As a big college football fan, I love gameday and every thing that makes up the buzzing atmosphere on Saturday’s in the fall. Growing up in the south, football and game day is almost a religion. Weddings, parties and countless other celebratory events are strategically scheduled around bye weeks or outside of the season all together in some cases.
One of the best parts of college football outside of the game itself is tailgating and the amazing stadiums all across the country. I’ve been fortune enough to see a handful of top college football venues so far but hope that I’m going getting started. Among some of my favorite spots (for varying reasons) so far: Florida State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wake Forest.
I visited Florida State back in 2006 for what proved to be one heck of a night for my first trip to Tallahassee. Clemson jumped ahead of the Seminoles early before holding on with a late James Davis touchdown to survive, 27-20. Clemson nation was loud and proud that night in Doak Campbell and I think it took me about a solid week before I fully regained my voice.
I’m fair enough to admit South Carolina is a special venue and when that place gets to rockin’, its LOUD. Now personally, I’m not a fan of Cocky, 2001 or Sandstorm but I always enjoy my trips to Columbia. Its truly a unique venue to take in a college football game. Some of my closest friends from high school went to USC so I made numerous visits down I-26 from Presbyterian College to spend time with folks down there and always had a good time. Rivalry aside, Columbia and Williams-Brice itself is a solid trip for fans. But beware, the folks down there have been known to throw objects in the stands.
My first visit to Neyland Stadium happened much differently than I would have ever imagined. Getting to not only see a game under the lights in Knoxville but as a working member of the press was a special moment both professionally and as a football fan. I made sure to arrive early that day to browse around the stadium and really take it all in. Even for a non-league game against Western Carolina following a disappointing home loss to Oklahoma, fans showed up and turned up the volume. UT fans are loyal and passionate and I tip my hat to the ride-or-die supporters who have endured a lot over the past decade.
Wake Forest probably comes as a surprise to most every one reading this but it’s a trip I thoroughly enjoyed and would absolutely make several more times down the road. I made the trip in 2014 for a Thursday night tilt with one of my best friends. With Winston-Salem only 3.5 hours away, it’s a manageable day drive from the Clemson area. We got there early to tailgate and paid probably $20 to park directly across the street from the stadium.(Hello, VIP!) I believe the Tiger Pre-game Show, Tiger Tailgate show along with a Clemson fan meet and greet were all at a little bar down the road called Last Resort. We attended Tiger Walk with Clemson Tom and mingled with fans at Last Resort before making the short walk back to the stadium. Nothing really blows you away but it’s a nice, family-friendly place to watch a ball game and there didn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house with a capacity just over 31,500.
There are so many places I would like to eventually check out but then there’s a few I have at the top of my bucket list and today I will share some of those with you. (In no particular order)
I’ve always been intrigued by Texas A&M and it’s traditions and while these are in no particular order, if I had the chance to see a major top-25 prime time showdown at any of these destinations, College Station just might get my first look. Home of the 12th man, Texas A&M consistently packs the house with upwards of 100,000 fans including a record of 110,633 who watched the Aggies battle Ole Miss at Kyle Field in 2014. The stadium is one of the largest in all of sports and is a true icon when it comes to college football landmarks. Any place where fans have a tradition of a night-before pep rally before each game, takes its football serious and means business when it comes to making an exciting atmosphere on gameday.
Ahh, The Swamp! Another no-brainer for college football fans or honestly just football fans in general. With a record attendance of 90,916 Florida fans have long been known for bringing the noise and making life unpleasant for visiting teams. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is one of those venues I learned about growing up and was truly blown away. Sometimes I wish I was a bit older to have visited The Swamp during Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun days. Gainesville is another absolute must on my bucket list and I’d bet the same for most anyone. A few years back, my alma mater PC Blue Hose were set to make the trek to Gainesville and I had every intention of making the trip. However, the game was eventually cancelled due to scheduling conflicts following Hurricane Matthew.
There’s nothing quite like a “White Out” in Beaver Stadium also referred to as “The House that Joe Built”. With a record attendance of 110,889 set in 2018 against Ohio State, Beaver Stadium just seems like one of those places you have to check out for yourself. I’ve watched a packed out Happy Valley for a prime time tilt on numerous occasions and thought, man, that place is electric. The contrast of the stadium lights overlooking a stadium full of white is something to behold. I’m sure I have a plain white T-shirt laying around somewhere but this is Pennsylvania we’re talking about. Can’t exactly get away with wearing a short sleeve shirt to a late November home game in Happy Valley. Perhaps they have special deal on plain white sweaters and jackets for White Out games. Who knows? But kudos to my folks up at Penn State.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but this one has far less to do with the team and fans that it does the venue itself. I mean c’mon. It’s the ROSE BOWL! Who wouldn’t want to watch a football game there? Home to UCLA since 1982, the Rose Bowl was built specifically for football, but was used for portions of the 1932 Olympic Games, and was also the soccer site for the 1984 Olympics, per UCLA athletics.
The Rose Bowl has also been the site for four Super Bowls, the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. This ain’t your average stadium capacity wise either welcoming upwards of 92,000 fans. You’ll probably remember the classic 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship with Texas and Southern California that instantly went down as one of the greatest championships in collegiate sports. They don’t call the bowl game played here “The Granddaddy of them all” for nothing! Truly one of the best in sports.
Last but certainly not least, I have my eyes down on the bayou. 102,231 fans can fill into LSU’s Tiger Stadium and there is a reason some people call it Death Valley. Although, there’s another Death Valley that claimed the title first (but that’s another story for another day.) The fans down there know how to get loud and they’ve made LSU one of the most feared stadiums to play year in and year out. I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to visit LSU, eat some incredible food while I tailgate and watch the battle of Tigers in 2026 when Clemson heads to Baton Rouge. Another very passionate and extremely loud group of fans when it comes to LSU. I remember attending the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl between Clemson and LSU and the atmosphere inside the Georgia Dome was epic. I still have the video of Chandler Catanzaro nailing his 37-yard game winner. Top 5 “live” sports moment for me without question.