The Top 25 College Tailgates

While other magazines and websites are busy ranking the less important trivialities, like which team is the best in the land, the good folks at Tailgater Magazine are interested in the important stuff, like which team’s fans throw the best party.

Here they are America, The Top 25 College Tailgates!

Before you dive into the list, regular readers will notice a few new things about this year’s top tailgates issue. First, Tailgater Magazine has finally joined the 1990s and expanded the list from 20 to 25 colleges. Second, we worked with several talented writers and rabid college football fans to put together the list you’re about to see. We debated, argued, screamed at each other, said nasty things about each other’s mothers, told each other into which body cavities to cram various objects, and generally acted like spoiled two-year-olds until we got our way. Friendships came to a crashing end all for you, our readers.  

As for the list, we did our best to shake things up, but to also accurately reflect what we all love about college football. We gave additional weight to programs on the rise and fan bases creating a new sense of excitement and vitality on their campuses. We also took a hard look at our lists from previous years and discussed teams we thought were leaning on their traditions and past glory rather than improving. Name recognition alone wasn’t enough to get a high ranking this year. We also made a few allowances, including two Division I FCS schools, and one annual rivalry game.

With the housekeeping out of the way, it’s time for the good stuff. Get your defibrillator ready. Here are the 2015 Top 25 College Tailgates.

#25 HARVARD-YALE

courtesy of Harvard Athletics
DOES YOUR FAVORITE COLLEGE TEAM HAVE A RIVALRY DATING BACK TO 1875? Didn’t think so. That’s part of what sets apart Harvard and Yale’s annual meeting in “The Game.” The teams first faced each other on the football field 140 years ago, and their rivalry in other sports dates back more than 200 years. 

So it’s not altogether important to fans that the Ivy League teams don’t play in the postseason (save for Harvard’s appearance in the 1920 Rose Bowl). This game is one for the ages.  

Yale leads the series, 65-58-8, but Harvard holds an eight-game winning streak. The teams will again battle it out on the field—and at the tailgates—Nov. 21. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a football fan during the rest of the season", says Yale alumna Christine Garver. The Game is a must-attend event.

“Tailgating was always one of the most fun parts of the game because so many people participated and got really into it.  Various residential colleges (dorms) would host tailgates, as would frats, sororities and other on-campus organizations,” she says. “I went to the Yale-Harvard game every year, and that was the only one I would ever travel for. I got the impression that even people who never went to football games would often still go to Harvard-Yale. That was the big one.”

Pranks are nearly as intertwined in The Game’s history as is the rivalry itself, and they are always a possibility at this good-natured rivalry. Whether it’s kidnapping the opposing school’s mascot or convincing them that the president of the United States will attend, something is often afoot.

“My favorite was my freshman year when Yale students dressed up like the Harvard pep squad and handed out colored signs, which then the Harvard students all held up to read ‘WE SUCK,’” Garver says. 

So what will 2015 bring? Watch and see.  

#24 APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY

Appalachian State Athletics/Dave Mayo
DON’T THINK FOR A MOMENT THAT TOP-TIER TAILGATING IS LIMITED TO THE NCAA’S FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION. Although App State joins the top tier of college football this season, it’s no stranger to such celebrations. With three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles from 2005–2007, Mountaineer fans have high spirits and high expectations.

Alumna Megan Streba says school spirit reigns even in years when the team isn’t on top. During her days at App State, sororities and fraternities would join forces and don their best black-and-gold duds as they tailgated at Duck Pond Field. Now on return trips to her alma mater, Streba and friends set up their own tents and incorporate favorite games like corn hole.  

“I was in school during the back-to-back-to-back championships and the big Michigan win,” when App State became the first FCS program to beat an FBS program that appeared on the AP poll. Streba says, “You could not beat the spirit and loyalty the fans had for the Mountaineers at that time, and I think that it has stuck.” 

#23 PENN STATE

Courtesy of Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications

AS HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN BEGINS HIS SECOND SEASON LEADING THE NITTANY LIONS, FANS ARE SURE TO ROAR “WE ARE PENN STATE” WITH NEW ENTHUSIASM. But even in times of trouble, it’s hard to stomp out the spirits of Penn State fans. Students construct a tent city, dubbed Nittanyville, before each game, working to ensure they get the best possible seats in their section. That leads to an even-more-exciting game-day atmosphere, whether you’re camping for seats or an alumnus remembering your days of camping out.

Alumna Leslie Eichhorn says those campus visits are akin to family reunions. And with Beaver Stadium’s capacity of about 107,000 people, it’s a very big family.

“I’m catching up with my friends who were my family for four years over delicious food,” Eichhorn says. For many fans, that food includes stickies—grilled sticky buns—from Ye Olde College Diner.

Those traditions make Penn State tailgating special no matter what’s on the scoreboard.

“Everyone is excited about the game regardless of whether we win or lose,” Eichhorn says. “It’s a tradition that you can participate in no matter how old you are or how long ago you were a student.” 

#22 BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY

Boise State University/Wankun Sirichotiyakul.

FOOTBALL FANS NATIONWIDE KNOW THE BRONCOS LOVE TO CHEER ON BIG BLUE. How could you miss it with that bright blue football field? And that passion extends to BSU tailgating.

Alumnus Micah Cranney is quick to admit it’s not as prevalent as at some other campuses. “However, I think those that tailgate are loyal followers of the program and are committed to growing the overall program. The tailgating areas make the atmosphere electric and really add to the overall environment,” he says. 

Cranney knows that from experience; he tailgates at every home game and at least one away game each season. Following a team that’s part of the Mountain West conference can carry fans far afield from Idaho; this year, Cranney is headed to Utah twice for the Broncos’ matchups against Utah State and Brigham Young University. 

Alumna Mistee Hansen can relate. She says Bronco football is a tie that binds: “You can meet someone for the first time at a BSU tailgate, but instantly make a life-long friend.” Most Boise State tailgates take it beyond big-screen televisions and team colors, she says; gourmet food and local wine are common additions. 

“Tailgating is my favorite part of the game and often, I spend the second half outside in the parking lot,” says Hansen, who compares Bronco fans to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks 12th man. “We are Bronco Nation, and we all believe in it wholeheartedly. We dress the part, play the part, are the part.” 

 #21 UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

courtesy of University of Southern California

REGARDLESS OF RECORD, THE TROJANS ARE CHAMPIONS OF THE TAILGATE. And with Head Coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm, fans’ attitudes should match the sunny Southern California skies. 

Although that year-round beautiful weather is one of the perks of USC tailgating, alumna Katie Buenneke notes the school’s many famous alumni also set the USC game-day experience apart. “You never know if you’ll see a celebrity! I know Will Ferrell (a USC grad) likes going to the games, and the TV show ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ films right by campus, so last year, the cast came down to campus and tailgated before the homecoming game,” she says. 

Whether celebrating with celebrities or dropping in on a joint sorority-fraternity social event, tailgaters are surrounded by cardinal and gold. Most set up along Trousdale Parkway, the on-campus pedestrian street. About an hour before game time, the marching band will parade along Trousdale, putting extra pep in everyone’s step while also reminding them it’s nearly game time. (Buenneke notes that students who follow the band to the stadium are likely to secure suitable seats in the student section.) 

New to the crowd? Be sure to kick a lamppost on your way to the Coliseum. “It’s one of our fun little good-luck traditions,” Buenneke says.

#20 ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

courtesy of Sun Devils Athletics

ARIZONA STATE HAS RISEN TO THE RANKS OF GREAT TAILGATING SCHOOLS AGAINST SOME IMPROBABLE ODDS. The Sun Devils have some serious competition in nearby Phoenix with an array of professional franchises. They also, for many years, weren’t very good. However, Head Coach Todd Graham has the Sun Devils on the path to success, and the tailgating scene is following suit. “Coach Graham has brought a new sense of excitement to Arizona State, and you can see it in the tailgating,” says Bill Williams, a 1972 graduate of Arizona State.

In the world of college football, Arizona State may be one of the best kept secrets around. While the rest of the country is hung up on images of leaves changing and cooler weather as football season gets rolling, the average high temperature in the desert city of Tempe during September is 100 degrees. For that reason, games at Sun Devil Stadium don’t begin before 7 p.m. during September and early October when temperatures drop to a more reasonable low 70s or high 60s, providing for a unique game day atmosphere. “The evenings, when the sun sets and disappears behind Sun Devil Stadium, are just spectacular,” Williams says. “There really is nothing like it anywhere in college football.”

While the Sun Devils may not have as many long-held historic traditions as other traditional college football powerhouses, Arizona State does have one of the most awe-inspiring new traditions. Each game day, the team runs through Tillman’s Tunnel, the entry way from the locker room into Sun Devil Stadium dedicated to Pat Tillman, the Sun Devil’s star linebacker and NFL star who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army in 2004. “Seeing the team run through Tillman’s Tunnel and coming out onto the field is just inspiring,” Williams says. “It’ll bring a tear to your eye.”  

#19 MICHIGAN STATE

Michigan State University/Kurt Stepnitz.

ALTHOUGH A TRADITIONAL BIG 10 POWERHOUSE, MICHIGAN STATE OFTEN LIVES IN THE SHADOW OF ITS IN-STATE RIVALS; HOWEVER, THE TAILGATING SCENE IN EAST LANSING IS NO SECOND BANANA. According to longtime Michigan State pregame show host Duane Vernon, tailgating a Spartan game is a big deal. A VERY big deal. “We really have a big tailgating scenario up here that’s a lot of fun,” Vernon says. Tailgating is a huge part of the football Saturday.” 

Tailgating culture has taken such a massive hold at Michigan State that the fans don’t wait until the beginning of football season to get started. “There’s one thing that we do up here that most people don’t do. We have a preseason tailgate party,” explains Vernon. Each August, Vernon helps the Mason-Oceana MSU Alumni Club throw an epic tailgate party in Pentwater, a small town of less than 900 on the shores of Lake Michigan two-and-half hours northwest of Michigan State. Let’s just say it gets the season started in style. “Last year, we had part of the marching band, part of the alumni band, dance team and Sparty the Mascot,” Vernon says. “Tom Izzo’s been up here twice, and we probably had close to 5,000 Spartans make the trip all the way from Lansing to have this preseason tailgate party.”

This is just a taste of what happens on game day in East Lansing as the entire Michigan State campus becomes a sea of green. The action starts four to five hours before game time as tents are raised and smokers start smoking. Vernon has seen it all during his 26 years as the pregame show host, but there is one tradition that still gets his blood pumping. “An alumni band and some of the cheerleaders come around to the different tailgates. They say ‘hello’, and cheer, and the alumni and pep bands play the fight song and other get-me-fired-up tunes,” Vernon says. “They just love that kind of stuff. People just get fired up.

#18 TEXAS A&M

courtesy of Texas A&M University

IF THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL CONFERENCE FRUIT BASKET TURNOVER HAS HELPED ANYONE, IT’S TEXAS A&M. A perennial middle of the pack school in the Big 12, the move to the Southeastern Conference has unleashed a beast. Not only are the Aggies better on the field, but the tailgate has dramatically improved as well. 

“I think everyone has been excited about moving to the SEC, especially those of us who tailgate. We were for it all along. We knew,” says Brian Spanhel, a Texas A&M graduate and now Senior Research Associate at Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies. Brian has been a regular tailgater for over 10 years, setting up shop at home games in an old-school, short bus nicknamed the 12th Van.  

Spanhel is one of a group of dedicated tailgaters who were tailgating before the current wave of success hit College Station. Even with some of the coolest traditions in college football—the Midnight Yell and the 12th Man, for instance—Spanhel was there during some pretty lean years. However, Spanhel says the tailgating scene has improved dramatically since the move to the SEC. “Even the opposing fans have said, ‘Oh wow, it’s a different experience now,’ since we moved conferences,” Spanhal says. “Back in those years, it was the hardcore people who set up, and now you even get the small groups who just put their one little small tent up. You used to not see that.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Texas is home to some of the best barbecue on God’s green earth. 

#17 SOUTH CAROLINA

Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

WITH A GAME DAY ATMOSPHERE KNOWN FOR ITS ABUNDANCE OF OLD CABOOSES SERVING AS BASES FOR EPIC FOOTBALL PARTIES, SOUTH CAROLINA IS A TAILGATE SCENE ON THE RISE. For years, the Gamecocks football program struggled for respectability (the Gamecocks lost 22 straight between 1998 and 2000), but the Steve Spurrier years have ushered in a new era of success and respectability, on the field and in the parking lot. In short, the Gamecocks are no longer the caboose of college football and now have one of the liveliest tailgating scenes in the nation.

“We’re longsuffering,” says Frank Wetmore, a 1972 graduate and longtime fan and tailgater of the Gamecocks. Wetmore and his wife Susan have seen game day grow from a small but dedicated core to the vibrant and exciting scene that exists today. “When Spurrier came and we really started having success, we started really developing a culture.”

One of the biggest developments at Williams-Brice Stadium is an area called The Zone, an 11,000 square foot banquet space in the south end zone. Then, of course, there are the cabooses. With the stadium located near some historic spur lines in an industrial area of town, these old railcars are the perfect places for a great Southern get together over helpings of shrimp and grits, Carolina barbecue and Hemingway Mojitos. “The cabooses were placed there in an effort to get folks to buy them or rent them as places to basically party on game day,” says Susan Wetmore. “And they do. For sure.” 

#16 UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA

courtesy of University of Oklahoma

WHILE THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE BIG 12 HAS COMPLETELY SHIFTED—HONESTLY, DID ANYONE THINK THEY WOULD SEE THE DAY WHEN BOTH BAYLOR AND TCU WOULD BE TOP 5 TEAMS?—SATURDAYS IN NORMAN, OKLAHOMA, ARE STILL SPECIAL AND AWESOME. The seven-time national champions average over 84,000 fans per game at Gaylord Family—Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, more than 2,500 over the stadium’s official capacity of 82,112. What’s more, the Sooners somehow manage to pack over 86,000 fans in War Memorial back in 2012 for a date with Notre Dame. How the Sooners were able to pack so many crazy football fans is anybody’s guess. The point is football is a huge dadgum deal at the University of Oklahoma.

The Sooners are one of the most storied programs in the history of college football with more game day traditions than you can shake a RUF/NEK paddle at. The RUF/NEKS, of course, being the oldest all-male pep squad in the country and the group responsible for many of the most beloved traditions at OU. The firing of the ceremonial 12-gauge shotguns at each home game and the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas, the Sooner Schooner, and the 1923 Model T Ford named the Big Red Rocket—a mainstay at all Oklahoma home games since 1950—all originated with the RUF/NEKS.

As for the tailgating, this is cattle country, which means some of the best beef west or east of the Mississippi. You’re not going to find a whole lot of vegetarian buffets or fois gras at an Oklahoma tailgate. Here steaks, burgers and ribs are the order of the day. Heck yes! 

#15 CLEMSON UNIVERSITY

courtesy of Clemson University/Craig Mahaffey

ONE OF TWO UNIVERSITIES TO CLAIM THE “DEATH VALLEY” TITLE, CLEMSON LANDS ON THIS LIST IN GOOD STANDING AS ONE OF, IF NOT THE BEST, TAILGATE SCHOOL IN THE ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE. Clemson’s gorgeous campus is even more incredible on game day as a blanket of orange tents cover the landscape. The fans are there at the crack of dawn preparing for an entire day of fun, food, football and family. Being an east coast football fan is no joke. When more than half your team’s schedule sits at high noon, Friday night and Saturday morning are indistinguishable.

Clemson, much like its fellow ACC titan Florida State, has a long history with its Southern brethren in the SEC—and it’s not just a battle on the recruiting trail. An easier ACC schedule doesn’t soften the Tigers at all, as evidenced by their back and forth series with Auburn University over the last decade. Two more matchups with their SEC rival are scheduled for 2016 and 2017.

Clemson is also home to some of the nicest fans in the country. Southern hospitality on another level. Why? The walk from The Quad to Memorial Stadium is one of the shortest on any college campus, a big selling point for anyone on this list. The late summer/early fall heat in South Carolina is all too real, and anything more than a brisk walk would result in a somewhat soggy fanbase, especially for a noon kickoff. 

#14 NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY

courtesy of NDSU/Dan Koeck

DO NOT ADJUST YOUR VARIOUS SCREENS. OR YOUR SPECTACLES. That’s right, the Bison of North Dakota State just crashed the rankings, and with good reason. Hardcore tailgaters looking for justification won’t be looking for long. Whether it’s the four straight FCS national titles, the deer sausage or their last two D-1 upsets, it’s not hard to root for the Bison.

Their recent successes even brought College Gameday to Fargo, but their bright future ensures NDSU won’t be just another blip on the national radar. Head coach Chris Klieman just signed through 2021 so the Bison aren’t going anywhere. The Fargodome isn’t your typical game day setting either, but the design makes the dome one of the most raucous stadiums out there. While 100,000 seats looks good, 19,000 Bison fans still make for an intimidating 12th man. Just asked the last 20-plus opponents who left Fargo with another notch in the loss column.

The food and booze are anything but typical in North Dakota, so any preconceived notions are best left at the door. You won’t find deer, buffalo or moose anywhere else on this list, but it’s typical amongst the Bison, and getting a good BBQ pit going is a must. NDSU plays in a dome for a reason. Fans can access the tailgate lots five hours prior to kickoff, and they’re guaranteed to fill up whether it’s 70 degrees or 20 below zero. That’s dedication. With a solid fan base, championship-level football and a real life game of “Where’s Waldo?” being played as the games rage on, the Bison may have designs on a top 10 spot very soon. 

#13 UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

courtesy of Michigan Photography/Marcia L Ledford

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN, IS ANOTHER PRIME TAILGATE LOCALE LOADED WITH FANFARE, A STORIED SPORTS HISTORY AND (MOST IMPORTANTLY) A TRADITION OF WINNING FOOTBALL. Like a few others on this list, Michigan may not be reveling in the glory days, but new head coach and university alumnus Jim Harbaugh brings excitement to the program not seen since the days of Lloyd Carr. Just another reason why Michigan will once again rank as one of the best tailgate spots in the country.

UM recognizes 11 total national championships, but only one in the last 60 plus years. That may change if power shifts back to the Big 10 in the near future; Ohio State’s surprise run last year certainly didn’t hurt. A resurgent conference and another formidable schedule will bring hosts of Wolverine fans back to Ann Arbor for another round in the fall. Even during the program’s struggles, there was no backing down from primetime matchups against Alabama, Notre Dame and finishing up a home-and-home series versus PAC-12 upstart Utah this year.

Michigan Stadium already serves as the biggest venue in college sports, boasting over 107,000 seats. With a new regime in town, they won’t need much help filling it out. The Wolverine faithful also arrive a little sooner than the typical tailgate enthusiast. Gates open as early as 6 a.m. for the choicest real estate, including the Pioneer High School lot, the UM Golf Course, and AA Golf & Outing near the stadium. Most make the trip the day before to watch the band practice at Elbel Field (a Wolverine tradition). 

#12 NEBRASKA

courtesy of University of Nebraska

NEBRASKA HOLDS A TRAIT FEW ON THIS LIST CAN CLAIM: THE LACK OF ANY PROFESSIONAL TEAMS IN ITS STATE. This often drives the level of fan loyalty through their stadium’s nonexistent roof. And on game day, Lincoln becomes the third-largest city in the entire state. Husker fans are extremely passionate, and the football program has seen its share of highs and lows. But that does little to change the demeanor of this ravenous fan base.

As a tribute to their fans, the University spent over $12 million in renovations to improve the game day experience, and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Among the changes are a brand new sound system, a new smartphone app that delivers exclusive team content, an IPTV system throughout the stadium so fans never miss a moment during those bathroom/concession runs, plus a state-of-the-art wireless network system that was the largest collegiate stadium installation in the country.

Brand new coach, brand new toys, brand new mentality for all the Husker faithful. The program may not be up to its normal standards, but with the new makeover, Nebraska has rededicated itself like never before. It’s only a matter of time before prospects begin to take notice, and Husker football retakes its rightful place among the game’s elite. Until then, it remains one of the must-see places for all tailgate enthusiasts.

#11 NOTRE DAME

courtesy of University of Notre Dame/Matt Cashore

AN OLDIE, BUT A GOODIE. Seriously though, a list like this one needs places like Notre Dame, a school with tradition and legions of fans, yet doesn’t exist on reputation alone. South Bend consistently delivers one of the best game day experiences in college football, even in the modern era where the program has taken its lumps in recent years. This robs UND of some of its mystique; however, many other factors solidify its place in the top 25 tailgates heading into the 2015 season.

A boring schedule is not one of them. The Irish start things off with a bang at home against Texas and square off with Georgia Tech just two weeks later. The timing couldn’t be better as winters waste no time settling into the Midwest. Not that it matters to an experienced fan of Notre Dame. When USC rolls through in mid-October, the blue and gold will be out in force, regardless.

Irish fans flock to Notre Dame’s three different tailgating lots with the Joyce lot being the closest to the stadium. The other lots are even bigger with transit buses running back and forth before, during and after the game. Also, when students return in August, the University will be one year from completing its Campus Crossroads Project. This incredible undertaking includes construction of more than 750,000 square feet of facilities housed in three buildings attached to the west, east, and south sides of the stadium.

 #10 UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

University of Tennessee/Lauren Beets

TAILGATING AT TENNESSEE IS FULL OF CHARM AND TRADITION. With the Tennessee River winding its way behind Neyland Stadium, fans can choose to tailgate on the water or the more traditional version on land. Like many universities, Tennessee’s tailgating has expanded from parking lots to include parking decks. The top deck overlooking the river is a splendid place for a party, and the preferred spot for Anne Miller, Class of ’81, who enjoys watching the Volunteer Navy come sailing down the river. “We have always tried to make it back for at least one game a year, but now we are season ticket holders and love to go and tailgate. There is nothing like being back on campus for game day at Tennessee,” she adds.  

The sweet smells of barbecue fill the air, accompanied by the smooth taste of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. More family-friendly options such as lemonade predominate the scenes at local churches that open up their parking lots to accommodate the ever-growing tailgating crowds. One of the biggest attractions is the Volunteer Walk two hours before kick off. Close to 40,000 orange-clad fans cheer their team as players enter the stadium. One thing is for sure, if visitors didn’t know the words to “Rocky Top” when they arrive, they will know the whole song by the time they leave.

#9 UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

UA Athletics/Daniel Melograna.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE, WITH A FOOTBALL HERITAGE AS LONG AND STORIED AS ANY COLLEGE, IS A TAILGATING POWERHOUSE. With 40,000 fans arriving in Tuscaloosa just to enjoy the game atmosphere, Alabama is all about football in the fall. According to Molly Heis Hardin, an avid Bama fan, “Tailgating in Tuscaloosa on game day is what some believe heaven will be like.” Competition is stiff for the prime locations, and each year the party starts to gather earlier and earlier. “When I was in college, seeing all of the RVs rolling in days before the game got me pumped up,” says Dana Mosley Sieben, Class of ’91.

By game day morning, the campus grounds are dotted with white canopies, and parking lots are filled to the brim. Fans are bedecked in crimson and houndstooth, and echoes of Rammer Jammer float through the air. Bourbon and coke is the drink of choice, and barbecued pork is as prevalent as the heat. Many fans will also take a break from the festivities to pay homage at the Paul Bear Bryant Museum, strictly a hats-off affair. If you decide to try a Bama Bomb, be sure to find out if the cherries were soaked in vodka or EverClear, or your party may end before the game starts. These decadent tailgating treats are prepped up to four months in advance. That’s some serious tailgating commitment! 

#8 UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS

 

IN AUSTIN, THE PARTY BEGINS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE GAME IN THE BARS ALONG 6TH STREET. Game day begins early as the air fills with the smells of numerous types of delicacies being grilled, and no meat is safe. No party is complete without music, and there is plenty of music to be found at Texas tailgates. Live music has become more popular as bands such as Band in Black, a Johnny Cash tribute band, often play at tailgates. Jason Bridwell, a Band in Black member, says Texas tailgates are his favorite gigs. Fans also look forward to hearing and seeing Big Bertha, the largest marching band drum, which is part of the UT band because they really do everything bigger in Texas. 

#7 UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

courtesy of University of Washington/Red Box Pictures/Scott Eklund.  

TAILGATING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON IS AS UNIQUE AND DIVERSE AN EXPERIENCE AS THE CITY OF SEATTLE ITSELF. Sitting just 50 yards from Lake Washington and in the shadows of the Cascade Mountains, Husky stadium is the most scenic football experience you can get while still in an urban area. This unique setting allows Husky fans the choice of traditional tailgating or boatgating (some call sailgating). On game day, over 100 boats will fill the harbor with grills of salmon and other seafood blazing and music blaring. Fans will literally hop from boat to boat in one giant party.

Boatless in Seattle?  Never fear, there are charter boats that sell tickets for boatgating cruises, which include food, drink and festivities. Local chowder house Ivar’s has one of the most popular tailgating cruises. As game time approaches, fans are shuttled from their boats to the docks behind the stadium. Meanwhile on land, fans have been living it up in traditional parking lot tailgate style. Accommodations have come a long way from the days when staked parking forced fans to wait, often for hours, to leave after a game. Dan Klein, Class of ’03, has been tailgating at UW since he was a child. “It was a bonding experience that I had with my dad, and now I’m getting to share it with my kids,” he says. “I can’t imagine Husky football without tailgating. That chunk of asphalt holds a lot of memories.” Whether on land or sea, Husky fans turn out in numbers to support their team and share the traditions of tailgating.

#6 AUBURN UNIVERSITY

courtesy of Auburn University/Julianna Cvetetic

“WAR EAGLE” MEANS HELLO, GOOD-BYE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. It’s the greeting of choice among the Auburn faithful and can be heard echoing throughout the campus and the entire city on game day. With recent additions to both paid and free parking, the tailgating experience continues to grow. The fans come from far and wide to gather on the Plains to celebrate the great Auburn football traditions. The food is plentiful, and everyone is family with stories to share. While some prefer to host their own tailgating tent, others enjoy walking and mingling among the crowd.

According to Davis Baird, Class ’18, “Auburn tailgating is fun because you can walk up to any tent and feel like you’ve known these strangers your whole life. Tailgating isn’t several little parties, it’s one big party, and everyone is invited.” As kick-off approaches, the crowds will gather for a favorite AU tradition, The Tiger Walk, where fans greet and cheer the football team and coaches as they enter the stadium. “I didn’t want to wash my hand the rest of the day because I got a high-five from Bo Jackson,” says one young Tiger fan.

Another great Auburn tradition occurs after victorious games: the rolling of the Oaks at Toomer’s Corner. This spring, the university replaced the cherished oaks that were poisoned by Bama fan Harvey Updyke. The university has asked fans to wait until the 2016 season to roll the new trees. So in the meantime, fans will have to make do rolling nearby trees and lampposts. Fans can also look forward to making a new tradition at Samford Park Plaza, where the university is planting 30 fifteen-foot oaks that were grown from acorns from the original Toomer’s trees. When all the trees are ready, there will be some serious parties and a possible shortage of toilet paper in Lee County, Alabama. 

#5 THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

courtesy of Luc Nutter

ANY SCHOOL THAT INSISTS UPON HAVING “THE” IN FRONT OF ITS NAME AT ALL TIMES SUGGESTS A CERTAIN AURA. Living up to this, the Buckeyes have proven themselves on the field, and their fans have managed to create one of the best Big 10 tailgating scenes.

What makes OSU tailgating exceptional? Tradition. Every school has them, but Ohio State is especially passionate about them. Skull Sessions take place in St. John Arena before each home game—essentially, game day pep rallies. The Best Damn Band In The Land, OSU’s prestigious marching band, plays, and a member of the team addresses the crowd before heading into the stadium to warm up.

Every tailgater needs to experience an OSU rendition of the song “Hang on Sloopy.” Being in a crowded bar, tent or street and witnessing the inexplicably joy fans get from spelling out O-H-I-O during the chorus is a sight to see. Even if you’re not a fan, you got to admit it’s catchy.

Ohio State’s tailgates offer the refreshments of beer, wings, brats, and burgers. Thousands crowd around The Horseshoe before kickoff for grilling, drinking, games and all the joys of tailgating. Everyone in Columbus is a hardcore fan who proudly wears scarlet and grey. The stand-out element brought by Buckeye fans is crazy passion. Equal amounts of crazy and passion. Football is serious in Columbus, so tailgating, pregame traditions and bringing the energy into The Shoe is serious. 

#4 OLE MISS

courtesy of Ole Miss/Kevin Bain

THE PATCH OF LAND AFFECTIONATELY KNOWN AS “THE GROVE” HAS EARNED MENTIONS IN USA TODAY, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AND PRACTICALLY EVERY TOP-TAILGATING LIST. If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking a trip to Oxford on game day, here’s why The Grove consistently ranks as one of the top tailgates in the country.

Imagine a park, lush with oak trees, located in the center of a cozy, brick, historic university in an otherwise sleepy, Southern town named Oxford, Mississippi. On game day, Rebel fans fill this area with tents. Not the spacious, tailgate areas you may be familiar with, but side-by-side, rows upon rows of the most extravagant tents imaginable- chandeliers, large flower arrangements, music, platters and statues of food. This is not your ordinary college tailgate scene. The scenic oak trees poke through the hallways of blue and red tents filled with not only lavish adornments, but also the most fashionable and attractive fans either side of the Mississippi.

The tailgate menu and tailgate routine alone doesn’t set Ole Miss apart from their SEC counterparts. However, the fashion (bow ties,blazers, dresses), genuine hospitality of the fans, gorgeous setting and elaborate decorations make The University of Mississippi a must-see for any tailgater. 

#3 WISCONSIN

courtesy of UW-Madison/Jeff Miller. 

MOST COLLEGE FOOTBALL STADIUMS ARE INSULATED BY CONDOS AND OTHER SPORTING ARENAS, BUT NOT WISCONSIN. Camp Randall stadium is some 20 feet from student apartments, surrounded by actual college housing and campus buildings. Having a stadium this close to true university culture makes Wisconsin an incomparable tailgating experience. It’s part of the school, the city and the party. The raucous, folksy atmosphere of two-story games of flip-cup, homemade game day shirts, profane cheers, brats and beer have earned the campus nickname “Madtown.”

If you aren’t into the madness bordering the stadium, there are huge bars within blocks of Camp Randall with projectors and a game day atmosphere: Lucky’s, and Jordan’s Big Ten Pub are two of the most well-known. If you want to be a tad more subdued, try The Library (not the actual library, but a bar with that name).

Most fans start their long day of tailgating at a huge farmer’s market in Capital Square. Then it’s time to eat. State Street Brats popularized Madison’s signature dish: red brats, a grilled beef and pork sausage with cheddar and sauerkraut. A favorite side is fried cheese curd—kind of like big hunks of cottage cheese—but the most popular food by far are brats. They’re everywhere! But Madison also offers plenty of farm-to-table cuisine such as freshwater fish, greens and grass fed beef.

Once fans get their brat fix, it’s on to the traditional Arch March, the players’ entry into the stadium. This is a newer Wisconsin tradition and is a precursor to The Badger Bash tailgate party in Union Square, Madison’s most popular tailgate party spot. The Wisconsin Band and Bucky the Badger perform until game time. If you’re looking for the rowdiest tailgate in the Midwest, The University of Wisconsin is for you. 

#2 LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY

courtesy of LSU Athletics

TAILGATING AT LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY IS MORE THAN SIMPLY SEEING ANOTHER COLLEGE CAMPUS; IT’S EXPERIENCING A CULTURE ENTIRELY UNIQUE TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL. Heavily influenced by Cajun and Creole culture, the food spread on game day is more unique and arguably more delicious than any other school in the country. Gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, shrimp, alligator sausage—well-seasoned seafood and meats of all sorts. Nothing pairs better with creole food than a local beer from Tin Roof Brewing Company (Abita beer and whiskeys are also well represented).

If you’ve heard anything about LSU fans, you know they like to have a good time. “The tailgaters definitely party harder than I’ve typically seen at football games,” says SEC alumna Kari Wolfe. But that doesn’t stop Tiger supporters from living up to the Southern hospitality that visitors have come to expect. “Everyone was inviting and just there to have a good time . . . Fans would tease us, but then they’d offer you a beer and invite you to hang out.”

Once fans have eaten, drank and partaken in the usual tailgate games, it’s time to head into Tiger Stadium aka Death Valley. Known to be one of the best and loudest scenes in football, these rowdy LSU fans have created a nighttime atmosphere that supports the Tigers’ winning night game record. Unlike anywhere else, Baton Rouge promises a high-energy fan experience. 

#1 OREGON

courtesy of University of Oregon/Studio McDermott. 

WHERE’S THE #1 COLLEGE FOOTBALL TAILGATE? THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON (INSERT QUACKS). Eugene, Oregon offers a completely unique and high-quality game day experience. Here’s a look into why Oregon is the top tailgate in the land:

Tailgating among distant mountains, nearby bodies of water and colorful sunsets. Fans’ trek to the stadium includes walking over Autzen Footbridge (crossing the Willamette River) and through Alton Baker Park. If you’re lucky enough to spend the weekend in Eugene, there are nearby coasts, lighthouses, waterfalls, bluffs, and hiking trails; plenty of sights and adventure to work up an appetite.

Rather than one signature cuisine, Oregon has multiple pockets and blends of delicious food. The Pacific Northwest hippie-esque influences can be seen with vegan hotdogs and vegetarian options. Combine that with barbecue, chili, sausages and breakfast burritos, and you’ll find that Oregon offers the most flavorful variety of tailgate foods. Nothing pairs better with a wide array of food than an assortment of beer.

Oregon produces some of the best craft beer in the country. The city of Eugene has multiple microbrews such as McMenamin’s High Street Brewery & Café, beer gardens, bottle shops where you can refill game day growlers and tasting rooms. Once you’re full of food and brews, head to the best indoor tailgate at “The Mo.”

The Moshofsky Center (The “Mo”), the Ducks’ indoor practice facility, turns into one of the largest indoor tailgate celebrations in the country. The Mo holds up to 5,000 fans before and after home games, offering food, music, beer, wine, TVs and cheerleaders. After the sights, eats, touring the downtown microbrews and checking out The Mo, it’s game time.

One word continues to appear when describing Autzen Stadium: loud. Ducks fans go nuts! This stadium has one of the best game day atmospheres, but that doesn’t keep fans from being incredibly welcoming before the game. Tailgating among a community of food sharing and good conversation isn’t something found at most top tier football schools.

After a long day of tailgating and cheering, it’s time to check out the nightlife. For a college bar close to campus, check out Max’s. With a Facebook description like “We Like Girls Who Drink Whisky,” you can expect Max’s to be a good time. If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere with pool tables and a nice bar and food selection, go to Horsehead in the heart of downtown Eugene.

Every part of the Ducks’ tailgate experience is exceptional.  If you go to one away tailgate this year, make it Oregon. 

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