RANKING SEC FB VENUES

When Southern Miss played at Tennessee in 1997, one of the Eagles assistant coaches knew his team was in trouble. ``When we walked onto the field,'' said offensive line coach Petey Perot, ``our players were staring up at the sky to see how big Neyland Stadium was.''

Neyland Stadium is 107,000 seats big. It's 96 skyboxes big. It's Jumbotron big.

It's so big and impressive, Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com named Neyland Stadium the No. 1 venue in which to watch a college football game.

The criteria: Stadium, crowd, atmosphere of the town, the scene, etc.

In fairness. Feldon hasn't been to every college stadium. He hasn't been to LSU or Alabama or Auburn or Clemson or Texas A&M.

Still, he doesn't think there's a better venue than Neyland Stadium. It is one of only four on-campus stadiums that can seat more than 100,000 fans, joining Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Not only is Neyland Stadium massive and impressive, but on Game Day, you've got the Vol Navy, the Vol Walk, scenic Lake Loudoun, and Volunteer Village, where a local radio station shows up as early as 7 a.m. to do specialty shows.

Tennessee would get my vote as well.

Of Tennessee, Feldman said: ``Awesome, all of it. … The Orange Stoli shooters. The scene. The barbeque at Calhoun's. Gotta give it to them. The Vols do it right.''

So does LSU. The Tigers have the best tail-gating, from pig roasts to crawfish to boudin and barbeque shrimp. You can't beat the atmosphere in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. Afternoon games aren't so special, but at night, the noise level once registered on the Richter scale.

The stadium has been expanded to almost 92,000. When the Tigers were struggling in the 1990s, the place sounded like a morgue. But the electricity is back.

LSU gets my vote as the No. 2 venue in the SEC.

Florida has a better afternoon scene than LSU, but at night, it's a notch below Tiger Stadium. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (capacity 88,548) is as loud as any stadium I've been to, especially when the Gators get on a roll. Part of the rating is based on how difficult it is to win in the arena, and the Florida heat makes it tough on visitors.

Conditions were downright brutal before 1990 when teams played in 95-degree heat on an artificial turf that could cook a steak in 10 minutes.

While crowd behavior was a major problem in the 1990s, that's been toned down in recent years.

4. Georgia. Sanford Stadium (92,746) might have the most beautiful setting in the league. An open-air press box overlooks a sunken playing field. The red and black colors accent the festivities. And UGA the Bulldog ranks with the nation's best mascots. Can't you still hear Larry Munson's crusty voice, shouting, ``Run, Lindsay, run!''

5. Auburn (Jordan-Hare Stadium, capacity 87,451). Like LSU's stadium, Jordan-Hare is quite a scene during night games. It's loud and intimidating. Toomer's Corner adds to the legacy. The Tigers have ranked in the top 10 in attendance in recent years.

6. South Carolina. Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) is gorgeous. Home games open with the team song from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's impressive. And the support is amazing for a program that has achieved limited success.

7. Alabama. Bryant-Denny Stadium (83,818) is not the loudest place in the SEC, in part because of the rollercoaster ride the program has been on. Six times in the last eight years, Alabama has lost at least five games. But you can feel the tradition of a dozen national championships. You also get the voice of Bear Bryant over the loudspeaker during pregame festivities. Nice touch. In 2003, the SEC had five teams among the nation's top 10 in attendance. Alabama ranked 12th.

8. Ole Miss. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580) is the third-smallest in the SEC, but that doesn't detract from the setting. The Groove. The tail-gating. The Hollywood-looking co-eds. Oxford rocks on football Saturdays.

9. Arkansas (W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, 72,000). Houston Nutt doesn't lose many games at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock (cap. 53,727). It's the Hogs' home away from home. The Fayetteville venue is more attractive, but it is one of the four smallest on-campus arenas in the league.

10. Kentucky. Commonwealth Stadium (67,606) draws more than 65,000 per game when the Wildcats are competitive. For a basketball school, this isn't a bad place to see football.

11. Mississippi State. Starkville is tough to get to. Smallish Scott Field (55,082) has an allure. The cowbells add to the tradition. But by SEC standards, it's below par.

12. Vanderbilt. Former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said there wasn't an empty seat in any SEC venue that his teams competed, except for one – Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773) at times has more visiting fans than Commodore fans.

For 24 consecutive years, the SEC has recorded the largest total attendance of any conference in the nation. Stadiums were filled to over 97 percent capacity last year. Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Auburn ranked in the top 10, Alabama and South Carolina were in the top 15, Kentucky and Arkansas made the top 25 and Ole Miss and Mississippi State cracked the top 45.


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