Thursday, September 11, 2014

National Stadium Rankings

[Editor's note: Today we have a guest entry from Nathan Deal, a former Stadium Journey contributor, who will rank the college football stadiums around the country. Nathan will rank the stadiums in an overall list, taking in many different criteria. I don't want to spoil too much, so I'll turn it over to him now -Clint]

College Football stadiums come in many different sizes, shapes and locations. Some are filled with passionate fans, some resemble a Halloween party if everyone came dressed as a bleacher. Some stadiums are beautiful, inside and out. Some stadiums are ugly. Some stadiums are really ugly. Fortunately, this list is absent of ugly stadiums (unless you consider beauty and prestige ugly.)

I should note that these stadiums are judged by the gameday atmosphere for their home team, as well as stadium quality and other factors. If it were just the stadiums themselves, the Rose Bowl would easily be at the top. However, UCLA is the Rose Bowl’s home team, and atmospheres at UCLA Football games are average in the Pac-12.

Without further adu, here are the top 25 stadiums in the beautiful sport of college football.

  1. Kyle Field (Texas A&M) – The new boys in the SEC not only have the conference’s best stadium, but the nation’s best, at well. Football is a way of life in College Station. The “12th Man” features the Midnight Yell, where students come together the night before the game and show their school spirit. The Midnight Yell before the 2013 game against Alabama earned national attention. On gamedays, Kyle Field is home to the nation’s largest student section. The stadium underwent a massive renovation before the 2014, bringing its capacity to 102,500, the largest in the SEC. Gig ‘Em, indeed.
  2. Tiger Stadium (LSU) – The SEC West is 2-2 on top stadiums so far. “Saturday Night in Baton Rouge” is one of college football’s most intimidating phrases. “Death Valley”, as it is affectionately referred to by Bayou Bengal backers, is viewed by many as college football’s single harshest environment. It’s notoriously loud, so much so that crowd reactions have registered on the Richter scale. The stadium is fresh off a renovation that raised its capacity to approximately 100,000. Some claim that LSU fans aren’t the most gracious of hosts as far as tailgating is concerned, but that doesn’t change the fact that winning a road game at LSU is one of the sport’s tallest tasks.
  3. Memorial Stadium (Nebraska) – I could justify this ranking simply by saying that Nebraska has sold out 333 consecutive home games since 1962, easily an NCAA record that will only continue to grow. The Huskers have one of the sport’s most devoted fanbases, and it shows in attendance numbers. Even a 2013 expansion that raised Memorial Stadium’s capacity to 91,000 didn’t put the sell-out record in jeapordy. Beyond the streak, Cornhusker fans are gracious hosts who can also get loud in support of their team. Many have noted that Husker fans tend to give standing ovations to the visiting team after a good performance. 

  4. Beaver Stadium (Penn State) – You’d think a scandal such as the Jerry Sandusky scandal would result in sparse crowds in College Park. If you thought that, you don’t know Penn State. Sanctions and all, Penn State has one of the best football atmospheres in America. The students show up in force and when Beaver Stadium is hosting a “White-Out” for a big game, it’s hard to find a better atmosphere in American sports. With a capacity of 106,572, Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in college football.
  5. Notre Dame Stadium (Notre Dame) – When it comes to the most tradition-rich on-campus stadiums in college football, it’s hard to ignore Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish been playing here since 1930. This stadium gets a high ranking because of its aura. The classic, aged bleachers and “Touchdown Jesus” in the distance are just a couple of things that signify the history of Notre Dame Football. New field turf has been installed, but considering the poor quality of the classic turf, that doesn’t hurt this stadium’s ranking.
  6. Michigan Stadium (Michigan) – It’s hard to find an American sports attendance record not held by the appropriately-named “Big House.” The 2013 Michigan-Notre Dame game attracted 115,109 spectators, a college football record. The 2014 NHL Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto drew a crowd of 105,491, a record for a hockey game. A 2014 International Champions Cup match-up between Real Madrid and Manchester United drew 109,318, a record for a soccer game in the United States. You get the point. This place is big. Add in a passionate fanbase on autumn Saturdays and a program with more wins than any other, and you get an unforgettable college football experience.

  7. Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn) – It’s not difficult to justify this ranking for the home of the Tigers. My article on Fly War Eagle regarding the atmosphere of the legendary 2013 Iron Bowl says everything. Jordan-Hare is simply an amazing place to watch college football. Despite not having 100,000 seats like some of the stadiums that are higher on this list, Jordan-Hare is consitently among the loudest in the country. The tailgating experience was ranked #1 in college football by Yahoo. The flight of War Eagle before every home game and the rolling of Toomer’s Corner after every Tiger victory makes Auburn, Alabama, one of the nation’s most unique college sports experiences.
  8. Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama) – The home of the Crimson Tide has seen massive renovations in recent years that have raised its capacity to 101,821. Like many other schools in the SEC, the fans in Tuscaloosa live and breathe Alabama football. This stadium is incredibly loud. When you mix fan noise with the power and brutality of a Nick Saban-coached Crimson Tide, being a visiting team here usually ends in disappointment. There’s only one more upgrade this facility needs before the Tide can become truly unbeatable here. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)
  9. Ohio Stadium (Ohio State) – This historical behemoth, affectionately referred to as “The Horseshoe”, is the nation’s third-largest stadium, with a capacity of 102,329. The tradition of this stadium is undeniable. In 1974, Ohio Stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. If that’s not a good indicator of a program’s success, I don’t know what is. Ohio Stadium’s ranking was in jeapordy of falling after reports of a “no-standing policy” were swirling, but the Buckeyes have clarified that it is, indeed, alright to stand at home games.
  10. Husky Stadium (Washington) – Husky Stadium is the historical standard for great college football atmopsheres on the West Coast. What’s there to dislike about this place (beyond the parking situation)? Recent renovations have greatly improved the stadium’s quality (including the removal of an ugly track around the field). It might be the most scenic view in college football, including Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. UW fans are among the most passionate on the West Coast. Oh, and Husky Stadium is one of the few stadiums that features “sailgating”, or tailgating on boats. Yes, tailgating on a boat is as awesome as it sounds.
  11. Sanford Stadium (Georgia) – If you want to experience the culture of college football in the South, there are few better examples than the University of Georgia. When the Bulldogs take the field “Between the Hedges”, the crowd of over 92,000 erupts. The hedges of this stadium are legendary (if not notorious for swallowing players whole). The most beloved dog in Georgia, Uga, has his own doghouse on the sidelines. Everytime there’s a kickoff, the entire stadium barks like dogs. Yes, I think Sanford Stadium is pretty much the SEC in a nutshell.

  12. Memorial Stadium (Clemson) – “Death Valley”, as it’s referred to by Tigers faithful, is one of the best experiences in college football. I visited here for the 2011 Auburn-Clemson game and reviewed the stadium for Stadium Journey. I was simply floored by the experience. Clemson is an extremely charming southern town where football games feel like family reunions. When Clemson’s football team steps off the bus, touches Howard’s Rock and runs down the Hill, Memorial Stadium goes into a frenzy. Brent Musberger called it the “Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football.
  13. Williams Brice Stadium (South Carolina) – Columbia, South Carolina, has always been a great place to watch football. There’s a lot to like here. The Cockaboose Railroad is one of the nation’s most unique tailgating experiences. The team takes the field to the music from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” White towels are flying throughout the stadium as “Sandstorm” by Darude blares over the stadium speakers. Until Texas A&M came to town to open the 2014 season, the Gamecocks had won 18 straight games here. There’s nothing to really dislike about this place.
  14. Autzen Stadium (Oregon) – This is easily the smallest stadium on the countdown, with a max capacity of just 54,000. You could also argue that it’s the loudest stadium on this countdown, as it has consistently been rated among college football’s best home-field advantages. The loudness of this stadium could be due to its unique design that helps it trap crowd noise. It could also be due to the simple fact that Ducks fans can be insanely loud in support of their team. Whatever it is, any stadium that features a duck mascot riding a motorcycle onto a football field deserves an elite ranking.
  15. Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Oklahoma) – All that needs to be said about this venue is that Oklahoma almost always wins here. Head coach Bob Stoops has a record of 88-5 at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. They haven’t lost here since 2012 (to Big 12 champion Kansas State). The tailgating scene here is solid and the Sooner Schooner leading the team out of the tunnel is one of the best team entrance traditions in all of college fooball.
  16. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Arkansas) – Razorback Stadium, in my opinion, is the single most underrated stadium in college football. When I went to the Auburn-Arkansas game in 2013, the fans were very welcoming. The tailgating scene here is impressive. The Northwest Arkansas region is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. The Ozark Mountains are truly gorgeous. The campus is phenomenal. The fans’ “Woo Pig Sooie” chant is unique. When the Razorbacks have a good team, they’re very hard to beat in Fayetteville.

  17. Neyland Stadium (Tennessee) – A capacity of 102,455. Massive size. Scenic location. Sailgating at the Vol Navy. What isn’t there to like about Neyland Stadium? Actually, there’s two main reasons why such a legendary venue is this low on the list: seating room and exterior design. Neyland’s seating is so tight that some rival fans call it “One-Cheek Stadium.” Also, the exterior of the stadium could use a lot of work, as much of the outside of Neyland is dated and unsightly. Despite those things, Neyland is still one of the best stadiums in college football.
  18. Lane Stadium (Virginia Tech) – Once ranked the #1 home field advantage by and #2 on ESPN’s “Top 10 Scariest Places to Play”, there’s nothing fun about being a visiting team in Blacksburg. The Hokies have one of the best entrances in college football, taking the field to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as the crowd roars. This is, outside of Clemson, the loudest venue in the ACC.
  19. Camp Randall Stadium (Wisconsin) – If you want a stadium that thrives on weirdness, Camp Randall is for you. This place is known for the pre-fourth quarter “Jump Around”, when the home crowd jumps up and down to the famous House of Pain song and literally cause the stands to shake. The student section here is known for its vulgar chants. So much so, that just a few years ago, the university president and football coach sent this letter to fans asking them to tone it down. Yes, this place is a little rowdy.
  20. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Florida) – I had a really hard time ranking this stadium. When the Gators are good, this might be the single best home field advantage in college football, with a deafening, intimidating environment. When the Gators aren’t so strong? Well, the crowd results aren’t pretty. The tailgating here is up to SEC standards, but the intimidation factor of this stadium lives or dies with Florida’s level of success.
  21. Boone Pickens Stadium (Oklahoma State) – The oldest stadium in the Big 12 just so happens to be among the nicest. Opened in 1913, this stadium was neglected for most of its history, before a massive renovation completely changed it prior to the 2009 season. The stadium has a beautiful exterior. The interior is also impressive. Just look at this locker room. The student section is known for the students who sit at the very front and hit the wall with paddles repeatedly.
  22. Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium (Texas) – Texas has the Big 12’s largest stadium, seating 100,119 (thanks ro recent renovations that have greatly expanded the stadium’s capacity and quality). It’s a beautiful stadium in the wonderful city of Austin, Texas. What hurts Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium’s ranking is that the stadium is really quiet for one that seats 100,000 people. Despite its sheer size, most would avoid saying it’s the loudest stadium in the conference. Still, Texas has a prestigious football history, and this lovely giant reflects that.
  23. Doak Campbell Stadium (Florida State) – The third ACC stadium on this countdown is the home of the defending national champions, the Florida State Seminoles. Tallahassee might not be the best place for gameday traffic, but it is still a great place for football. This place is home to one of college football’s best pre-game traditions, as Chief Osceola rides a horse onto the field and plants a flaming spear at midfield before every game. That’s always guaranteed to send Nole Nation into a frenzy. When the fans get cranked up and begin to Tomahawk Chop, the atmopshere can become overwhelming for an opponent.

  24. Kinnick Stadium (Iowa) – The home of the Hawkeyes is one of the nation’s most underrated home field advantages. It deserves a top 25 ranking simply because the visitors’ locker room is pink, but there’s plenty of other reasons that this place is awesome. First off, the tailgating is great here. Second, the fans are extremely loud. Third, it has some of the best fan color coordination ever. Seriously, look at this. ‘Merica.
  25. Vaught Hemingway Stadium (Ole Miss) – The tenth (!!!) SEC stadium on this list is Hotty Toddy’s gosh almighty good stadium. It’s not as physically impressive as other stadiums, but it’s still a great environment for college football in the South. This is easily one of the best tailgating schools in the country (all the proof you need is the Grove). Ole Miss fans like to say, “We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party." In addition, the campus is beautiful and Oxford is one of the most charming cities you’ll ever find.

Just Missed the Cut:
Milan Puskar Stadium (West Virginia)
Spartan Stadium (Michigan State)
Folsom Field (Colorado)
Los Angeles Coliseum (USC)
Lavell Edwards Stadium (BYU)
Faurot Field (Missouri)
Davis Wade Stadium (Mississippi State),
Jones AT&T Stadium (Texas Tech)
McLane Stadium (Baylor)
Michie Stadium (Army)

Clint here - Wow! Thanks Nate! Fascinating list and I certainly learned a lot about many different schools and their respective stadiums.

Now, I ask you, what do you think of the list above? Comment below with you top five stadiums. If you've been to any of these, please leave some remarks below!

War Eagle!

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