Our Top 20 Tailgate Colleges

Welcome to our Annual list of the Top 20 Tailgate Colleges.

Georgia No. 20

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia/Jack Calhoun

On game day, the swell of fans “between the hedges” turns Sanford Stadium into the seventh largest city in Georgia. The campus becomes electrified, teeming with tailgaters. Head north of campus for the family tailgates, or hang on Myers Quad for more rowdy gatherings. Dive into a plate of biscuits and gravy or pork tenderloin with hash browns and peppers, or try a more Southern fare of seafood boils, barbecue and boiled peanuts. Then get ready to Call in the Dawgs at the kick-off, yelling “Goooooo…” with voice rising until the kicker’s foot meets the ball, then “…Dawgs! Sic ’Em! Woof! Woof! Woof!” Be prepared. The “woofs” can go on for some time.

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia/Philip Williams.

Michigan No. 19

Photo courtesy of Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.

Last season fell flat for the Wolverines with a 7–6 season, but Michigan fans hardly blinked. They still jam “The Big House,” with 109,901 raving fans crowding the largest stadium in the U.S. to capacity. And tailgaters blanket every available space for miles in the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium. Down at Pioneer High School parking lot, it’s a carnival atmosphere, with maize-and-blue canopies and the grills filled with anything from steak and burgers to Scotch eggs and mac-and-cheese. Walk down the streets for more intimate tailgates in front yards, where most tables offer up Michigan Caviar—a sweet bean and corn relish served with corn chips. If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to the game, remember to shake your keys during third down on defense (“key plays”) and look for Fritz Crisler’s “001” seat. He was the athletic director who brought the notable winged helmet to Michigan. This year, with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier coming straight from Alabama, Wolverine fans once again expect to see those famous helmets regularly crossing the goal line.

Clemson No. 18

Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications

Nestled in the foothills of Northwestern South Carolina and surrounded by manicured spaces and monuments, Tigertown presents a welcoming tailgating landscape. And when 81,500 rabid Clemson fans fill Memorial Stadium in eye-searing rows of orange and white, it’s just as dazzling. Clemson tailgaters are as mesmerizing as their team colors. And their menus. Grab some pulled pork with the traditional, mustard-based barbecue sauce, hot sausage grits or a low-country boil of potatoes, shrimp, spicy sausage and whatever vegetables are at hand. And don’t forget to get some $2 bills stamped with an orange tiger paw.

SOUTH CAROLINA No. 17

Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics.

The Gamecocks are riding high. And on rails. They boast a row of 22 stationary, converted cabooses that sit right outside Williams-Brice Stadium and exude tailgating luxury. You’ll need a quarter of a million or so if you want one. Then you’ll have to wait. They only hit the market every decade or so. Across the street, the university renovated the Farmer’s Market into another stellar tailgating area, with more than 3,000 spots big enough for both car and canopy. This is a school that appreciates tailgaters. And their team’s on a roll, as well, with their second season in a row of 10 wins or more. It’s tails up for the Gamecocks again this season.

Florida No. 16

Photo courtesy of University of Florida Athletics

They didn’t have a stellar season, but the Gators are thick-skinned. And those in the know are putting Florida at the top for 2014 in the SEC East standings. But then, tailgating at Florida is about the party, anyway. Thousands of blue-and-orange tents line University Avenue, “Call Me Al” blasts from everywhere, and the smoky aroma of all kinds of grilling meats drifts by. Staying cool can be a challenge, but swig down a cold Swamp Juice, don’t move much, and join in the Gator Nation. It’s like hanging out at a raucous, family barbecue with 100,000 family members. After the game, take a seat at the end of the bar of Lillian’s Music Store, and take your turn keeping the portrait of the naked, Rubenesque lady gently swinging.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Abbott

BAYLOR No. 15

Photo courtesy of Baylor Marketing & Communications

A state-of-the art, $260 million stadium that seats 45,000 opens this season. Unlike Baylor’s old one, McLane Stadium is on campus, sits next to a major highway and juts right into the Brazos River. It will be only the third college stadium outfitted for sailgating, with a special bay just for tailgating boats. Inside the stadium, fans can access Wi-Fi along with live replays and stats via the Yinzcam app. All this dynamic change only reflects what’s been happening on the field in the last five years. The Bears have demolished a 16-year bowl drought, captured a Heisman Trophy and won the first Big 12 title in school history. Imagine what the tailgating will feel like this season.

Photo courtesy of Baylor Marketing & Communications

Texas A&M No. 14

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University

This season, the Aggies face three top-five teams and eight teams who went to bowls last year. All without Johnny Manziel. So it’s going to be tough. But Aggie fans love a challenge. And bigger is better. That goes for their tailgates, as well. This is one school that can’t ban barbecue rigs. They roll in big enough to roast whole hogs, though beef is more likely to hit Texas grates. They’ve also got big traditions, including the 12-foot Aggie ring, the 55-foot bonfire and the largest military marching band in the world.

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University

Army No. 13

Photo courtesy of Army Athletic Communications

At West Point tailgates, the focus isn’t on the game, but the cadets. It’s a bonding. Brothers and sisters in arms looking to support their upcoming troops. Tables are more apt to hold centerpieces and slices of Brie than kegs and brats. Families tend to invite another 10 or 12 cadets to join their tailgate and likely bring along whatever foods those cadets might be missing from home. Belongings are left out in the open, kids run free, and America is once again a place of respect, integrity and safety. The feel is one of self-control and strong tradition. Where else does the game ball get delivered from 3,500 feet above by elite parachute jumpers who land midfield, spot on the Black Knights logo.

Oklahoma No. 12

Photo courtesy of Kathy Crabtree

University of Oklahoma bleeds football and barbecue. They’re straightforward and ardent about it, including having a chant that’s not just ear busting, but makes sense. After every touchdown, the white ponies, Boomer and Sooner, gallop onto the field pulling the iconic Conestoga wagon, the Sooner Schooner. And the RUF/NEKS fire off rounds from their ceremonial shotguns. Hard to find a more pioneering, American feel to get behind. That down-to-earth attitude resonates in their tailgates, as well. Grills are loaded with ribs, chicken and Theta Burgers slathered in hickory sauce. If you’re wanting to get hitched, steal a kiss in the Spoonholder. Tradition says marriage will soon follow.

Photo courtesy of Bret Cabbiness

MISSOURI No. 11

Photo courtesy of University of Missouri

In their second year in the SEC, University of Missouri ended their season 11–1 and stomped Oklahoma State to win the Cotton Bowl. That makes for some frenzied fans and darn good tailgating. The best tailgating spots surround Faurot Field and belong to donors, but the school frees up seven parking garages by the stadium for nongrilling tailgates. It’s tailgating towers rather than lots. But the Truman VA Hospital lot opens for alcohol-free tailgates. Foods cover the burger and dog mainstays alongside chili beer brats, skewers and anything that combines yellow corn with black beans in honor of the team colors. Post-game, down something cold and frosty at the Flat Branch brew pub or hit Shakespeare’s for the best pizza in town. And don’t dare underestimate Mizzou. Remember that this is a team that forges onto the field to a cannon’s roar.

Photo courtesy of University of Missouri/©2013 Clayton Hotze.

MICHIGAN STATE No. 10

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

The Spartans make the list for the first time in a long time. After a heady last season landing them third in the nation, the Spartans tailgating will run rampant this year. Expect Spartan Stadium to overflow its 75,000 capacity. And be ready to mimic the famous line from the movie 300 with a spear-thrusting motion and loud “Haroo! Haroo! Haroo!” when asked “Spartans! What is your profession?” If you’re young, tailgate at the tennis courts or by the green houses at Farm Lane. For families, Munn Field sets the stage for alcohol-free tailgating. The rest of the tailgaters set up anywhere there’s green on the 5,192-acre campus. Fill up on good, warm Midwestern fare, from corn chowder to shepherd’s pie. And if you’re lucky enough to make it into the stadium, you’ll see Zeke the dog perform gravity-defying Frisbee tricks at halftime and the band do their signature spinning “S” drill move before the game even begins. Afterward, decompress by listening to “MSU Shadows” fight song at sunset on the Carillon.

Photo courtesy of ©2011 Michigan State University Board of Trustees

Ole Miss No. 9

Photo courtesy of University of Mississippi/Robert Jordan

Oxford is where tailgating gets polished. Specifically in the Grove. Ten acres of stately oaks, ash, elms and magnolias shade tens of thousands of tailgaters in collared shirts, sundresses and seersucker suits. It’s about beauty and charm and Southern camaraderie. Like an outdoor cocktail party. Chandeliers hang inside canopies over china and catered delicacies, chicken salad and deviled eggs. Or, if you’re lucky enough to get a spot on the rim of The Grove, you can light up your grill. Then sip a mimosa or slug down a stiff bourbon. If you’re looking for rabblerousing with the rest of the Rebs, hit the Library. It’s three bars in one. And if you think Ole Miss fans are all bow ties and refinement, just wait till you hear them holler their famous Hotty Toddy cheer littered with vehement nonsense and a few choice curses.

Photo courtesy of University of Mississippi/Kevin Bain.

Ohio State No. 8

Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics.

When 90,000 fans show up for a practice game, you’ve got the right fan base for high-caliber tailgating. When you’ve had two undefeated seasons in a row, you know a frenzy has been building. And coach Urben Meyer says his team is hungry for titles this year. They were denied two last year with a loss at both the Orange Bowl and the Big Ten Championship. But the supportive clamor from Buckeye tailgates never waivers. The mile-long RV lot alone pulsates from 20 bands playing loud and live with rickshaws taxiing revelers to the next hot spot. Or stroll past Buckeye Grove under the hundred-plus buckeye trees planted in honor of each OSU All-American to the former Hineygate, now dubbed the Crank It Up Party, at the Varsity Club. The name says it all. Tailgate foods run to traditional seven-layer dip, wings, burgers and the staple of homemade “buckeyes”— a wad of peanut butter covered in chocolate and looking like its name. Whether you’re wearing scarlet and grey or not, OSU tailgaters respect fans who travel. Even after Ohio Stadium’s packed to its 102,329 capacity, the tens of thousands not able to get tickets simply continue tailgating—the “game outside the game.”

Photo courtesy of Paul Quinn

WASHINGTON No. 7

Photo courtesy of Red Box Pictures

They’ve got a new head coach swinging in from Boise State with an unprecedented history there of five conference titles, 92 victories and two Fiesta Bowl wins. The expectations for coach Chris Petersen are running high. Add to that a renovated stadium that sits on Lake Washington and overlooks the Cascade Mountains, and you’ve got the makings of a prime tailgating season. But what should drive you to put the Huskies on your tailgate bucket list is the sailgating. For every game, hundreds of boats moor out in the harbor. Tailgaters hop from deck to deck while their grills smoke the latest seafood catch and music blares, all as they rock gently on the waves. Come game time, wave anything at a passing shuttle boat provided by the university and get a ride to the stadium docks.

WISCONSIN No. 6

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletic Communications/Tam Flarup.

The Badgers know tailgating. It sprawls out for miles down the streets around Camp Randall Stadium, like the rays of a sun. It’s easy going, welcoming and filled with beer-soaked brats and cold brews. Snow is just another condiment to Madison tailgaters. With the stadium surrounded by student housing, as many tailgates take place in front yards as in the lots. And if you hesitate as you stroll toward the stadium, someone’s going to offer you a chair and a hot bowl of chili. Head to Union South an hour before the game to get revved up by the marching band, or go to the grass field north of the stadium to Badgerville for the school-sponsored, family-oriented tailgate filled with live music and bouncy games for the kids. If you want to watch the game on TV with a few thousand other tailgaters, hit State Street downtown or step across from the stadium to the aptly named Stadium Bar, where they convert their parking lot into a massive beer garden complete with giant TV screens.

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletic Communications/Tam Flarup.

ALABAMA No. 5

Photo courtesy of University of Alabama/Jeri A Gulsby

No one faces Alabama on the field without a bit of trepidation. Their 14–0 season came as no surprise last year. And their wins are maddeningly consistent under coach Nick Saban, who’s earned three national championships in the last five years. Tailgating’s =as sacred as the game. Somewhere around 40,000 Tide fans show up for every home game with no thought of joining the other 101,000 who head into Bryant-Denny stadium at game time. Bama tailgaters thrive on diversity amidst tradition. Set up your grill on the Quad, plug into a light pole for some free power, and take a sip of your bourbon and coke. Wear houndstooth anything to honor Bear Bryant, and sample foods that run from barbecue to smoked oysters. Then play some cornhole and finish up with a Bama Bomb—cherries soaked in moonshine.

Photo courtesy of Robb Beckman

FLORIDA STATE No. 4

Photo courtesy of Florida State—Tailgate for America Tailgater Group

With only seconds left, the Seminoles edged past Auburn last season to claim their third national championship since 1993. And this summer, according to 56 of the 62 FBS head coaches in the Amway coaches’ poll, Florida State still ranked as #1 heading into this season. That means tailgating will be at a fever pitch. Already a prime party outlet, Tallahassee tailgaters bury the campus in garnet and gold among the cypress trees and near-perfect weather. Food choices run hotter, with molten-like chilis, siren-worthy sausages and burgers smothered in spicy cheese sauce. Be sure to visit Sod Cemetery, where, for the past 50 years, the Noles have brought back and buried pieces of certain opponents’ turf. That’s the kind of attitude at FSU that leaks into their tailgating—impassioned and loyal with a bit of humor. Be sure to head into Doak Campbell Stadium early with the other 82,300 fans. You’ll want to be there when Chief Osceola gallops in on his Appaloosa, Renegade, and thrusts his flaming spear into midfield as a warrior’s challenge.

Photo courtesy of FSU/Mile Olivella

Oregon No. 3

Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Athletic Communications

Nothing dampens Ducks fans on game day. Not the 52 inches of rain that falls annually in Eugene. Nor their only two losses down the stretch last season that kept them out of the BCS Championship race. It’s only sharpened their faith in coach Mark Helfrich and their aim for the Pac-12 Championship this year along with an invitation to the first College Football Playoff. On game day, most of the 24,500 students pack into Autzen Stadium alongside alums to jam it well beyond its seating capacity of 54,000, leaving thousands of fans standing but revved to just be there. Surrounding the stadium, tailgaters surge and flow with grills alight and nods to salmon, curly fries and marionberry barbeque sandwiches. With the Northwest’s indulgence in craft brews, the beer selection rivals the foods, and pungent, steaming cups of lattes are always nearby for a quick warm-up.

Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Athletic Communications

LSU No. 2

Photo courtesy of LSU

When you’re in Death Valley—the ninth largest stadium in the world—your very bones reverberate with the cheers. Match that with the easy flair Louisianans have for throwing bodacious parties, and you get tailgating magic. The atmosphere buzzes, the food generates its own heat, and you never meet a stranger. With tailgate spots deemed first-come, first-served every season, Tiger tailgaters are known to use precious vacation days the Friday before a game to claim their domains. Top spots can be found at the Parade Ground, a sun-soaked, grassy expanse near the student union. Or head to Indian Mounds and take a tumble with the kids in a traditional roll down the two hills. With Cajun and Creole influences, the menus run rampant on game day at the Baton Rouge campus, where you can find most anything deep-fried, including pork loins and alligator. The brazen aroma of jambalaya, or its cousin, pastalaya, fills your nose and burns your throat, all while your mouth waters. Come game time, half of the estimated 200,000 tailgaters head into Tiger Stadium, while the other half crank up the music, dish up another bowl of something spicy and never falter in their tailgating momentum.

Photo courtesy of Laura Kleinpeter.

AUBURN No. 1

Photo courtesy of Auburn University/Jeffrey Etheridge

Auburn is ablaze in football glory and deserves to top the game day tailgating list for 2014. Two years ago, Auburn struggled to keep its head up during a 3–9 season. But last year, in his first stint as their head coach, Gus Malzahn gave the Tigers a reason to whoop “War Eagle” once again. They posted the biggest turnaround in the nation with a 12–2 season, the biggest turnaround in SEC history (+7 conference wins), and fell just shy of the biggest improvement in NCAA records, all while producing a Heisman Trophy finalist, Tre Mason. With Coach Malzahn’s innovative offensive style, there’s no reason to doubt the buzz touting Auburn’s continuing reign on the field this fall.

With a stellar season under their belt, Auburn’s devotion to good tailgates only intensified. Mostly congregated directly adjacent to the east side of Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers’ blue-and-orange canopies fill most every available space on campus, from the amphitheater sheltered under cool, tall pine trees to the wide-open intramural fields. This past year, the school heeded the cry of their faithful and created 2,000 more free parking spaces, 800 paid ones and a whole new tailgating area by “the pond” with staff appointed to make the most of the free space.

Photo courtesy of Auburn University/Jeffrey Etheridge

Walking around Auburn on game day feels like a family affair, whether you’re blood related or not. Just stroll by any gathering, and someone’s sure to offer you a sweet tea or a cold beer alongside platefuls of hot wings, bone pork ribs and possibly venison. At the Thanksgiving game, you’ll get turkey, deep-fried with a crispy skin surrounding moist, succulent slices.

And though Auburn may have lost its ancient, treasured oaks at Toomer’s Corner to poison, they have not doused the tradition of rolling the sacred area after every victory. Now the waving, white wonderland covers nearby trees and traffic lights. Once the toilet paper’s spent, jubilant Tiger fans head a few blocks down to rabble-rouse at the Bank Vault, Quixote’s or Bourbon Street. Or the die-hards hit the “shot bus”—a real school bus with a shot bar—at the War Eagle Supper Club. It’s a sweet dive dating back to the ’30s that’s open till the wee hours and pulses with live music.

If you’re thinking of hitting an away game this fall, put Auburn in a prime spot on your list. Considering the spring game draw of 70,645 fans in April, you can expect Auburn’s tailgating this fall to resound with even more energy and warmth.

Photo courtesy of Auburn University

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