SEC FOOTBALL STADIUM RANKINGS
Conference football games are in full swing. Planning a trip? I've been lucky enough to soak in the atmosphere at all the gridirons of the SEC, many as a result of my lime green car running on vegetable oil. But it wasn't just the smell of French fries that propelled me across the SEC the past few years, it was the excitement just knowing I was going to enjoy among the best game day experiences in the country.
So how would I rank the top college football game day experiences in the SEC? Strength in numbers, for sure. But much more than that. There's the goose bumps factors such as the unbridled passion of the populace, plus the unique setting, and storied history, traditions and pageantry of each - from the spirited tailgating to the one-of-a kind, pre-game introductions to the bands, riveting fan atmosphere and more. Here's my list of the top 12 SEC football game day experiences.
No. 12: Vanderbilt Stadium, Vanderbilt (Nashville, TN)
Vandy has a lovely urban campus in Music City, but it's not conducive to tailgating and the Commodores are more a basketball and baseball school. Still, Vandy drew 36,000 on average in '08 - great by Vandy standards - and played to 96 percent capacity. It's a unique setting, although some of the fans can be quite fair weather. When the Commodores are good (which is rare), this is a sweet, intimate venue though.
No. 11: Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State (Starkville, MS)
I always have a great time visiting Starkville, whether for football, hoops or baseball. There's plenty of room to tailgate and the fans are welcoming and pretty passionate about their team even if the product on the field can be sub-par. The atmosphere is pretty solid. State drew about 43,000 in '08, playing to about 80 percent capacity; but it's not in the top echelon of the conference in terms of game day experiences in my book.
No. 10: Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky (Lexington, KY)
I don't care much for Lexington and UK's campus, but Kentucky's game day experience pleasantly surprised me, with my expectations not set high given it's more known for being a basketball school. Yet they pack this place for every game and the tailgating is pretty massive with sprawling parking lots, kind of like in Starkville. The Wildcats have among the most unsung football game day experiences in the country.
No. 9: Razorback Stadium, Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR)
I came here in "�08, curious to see how the Hogs would greet their former coach, Huston Nutt, upon his return to the stadium with his new team, Ole Miss. Arkansas nearly mounted a comeback in the final minutes. Too bad, most of the fans had exited by then. In roaming the upper levels in the first half, I also didn't feel the buzz factor here like I thought I would. Still, I loved it when they chanted, "Woo, Pig Sooie!"� and overall it's a really fun game day experience.
No. 8: William-Brice Stadium, South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
I caught the Kentucky-South Carolina game here in '07. You've got to admire "�Cocks fans for the noise they deliver and sheer loyalty, averaging 80,000 to see a mostly average product year in and year out. These folks are passionate beyond belief! Your ears will be ringing for days after hearing the Mighty Sound of the Southeast along with the rooster crow. Tailgating isn't bad, but not among the best either.
No. 7: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Mississippi (Oxford, MS)
One of the oldest and most historic stadiums in the Deep South, opening in 1915. Ole Miss also has one of the biggest, best and longest tailgate parties in college football on "The Grove."� I really like this historic campus and game day atmosphere overall, plus the fans really do dish out the Southern Hospitality more than I experienced elsewhere. Enjoyed the Egg Bowl here in '08 and had a splendid time.
No. 6: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn (Auburn, AL)
The Plains' gigantic edifice and the raucous fans inside it can instill mighty fear in opposing teams, although I saw Mississippi State stun the Tigers in "07. I absolutely love the pretty campus, the buzz of Tiger Walk and the spread out tailgating scene as well, plus I've noticed few small towns have a tighter connection to their school than Auburn, where fans and townspeople toilet-paper "Toomer's Corner"� after huge wins.
No. 5: Sanford Stadium, Georgia (Athens, GA)
Some of the most intense fans I've ever seen, I mean to the point where a few actually scared me. They love to watch their football between the privet hedges that completely surround the field in Athens, and the enthusiasm in the air is infectious here. When Georgia wins, Bulldog fans party even more insanely than they do the rest of the time. Athens is one of the best college towns in the country and the tailgating reigns supreme on a lovely campus.
No. 4: Ben Griffin Stadium, Florida (Gainesville, FL)
Built below ground and muggy for much of the season, "The Swamp"� has been sold out for every game since the Carter administration and lived up its billing where often only Gators get out alive. This was the first stadium where I witnessed an SEC game in person, back in '92, and I always enjoy returning. The tailgating is pretty spread out and raging in every direction, and the campus is kind of cool.
No. 3: Neyland Stadium, Tennessee (Knoxville, TN)
After enjoying a floating tailgate extravaganza on the river with the Vol Navy - when 100,000 sing that old folk "Rocky Top"� song that you'll never get out of your head for the next several days - you'll get a tingle up your spine and think you're in college football heaven. You are. This place really rocks. I don't care much for the town or the campus, but the varied tailgating, from the river to land, and the passion of the fans is pretty special.
No. 2: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Never seen more people tailgating in more places than Alabama. Also, I've been inside no louder a stadium or seen fans more passionate. Cover model Southern Belles and overweight, pimple-faced freshman males have something in common - many don replicas of Bear Bryant's houndstooth hat. I'll never forget the SEC opener of the '07 season with "Sweet Home Alabama"� blaring on the sound system and 90,000-plus stomping their feet - and kickoff was still 10 minutes away! And when the video board displays inspirational words from the Bear, oh boy. It's no wonder they'll be expanding this stadium to more than 100,000-plus soon.
No. 1: Tiger Stadium, Louisiana State (Baton Rouge, LA)
Florida may have "The Swamp,"� but Death Valley feels like true hell for opposing teams, as LSU fans scream and shout beyond belief. Prepare to lose your hearing here after you've eaten and drank more than you ever have before. The fans have plenty of time to prepare to go bonkers as Tiger Stadium mostly hosts night games, enabling the tailgating to be extended down on the Bayou unlike most other venues. I tried to pace myself, which was tough to do because everyone here treated me like family. Tiger fans are the kings of tailgating, they even go all out for baseball games.
Joe Connor is a freelance writer who has enjoyed college football games at more than 60 of the top venues. He contributes to NBCSports.com, among others, and is the author of the online travel planning guide, "A Fan's Guide To The Ultimate NCAA Football Travel Experience,"� which is available for purchase exclusively at www.mrsportstravel.com.
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Something Great About All SEC Stadiums and Atmosphere
Everyone is gonna have a different take, it's all very subjective. I think however, that as far as tailgating, Ole Miss and LSU are going to be considered …
It's tough to compare Not rated yet
It's tough to compare these stadiums and I understand it's mostly subjective. I'd like to know what criteria you used. With all the remodeling and expanding …
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