What is the distinguishing factor when it comes to the difference between the NFL and college football? For many of us college football fans, it is the intensity and passion that follows the sport. This is best exhibited by the electric atmospheres that you see throughout the country all over major school campuses. Today, I wanted to create a definitive list of just where the Big Ten’s stadiums rank amongst each other.
Does the Big House rule the roost? Or does Camp Randall’s “Jump Around” atmosphere take the cake?
In this list, I will explain what the positives of each stadium. Also, a set of criteria will be applied to each stadium to justify where they rank. Many factors will be considered including night game atmosphere, capacity, intimidation to opposing squads, and uniqueness, amongst other things.
Without further ado, here are the rankings for the top Big Ten football stadiums:
RYAN FIELD | NORTHWESTERN
The Northwestern Wildcats’ home stadium receives the unenviable slot of No. 14 on this list for one reason and one reason only. You cannot have a good home stadium when half of it is filled with opposing fans.
The Northwestern side has embarrassingly been out-represented many times when teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan State have come to play them. Ryan Field looks very good on its home side with an old Chicago architecture aesthetic, but that cannot supersede the amount of opposing fans that completely take away the “home advantage.”
Listen to the crowd in these highlights and you will see my point.
MEMORIAL STADIUM | ILLINOIS
Attendance is key for any football stadium to be deemed great. Unfortunately for the not-so-Fighting Illini, their fans haven’t been showing up to many of their games lately. For the last few years, Illinois has had an abhorrent streak of poor attendance that has crippled any home advantage their team has had. Add this with the poor performance of an Illini squad that has made only one bowl game in the last five years, and you have a concoction of ineptitude in Champaign, Illinois.
Looking at shots of the crowd is sobering to this point, especially in the student section end zone where only 1/3 of the entire section is filled.
CAPITAL ONE FIELD AT MARYLAND STADIUM | MARYLAND
The worst thing one can be in this life is bland. This is especially the case with the University of Maryland’s stadium.
What makes a great stadium has to do with the atmosphere and unique culture of a home field. When your home stadium brings almost nothing to the table and brings no distinct features or qualities to your school, then you have failed to create a stadium worth a higher rank on this list. The question one should ask themselves when considering this ranking is “If someone said I could play at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, would I get excited?” My answer is assuredly no and that is why this long name for a simple stadium is No. 12.
MEMORIAL STADIUM | INDIANA
This is where the positive vibe starts to bloom on this list. The placing of another generically named stadium is an “A for effort” ranking.
The Indiana Hoosiers have tried lately to reinvigorate their basketball-centric athletics with some more gridiron; that is definitely commendable. Renovations and an expansion in capacity have made Indiana’s home field have a little more spark to it. The football team’s performance and relatively low attendance figures push this stadium back to No. 11, but they are trending up compared to their counterparts.
The video below captures the rejuvenation of football in Bloomington, Indiana.
HIGH POINT SOLUTIONS STADIUM | RUTGERS
Maybe I’m calling back to the Greg Schiano era for this ranking, but there has always been something about the crowd in New Jersey that brings life to an otherwise dim stadium.
The formerly named Rutgers Stadium has had its moments under the bright lights from 2006-09 in weekday matchups vs. the best in the Big East. Rutgers has consistently done well in filling their 52,000 capacity stadium despite Schiano’s departure and some tumultuous seasons since his absence.
A 9- or 10-win season in their new home of the Big Ten could have us all seeing the power of a Rutgers crowd in High Point Solutions Stadium all over again. (College stadium names with sponsorships are the worst, aren’t they?) Sadly, the transition to the Big Ten has not been kind to the Scarlet Knights, as they’ve declined in win totals in each of their first three seasons.
Nobody does weekday night games better than New Jersey.
TCF BANK STADIUM | MINNESOTA
The home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers has had its moments in recent memory to garner it this No. 9 ranking. The trouble with TCF Bank Stadium, however, is the relatively young age of it.
Unlike many on this list, there isn’t much of an established identity for the Gophers home. Time will tell if this outdoor Minnesota stadium will hold the weight that the Metrodome had during the Glen Mason years. The best thing to come out of this stadium thus far, however, is the epic “dramatic-gopher” distraction against Wisconsin.
ROSS ADE STADIUM | PURDUE
In its heyday, Ross Ade was a quite formidable stadium. The Joe Tiller years were kind to the horseshoe-shaped Boilermaker home. Lately, the performance of the team has not been kind to good ole Ross Ade though.
The most impressive thing and the reason for the No. 8 ranking is that despite the poor performance of the team, Boilermaker fans still show up. Maybe the fans in West Lafayette have nothing better to do, but they still show up for the marquee matchups to support their blustering Boilermen. Thumbs up to dedication in the face of adversity.
A surprising turnout after so many tough years for Boilermaker fans.
KINNICK STADIUM | IOWA
This point in the list is where the well-known stadiums come into play. We start out with Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
With the city back-dropped against a sea of black and yellow, the scenic view of the Hawkeye’s stadium cannot be denied. Add this with the longest tenured coach Kirk Ferentz bringing stability and success to the program, and you have yourself a formula for a great stadium. Many times over the Hawkeyes have pulled off major upsets and impressive victories over Big Ten opponents and it can all be routed back to the Hawkeye’s home field. Kinnick is a place I as a Spartan fan fear for my team to go, and that should be shared by all in the Big Ten. That darn water tower…
Not to toot my own horn… but I called this game. Solely because of Kinnick and its crowd.
BEAVER STADIUM | PENN STATE
The “S-Zone” as it is called by Penn State folk. That section by itself could garner a No. 6 ranking and possibly a No. 1 ranking for the best student section in America. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has true power to it, even with the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal still looming over the program.
Head coach James Franklin has appeared to rebuild Penn State’s program back to its former glory after an 11-win campaign in 2016. Having a successful team coupled with that stadium environment makes for a tough task for any visiting team.
Regardless of the team’s status, however, Happy Valley is truly impressive and the student section is formidable and intimidating to say the least. The lower ranking most certainly has to do with the drop in the program and drop in the quality of the team on the field; but when your lowest attendance figures in stadium history are still above 90K, then you deserve a high ranking.
The best Big Ten game of 2013. What a catch!
MEMORIAL STADIUM | NEBRASKA
The Sea of Red. There is no other word to describe how powerful a scene Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska is. For years, the Nebraska faithful has terrorized the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State. Once the program announced they would move to the Big Ten, the stakes were raised throughout the conference.
The prowess and power of the Cornhusker program sent a trembling fear throughout Big Ten country. It starts and ends with their amazing crowd and infamous “Sea of Red.” Many times over, teams have crumbled under the pressure of playing in the heartland. And it will happen again and again as long as that Sea is still raging.
The power of a crimson ocean.
SPARTAN STADIUM | MICHIGAN STATE
My pride and joy. The place Lee Corso dubbed “a snake pit.” Mark Dantonio’s gladiatorial arena. A true Spartan Stadium. For 12 years, my father and I witnessed the crowd in East Lansing grow and grow into one of the most respected stadiums in all the land. Though Bobby Williams, Morris Watts, and John L. Smith Spartan fans endured.
Once the Spartan nation received the head coach they deserved, things changed. The Spartans had a home record only bested by the likes of SEC teams and Spartan Stadium became something to be feared. The atmosphere in a prime time game have captured many terrific teams and was once again on display against the Oregon Ducks back on September 12th of 2015.
The only reason that Michigan State does not receive a top three ranking is the unacceptable behavior of the Spartan student section and their early departures. Success may breed ambivalence and indifference at times, but leaving a marquee football game at any measure is unacceptable. Some Spartan fans should take a look at the top three on this list to remind themselves of what they need to aspire to be. A severe and puzzling drop-off in 2016 also did not aid in this argument about the fans and their premature exits.
The best game I’ve ever witnessed. What a crowd.
OHIO STADIUM | OHIO STATE
As much as many in this state may despise them and this ranking, no one can deny the power of The Horseshoe. Whether its the giant Ohio State Marching Band performing the pre-game fanfare or the Buckeyes scoring another option run, it is obvious that the Buckeye nation will make you hear it. They yell, they scream (and sometimes get in fights with opposing fans), and they care about their team.Many of those individuals may have never gone to the university, but all of Columbus will be rocking when the Buckeyes play. Almost every Big Ten opponent has a sincerely poor record at The Shoe, and it is evident as to why.
Many of those individuals may have never gone to the university, but all of Columbus will be rocking when the Buckeyes play. Almost every Big Ten opponent has a sincerely poor record at The Shoe, and it is evident as to why.
This is incredible. What noise.
THE BIG HOUSE/MICHIGAN STADIUM | MICHIGAN
What can you say about The Big House? That it is the largest football stadium in the world? That it has the longest consecutive streak of sell-out crowds (allegedly)? Or the fact that every time my Spartans go into that death pit that I am terrified they won’t come out at all? Many things can be said about the University of Michigan’s No. 1 attraction.
It is huge, it is daunting, and it scares the hell out of every rival fan who ever has their team visit. Even in their weak years, U of M fans show up and give the visitors hell, especially OSU and MSU. I as a Spartan will never trust a game in Ann Arbor as “a sure win”. Not while that monstrosity of a stadium is alive, loud and well.
Sigh… My worst nightmare… Played again and again.
CAMP RANDALL STADIUM | WISCONSIN
This was a very difficult decision. Whether to go with the sheer size and magnitude of the Maize and Blue’s Big House or to credit the electric and terrifyingly intense crowd in Madison, Wisconsin. As is evident by the ranking, I chose the Madness in Madison, Camp Randall Stadium.
There is no scarier an atmosphere for opposing teams than a night game at Camp Randall; just ask Ohio State fans what they think on the subject. The fans are rabid, the atmosphere is electric and the entire scene screams fear and horror into opposing fans and coaches alike. It doesn’t matter if it is a beautiful October night or a sheer-cold day in November, Wisconsin fans will show up in full force and ‘Jump Around’ until you run home to mommy. The best football stadium in the Big Ten goes to the Badgers of Wisconsin.
Gives me chills just thinking about it…
And here’s another if you’re not convinced yet.