick).
Get to Jordan-Hare well before the game to get a good spot for “Tiger Walk.” Two hours before kickoff, thousands of fans line Donahue Drive to welcome Auburn players and coaches as they walk into the stadium for final pregame preparations.
If you love football and a good party, Auburn is not to be missed.
17. Notre Dame
Notre Dame offers a very different environment from the classic SEC experience, but on a campus that is dripping with tradition from “Touchdown Jesus” to 80,793-seat Notre Dame Stadium, there’s plenty to see and do. The Fighting Irish open up their practice field to fans on game day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Irish also do a traditional “player walk” from the team practice facility to the stadium, with fans permitted to line the walk and interact with players as they pass by.
Notre Dame Stadium itself is one of the most storied locales in college football. Overall, South Bend on a football Saturday should be on any college fan’s bucket list.
16. Ohio State
Located in the middle of the Columbus metro area, which boasts over 1 million residents, Ohio State tailgates take on a more urban flavor, but that isn’t a bad thing, by any means. Parking lots around the stadium are full of fans who love a good bratwurst, burger or buffalo wings, but if you don’t have a spot, there’s always the bar scene or Hineygate, a party area which can attract up to 15,000 fans on an OSU game day.
And once you’re inside Ohio Stadium (which seats 102,039), you’ll have a prime view of the OSU band, widely regarded as one of the nation’s best.
It’s hard not to have fun in Columbus on a football game day.
Washington boasts one of the most unique tailgating environments in college football. Husky Stadium, which seats 72,500, is adjacent to beautiful Lake Washington, where fans can “boat-gate” before and after games, driving to the stadium in the aquatic vessel of their choice, per The New York Times.
Washington is one of two FBS programs famous for this tradition (Tennessee is the other), and the famously raucous Husky fans know how to pregame with such Pacific Northwest staples as lobster, oysters and salmon.
Fans can dock their boats in Husky Harbor on the east side of the stadium and have a great time, win or lose, in this beautiful environment.
Gainesville, Fla., is known as the birthplace of Gatorade, and if you come to a Florida game, bring plenty of Gatorade with you and prepare to hydrate. Even in fall, Gainesville can be oppressively hot, which leads to plenty of tailgates set up under shade trees in the general vicinity of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which seats 88,548. SB Nation's Chris Fuhrmeister says that Florida's tailgating is a little more subdued than other SEC programs.
The midtown and downtown sections of Gainesville feature areas where fans can pregame outside of the heat, or you can also go north of the stadium and watch the Gator Walk, where Will Muschamp and Co. enter the stadium approximately two hours before game time.
Florida is a bit different from some of its Southern brethren when it comes to tailgating, but that isn’t a bad thing at all.
Southern California football fans do game day right. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum seats 93,607, and on fall Saturdays, hordes of fans pack the Coliseum to watch one of the nation’s elite programs do battle with its Pac-12 foes.
USC is known for its celebrity fanbase (Will Ferrell is a super fan), and the people-watching is great. Find a spot near the Traveler statue on Trousdale Parkway, and get a good spot for the USC marching band, which plays its way down Trousdale on the way to the Coliseum.
Michigan Stadium is known as the Big House, and it is indeed big, seating 109,901 fans. That’s the biggest stadium in college football, so you’d better believe the tailgating is big, too. Ann Arbor, Mich., is overrun by football fans on autumn Saturdays, all of them decked out in traditional UM maize and blue.
While Michigan tailgates can be a bit more subdued than their SEC counterparts, that doesn’t make Michigan any less of a must-do college football experience.
If you like bratwurst, cold beer and Midwestern football, Madison, Wis., is the place for you. Wisconsin boasts one of the nation’s most raucous pregame tailgate environments, an atmosphere which carries into 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium.
Before the game, UW students who live in the apartments surrounding the stadium give game day a true campus feel, but you can also have fun on Regent Street or State Street. And once you’re inside, stick around for the traditional playing of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters, which features the entire student section jumping and making the entire upper deck and press box sway in time. The Badgers know football, and they know fun, too.
10. Penn State
When James Franklin coaches his first game at Penn State this fall, he’ll step into one of the most rabid fan environments in college football. State College, Pa., can be hard to get to, but on football game days, more than 100,000 fans find their way there and make Beaver Stadium (capacity 106,572) a truly unique experience.
Before games, Penn State students camp out for tickets in Nittanyville, a tent city where PSU students stay to be certain they’ll get the best tickets for games. That spirit epitomizes Penn State football and how highly it is valued in central Pennsylvania.
Nebraska has one of the nation’s best football environments, and its game-day experience is excellent. Memorial Stadium seats 87,000, and on fall Saturdays, Lincoln, Neb., becomes a sea of red (well, even more than it is on a daily basis).
Fans can tailgate in lots around the stadium, but downtown Lincoln is also a great option. The bars on Haymarket and O Streets cater to football fans, and be sure you catch the Nebraska band march down Stadium Street and into Memorial Stadium before the game begins.
Athens, Ga., is one of the nation’s best college towns, and Georgia’s status as a traditional college football power makes for a truly special Southern college football experience during UGA home games.
Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 fans, and while most of the fun is between the hedges, fans love to fuel up in areas like North Campus or in Athens’ downtown bar scene before games. Parking can be difficult around the stadium, so be prepared to walk from your car a good distance, but the sights, sounds and smells you notice along the way will make the trip well worth it.
Alabama boasts one of the nation’s most devoted fanbases, which has only grown more rabid following Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007. Bryant-Denny Stadium now boasts a seating capacity of 101,821, and Crimson Tide football remains one of the toughest tickets in America.
Alabama fans arrive well in advance of kickoff, days and hours in advance, in decked-out SUVs and tricked-out motorhomes. The Quad is the best area to tailgate, although there are plenty of lots around Bryant-Denny and plenty of downtown bars to quench your thirst and fuel up for game day. Alabama is, without a doubt, one of the nation’s best game-day environments.
6. South Carolina
Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia, South Carolina’s football tradition was middling at best. Spurrier has changed that, and now USC fans have a program worthy of their impressive tailgating habits and overall football support.
Williams-Brice Stadium, which seats 80,250, is set away from South Carolina’s campus in what could be described as an industrial area of Columbia. However, on fall Saturdays, it comes alive with fans clad in garnet and black that flock from all over the Palmetto State to support the Gamecocks.
The centerpiece of the area is the Cockabooses, 22 tricked-out, repurposed former train cars which sit on a stretch of retired track near Willy-Brice. They attract the attention of college football broadcasters on a regular basis and sell for up to $300,000 (in the rare event one comes on the market, that is).
Clemson has been called “Auburn with a Lake,” but this beautiful Southern college town is so much more, especially on college football game days. Newly renovated Memorial Stadium seats 81,500, and over the last six years, coach Dabo Swinney has catapulted the Tigers into college football’s top tier.
Tiger fans would argue that the game-day experience was already top-tier.
Days and hours before the game, fans roll into stadium parking lots to set up their tailgates, with elaborate spreads lining the grills and tables. If you don’t have a good spot, just walk down the hill to the Esso Club, one of America’s most iconic college bars. Just make sure you’re in your seat in time to see the Tigers run down the east end-zone hill in what Brent Musburger dubbed “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”
4. Texas A&M
Although Texas A&M is a newcomer to the SEC, College Station, Tex., fits right into the league’s tailgate scene. Fun at an A&M game starts on a Friday night with Midnight Yell practice at Kyle Field (capacity 106,500), where thousands traditionally gather for yell practice to make the following day’s game as intimidating as possible.
The Northgate area is an excellent place if you’re looking to imbibe before the game, and Spence Park is a popular tailgate destination. Be sure to try some brisket and beer while you’re in town. The Aggies’ recent success will only make College Station’s visitors more excitable. And don’t forget to visit the gravesite of A&M’s Reveille collie mascots outside Kyle Field, which famously has a working scoreboard on site.
Tennessee football has been down in recent years, but it’s hard to beat the fervor of Volunteer fans for tailgating and gridiron action.
Tennessee fans flock to Neyland Stadium (capacity 102,455) by land and sea, thanks to the presence of the Tennessee River, which runs right next to the stadium. Fans roll up in their boats in what has been dubbed the “Vol Navy”: Vol fans hold on-boat pregame parties and then decamp to their vessels afterward to continue the party, win or lose.
You can also find tailgate action in the lots and areas of Knoxville surrounding Neyland, but coming to a college football game in a boat is truly special.
When you’re thinking of college-football tailgate experiences, the experience of LSU and Baton Rouge, La., is difficult to beat. LSU’s famously rabid fans will arrive on campus in their RVs on Thursday afternoon before some games, and at the very least, tailgates will be set up across campus by early Saturday, no matter what time kickoff is set for.
The Parade Ground and areas south and west of the stadium are excellent areas, and Tigerland, an area full of bars that cater to LSU students, is also a popular option. And the food? How can you forget the food? LSU fans cook all sorts of Cajun and Creole options, making the mere walk to Tiger Stadium (capacity 100,000) an olfactory delight.
And if you ask enough, the locals just might feed you, too. It is a truly unique experience.
1. Ole Miss
Ole Miss might not win every football game it plays, but Rebel fans never lose the tailgate. Oxford, Miss., is famous for its local food and literary culture, and the Rebels’ tailgates have a more refined air than the rest of the SEC.
The Grove, a 10-acre, tree-lined area which does not allow automobiles, is a mecca for Rebel fans. You can find all sorts of Southern food there and a genteel atmosphere that still leads to some of the best people-watching you can ever imagine.
If you like football and tailgating, it’s hard to beat Ole Miss and The Grove.