Every Saturday during the fall, millions of fans pack college football stadiums around the country. Every stadium has its own distinct look as well as unique traditions. While some are enormous in size and capacity, others make up for lack of magnitude with distinct structural features and picture perfect backdrops. However, it’s not just the stadiums that make college football special, but the atmosphere, pageantry, and of course tailgating.
Whether you’re a lifelong fan of the sport or a casual observer, these stadiums are a must-visit for any sports fan.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp” – University of Florida
Located in Gainesville, FL on the campus of the University of Florida, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in all of college football. Originally named Florida Field, the stadium was built in 1930 and has since been renovated to the current capacity of 88,458(although many games total over 90,000 fans).
Although it’s just the 12th largest stadium in the country, “The Swamp” has been routinely named one of the toughest stadiums to play in. One reason for this is the stadium design as the field itself is actually below sea-level. The field is enclosed by stands on all sides which keep the noise within the stadium. Decibel levels have been measured as high as 115, just short of the threshold of pain. Another reason is the unforgivable heat and humidity. The field surface often reaches temperatures of 100 degrees during game days and literally makes the stadium feel like a swamp.
Over the years, the Florida Gators have experienced much success including National Championships in 1996, 2006, and 2008. After a few down years recently, new head coach Jim McElwain has seemingly resurrected the program with a 10-4 season in 2015.
Beaver Stadium – Penn State University
On the campus of Penn State University stands the second largest stadium in the United States and 3rd largest in the entire world. Nicknamed Happy Valley, Beaver Stadium holds 107,282 seats.
On Saturdays you can hear chants of “WE ARE!” and “PENN STATE!” throughout the stadium and few scenes in sports rival a night game in Happy Valley as the entire crowd whites out the stadium. While the stadium itself isn’t all that impressive structure wise, the scenic backdrop of Mount Nittany and the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania make for a good view.
Historically, Penn State has just as much history as any program in college football with four national titles to their name. The Nittany Lions also rank top ten in all-time wins. While the team has struggled to get back to national prominence, there is no doubt the fan support is still among the best in the country.
Neyland Stadium – University of Tennessee
In the south, college football is king and in Knoxville, Tennessee it is practically a way of life for Volunteer fans. Named after General Robert Neyland of the U.S. Army, Neyland Stadium is an intimidating structure for opponents. With a capacity of 104,709, the stadium is the 4th largest in college football.
However, size isn’t all that makes Neyland Stadium great. During pre-game, you can view fans coming into Knoxville via the Tennessee River. And who doesn’t love those orange and white checkerboard end zones? If you ever attend a Tennessee game be prepared to hear ‘Rocky Top’, the Vols unofficial fight song, a few hundred times.
Some of the greatest players to step on a football field have played at Neyland Stadium including Peyton Manning, Reggie White, and many others.
Husky Stadium – University of Washington
On the banks of Lake Washington with the scenic backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, Husky Stadium in Seattle is one of picture perfect scenes in college football.
Originally built in 1920, Husky Stadium recently underwent a $280 million renovation that included a brand new roof, grand concourse, and a new press box. On game day, Husky fans are loud and proud as opponents within the Pac-12 have commented on the difficulty of playing against Washington in Husky Stadium. In fact, during a game in 1993 against Nebraska, ESPN measured the decibels of crowd noise which reached 133 decibels, well above that pain threshold. Quite impressive for a stadium that has a capacity of a little over 70,000 people.
Tailgating in Seattle is among the best as many fans arrive on game day by boat via Lake Washington, while others just stay on their boat all weekend. As far as looks, uniqueness, and far as scenic backdrops are concerned, Husky Stadium is second to none.
Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House” – University of Michigan
Nicknamed the “Big House”, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is home to the Michigan Wolverines where well over 100,000 fans pack in on Saturday afternoons during the Fall.
With a capacity of 107,601, the Big House is the largest stadium in the United States and second largest in all of the world. Built in 1927, Michigan Stadium originally had 72,000 seats but has since expanded many times including the most recent renovation in 2010.
Although the stadium itself is massive, that’s not all that is special about the Big House. Michigan Stadium has been home to some of the greatest teams and players in the history of college football. Michigan as a program currently holds the record for most wins all-time with 925. The Wolverines also lay claim to 11 national championships (five unclaimed), 42 Big Ten championships, as well as three Heisman Trophy winners.
Memorial Stadium, aka “Death Valley” – Clemson University
Few scenes in college football can match the pre-game experience at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium where players rub Howard’s Rock before running down a hill that leads into “Death Valley” as Tigers fans erupt into a frenzy.
The tradition began in 1966 when former head coach Frank Howard received a rock from a friend who picked up the rock while in Death Valley, CA. Howard placed the rock upon a pedestal behind the east end zone where it stands today. In a game against Virginia during the 1966 season, the players first rubbed Howard’s Rock before a 40-35 come from behind victory.
Memorial Stadium was completed in 1941 and opened in 1942. The stadium is routinely listed as one of the toughest places to play and the Tigers record at “Death Valley” proves it with a lifetime 71% winning percentage.
Ohio Stadium, aka “The Horseshoe” – Ohio State University
Ohio Stadium dubbed the “Horseshoe” due to its shape, is another massive stadium within the Big Ten as its capacity reaches 104,944 making it the 3rd largest stadium in the U.S. behind only Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium.
Ohio Stadium was built in 1922 and has been home to eight national championship teams, 35 Big Ten champions, and seven Heisman Trophy winners.
Fans of the Scarlet and Gray pack into the “Horseshoe” on game days as one of the best bands in all of college football take the field to play ‘Buckeye Battle Cry’ concluding with the dotting of the “I”. Sure, we’re obligated to strongly dislike them here in the Mitten, but credit must be given when due.
Notre Dame Stadium – University of Notre Dame
Few programs in the country can match the tradition-rich history of Notre Dame and part of that history is Notre Dame Stadium, a stadium that has seen plenty of great moments.
Built in 1930, the stadium originally held 59,075 seats, but has since been increased to its present-day 80,795 capacity. While the stadium design itself isn’t all that special, the teams and players that have taken the field for the Fighting Irish are what makes this place so special. From the early days of Knute Rockne to multiple national championships teams during the 80s and 90s, and not to mention ‘Touchdown Jesus’, Notre Dame has always been one of the most iconic college football programs.
Even if you’re not a fan of the Irish, a trip to Notre Dame Stadium and Notre Dame’s campus is a must for any college football fan.
Tiger Stadium, aka “Death Valley” – Louisiana State University
Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA has routinely been named the toughest place to play in the country and former LSU head coach Les Miles affectionately referred to the stadium as a place “where opponent’s dreams come to die.”
Built in 1924 with a capacity of 12,000, Tiger Stadium or “Death Valley” has received many renovations and is now the 9th largest stadium in the world with 102,321 seats. Although there are some stadiums that are larger, what makes Tiger Stadium one of the unique places in college football is the mystique that surrounds night games at LSU. It is well documented that the Tigers record during night games is far superior to day games. Because of this, a majority of LSU games are played at night during the season.
While fans down on the Bayou have always been known as a rowdy bunch, Tiger fans take it to a whole other level. In fact, during a game against Auburn in 1988, the reaction to a game-winning touchdown by LSU in the final seconds actually registered as an earthquake on a seismograph at the Louisiana Geological Survey on campus.
Rose Bowl, aka “The Granddaddy of them all” – UCLA & The Rose Bowl Game
There was no way a list of top stadiums could leave out the Rose Bowl. The nickname says it all, “The Granddaddy of them all”. The Rose Bowl is one of the iconic stadiums, not only in college football but in all of sports. The stadium with a capacity of 95,242, located in Pasadena, California, has played host to some of the biggest events in sports including 5 Super Bowls, the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, as well as the Rose Bowl Game itself.
The stadium was built in 1922 by the organizers of the Rose Bowl as they saw the need for a bigger venue to host games. The Rose Bowl held its first contest with a regular season match-up between Cal and USC on October 28th, 1922 and later hosted its first Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day 1923 as USC defeated Penn State 14-3. The stadium is also currently home to the UCLA Bruins and has been the Bruins home since 1982.
Plus how many times do you tune into the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day and see a cloud in the sky? Almost never. It’s perfect weather and clear skies for miles in Pasadena. While the Rose Bowl has hosted countless events, it’s the Rose Bowl Game that has put the field on the map and why it is number one on this list.