College Football Stadiums: Part 1 of 2

An article this week came out ranking all 124 College Football Stadiums, with my alma mater ranking #1. This was cause for excitement amongst many other Clemson fans, but I was skeptical, as I usually am. I wanted to read the article, and after I did I decided this ranking was completely bogus. If the list looked great from top to bottom then we’d have something to talk about, but instead it was ugly. Many of the nations best stadiums were sprinkled down the list, and many of the nations worst were way too high on the rankings. In reality to be completely objective you’d have to visit all of them. Find me that guy.

My point is I’m not proud to say that Clemson was ranked number one because the guy who wrote the article clearly wasn’t qualified or remotely intelligent in my opinion. I love College Football, and what I love the most about College Football is visiting campuses and stadiums. The entire journey of visiting a College Football stadium is an amazing experience, unlike any other sport. Instead of a few hours in a day, its a whole day event, really a whole weekend event. My love for the sport is still young in comparison to some of my other loves of sports, so I haven’t visited as many stadiums as I’d have liked to yet. Still I’ve been to some, so I think I can start by objectively giving my opinion of those.

Sunlife Stadium and its enormous sidelines

Sunlife Stadium (Miami, FL-Orange Bowl)- I’ll start off by mentioning a few neutral site stadiums I’ve visited. The first is the home of the Miami Hurricanes and Dolphins. Also the former home of the Florida Marlins, the stadium was used for both baseball and football until this season when the Marlins opened their new ballpark on the site of the former Orange Bowl. I was here for this past season’s Orange Bowl and I came away with a pretty indifferent feeling about the facility. The stadium located nowhere near downtown Miami and is nowhere near anything else. Situated amongst the spiraling South Florida suburbs, the only attraction near the stadium is WalMart. We tailgated significantly but the lots didn’t even open until the afternoon for an 8:00pm start. The lots are nice and scenic with Palm trees but then again its just a lot of concrete everywhere. The stadium itself is in good condition but doesn’t really have anything special about it. My biggest problem with the design is how large the sidelines are. If you sit anywhere in the lower level on the sides of the field, you are much much further away than almost any other stadium in football. This helps make it a less intimidating venue, and is definitely more of a pro venue than suited for College Football. The University of Miami is going to be at a disadvantage as long as they play here in my opinion because it’s so far from campus and crowds they draw are just never very good.

Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL-Capital One Bowl)- I visited this stadium for the Capital One Bowl a few years ago, a game between Michigan and Florida. This stadium is located in the ghetto, no joke. If it weren’t for the game I would have been terrified of the neighborhood. The parking is terrible because its located in a strange urban neighborhood about 5-10 minutes from downtown Orlando. The stadium itself is pretty old and structurally unimpressive. It’s not a bad place to watch a game though and it can be fairly loud. For a bowl game it wasn’t bad, and despite the stadium not being very nice it was still a viable facility for watching a good game of football.

Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA, Chick Fil A Kickoff)- I attended the Clemson-Alabama neutral site game to start the season a few years ago at the Georgia Dome. The stadium itself is similar in condition and quality to Sun Life Stadium, a solid pro stadium in decent condition. Inside I think it’s a lot better to watch a game though. The Stadium is much louder being a dome, and doesn’t have outrageous sidelines keeping fans from the field. We sat very high in the end zone and still had a great view of the field. Outside the stadium isn’t great. Located in downtown Atlanta the stadium has decent parking but the neighborhood isn’t great. Getting there can be hard too, because Atlanta has horrendous traffic.

Boston College (Alumni Stadium)- I’ve now been to this facility twice in the last 4 years for Clemson road games. I found this to be the worst facility I’ve attended in college football. The Stadium is very small, and seems even smaller because its not very tall. The Boston College fans aren’t very inspiring either. Both times we visited a large Clemson contingent was there, and was remarkably loaded than the home crowd. The campus of Boston College is very nice and scenic but tailgating is very disappointing. There is hardly any room to park and not many people engage in tailgating. Both times we were there we ended up walking to a bar to pre game which was a mile away across the reservoir. That was the closest bar or place where you could purchase alcohol. Needless to say that was disappointing. As a whole the atmosphere and tradition is lacking, and unless you enjoy looking at nice college campuses and not attending college football games, then you’ll be disappointed with this visit. Despite this I plan on returning once again to Boston this coming season, but that has more to do with my strong desire to see my Tigers play, and visit friends in Boston.

BB&T Field

Wake Forest (BB&T Field)- I’ve also been to Wake twice now and I’ve actually gotten to see this stadium at its best as well. The second visit though wasn’t as inspiring. I definitely liked this better than Boston College because the stadium atmosphere and tailgating were much better. The biggest thing holding Wake Forest back is the size of the school. One of the smallest D-1A football universities they only draw about 35,000 people to games, but the stadium can get fairly loud when the Deacs are playing well and the fans are out in support. The tailgating scene is solid too despite the area not being great. Wake’s stadium is off-campus, but not too far and all their sport facilities are located together in a less exciting neighborhood. The facilities are nice and the parking isn’t terrible but aestically the area is not great.

North Carolina (Kenan Stadium)- This Chapel Hill facility is best described as not living up to its potential. Located on Campus in a very nice secluded area, the stadium itself is nice and should be even nice after the renovations are complete. The surrounding campus is great too, but the fans that fill it aren’t always the exciting. Even in basketball UNC fans are known for sitting on their hands and watching their teams compete rather than cheering too loudly. Part of this is the large contingent of older UNC fans who donate a lot of money and thus fill the seats. The problem is older people don’t have the same energy and passion as the young fans. Also the UNC students just don’t get excited about the mediocre football program like they do the basketball program. If one day UNC does get the football program going at a great level than this facility can become pretty good. Its a good facility located on a beautiful campus but the atmosphere here just isn’t good enough yet.

North Carolina State (Carter-Finley Stadium)- This stadium reminds me a lot of North Carolina as well. With a similar design and size both facilities are solid, but lack the team and fans inside it to really take it to another level. The fans at NC State are a step above UNC and this stadium can get significantly louder but the area around the stadium isn’t as great as UNC. Not on campus, this facility is the in the athletic complex in Raleigh. Surrounded by parking lots there is nothing to do around the stadium but tailgate. That’s not a problem, but having a campus and town nearby would be nice too. The tailgating here is better than the previously mentioned facilities for sure. Like the Tar Heels, if the Wolfpack can ascend to a better program in College Football and get the fans rocking, than this can also be a very intimidating facility, but for now the inconsistent seasons in Raleigh aren’t going to get it done quite yet.

Georgia Tech (Bobby Dodd Stadium)- I was blessed to see this facility at its best as well, for a white out game in Atlanta. This facility has a few outside factors that are cool. First of all it is on campus which is nice, but the Georgia Tech campus isn’t that great in my opinion. The area around the stadium is good, but the parking and tailgating scene is tough to come by. It’s scattered and for a visiting fan its hard to find a good place anywhere near the stadium. The views of downtown Atlanta are cool, but the downtown area of Atlanta isn’t worth visiting. The stadium itself is old but in good condition. There is a lot of tradition and plenty of cool aspects to the facility, but this place doesn’t get overly loud. The stadium isn’t very tall so its tough to keep the noise in and the Georgia Tech fans don’t pack this place out too often.

Florida State (Doak Campbell Stadium)- This is where we really take a big step up in the quality of stadiums. Florida State has a great tradition of football and they take that too the field for their on-field pre game tradition of Chief Osceola. The stadium itself is impressive looking from the outside, but I was surprised at how tinker-toy like it was inside. The entire inside of the stadium is made of metal that is surprisingly thin. I sat up fairly high here and it was kind of intimidating thinking of the fact the only thing keeping me from falling 100 feet to my death beneath my feet was a metal that I could feel bending every time someone walked by. This is irrelevant though, as the stadium is a great facility regardless. One thing that holds it back from being one of the loudest stadiums in the country is the fact that it’s a bowl and the noise escapes easier than others. The Florida State fan base has been fading a bit over the last few years but if they can finally get over the top in the next few years than this facility can return to being one of the toughest places to play in the country. I got to see a great game here too, so I’ve been blessed to see many of these facilities at their best. Outside of the stadium the tailgating is great in Tallahassee, I attended one of the greatest tailgates I’ve ever seen here. The campus itself isn’t special, but it has some nice parts as well. The town of Tallahassee is a bit sketchy too, but not as bad as one I’ll discuss coming up.

Nebraska's Memorial Stadium

Nebraska (Memorial Stadium)- The Cornhuskers gave me my only taste of midwestern football and it was fun. Located in the capital city of Lincoln, the University of Nebraska has a nice campus located adjacent to downtown. The Stadium is on-campus and as a visitor I found it very hard to find parking. I walked over a mile to get to the stadium from a garage downtown. The downtown area is pretty nice and within walking distance of stadium. Fans can choose to tailgate or adventure downtown prior to the game. The stadium is very big, but also historic and old. The interior of the stadium was cool to see as they’ve kept a lot of the older aspects of the facility while upgrading and expanding the facility. The fans are passionate and they have some great game day traditions. I appreciate the Nebraska fans because in the state, this is the team. Everybody loves Nebraska from birth and thats why they’ve sold out every game for a very long time now. The stadium is definitely loud and the design gives most fans a good view of the field. The Tailgating wasn’t on the level of some of the southern schools, but the atmosphere was great.

South Carolina (Williams-Brice Stadium)- I’ll try to be objective here, and in doing so have them ranked accordingly to what I truly think. Despite this, I found no part of my experience in Columbia enjoyable. The Stadium is located in a very bad area, basically surrounded by abandoned factory buildings, and not within walking distance of anything. They’ve started to attempt to clean up the area by adding a few businesses and newer apartment buildings, but they still have plenty to go. The town itself is also disappointing as it is generally quite poor and rundown. The downtown area is mostly empty minus a few hotspot areas to go out. The facility itself is pretty standard, nothing unique but in good condition. Overall the Gamecocks don’t have a ton of traditions but I will give them credit for their newer stadium entrance. It is the second best I’ve seen, and that’s hard to admit. The stadium was pretty loud and I got to see it for a big game as well. Overall atmosphere wise the place is pretty good, but the surrounding area and game day experience could be better. Additionally I’ve never seen more hostile fans, everywhere you go you get ribbing from fans but most end up engaging and being helpful. In Columbia, people legitimately would try to pick fights and their were multiple stabbing and robberies before, during and after the game of fellow fans. Maybe one day I’ll go back, but I’ll be a bit more mindful of what I’ll be facing next time.

Virginia Tech (Lane Stadium)- This was one of my most anticipated trips and I came away a little disappointed. The Enter Sandman entrance looks really cool on TV and in person but the noise level and length of it was surprising. I got to go to a night game and it should have been a great representation of the environment. The town of Blacksburg isn’t bad, I like college towns like it but they don’t have a great downtown. I’ve been to Blacksburg many times and it always seems dreary and depressing there. The tailgating is pretty good at Lane Stadium but doesn’t have the sheer volume of some other great southern stadiums. The facility itself is cool, and a lot bigger than you’d think despite not having a second deck. Unlike other one-level stadium, Lane Stadium is steep and taller so if you’re sitting near the top its quite a hike. Overall, I really liked the stadium, this facility is probably just outside the top 10 in the country.

Jordan-Hare Stadium

Auburn (Jordan Hare Stadium)- Unlike Lane Stadium, this facility and campus exceeded my expectations. Auburn is very similar to Clemson in many ways, but I like the comparisons are a bit overdone sometimes. The town of Auburn is significantly bigger than Clemson, and the campus has much more concrete than Clemson. Despite this, the town was a fun place to go out, but a bit overcrowded on football weekends. The campus is nice and tailgating takes place all over the campus like at Clemson. The distance to walk around was a bit further than I hoped for as a visiting fan, but it was fun getting to see lots of different areas in town. The Stadium is on campus and is a similar facility to Clemson with two upper decks, the only difference is there are a few more seats in the end zones and no hill. I got to sit in the student section at Auburn and was very impressed. The students arrive early because its first come first serve seating, which is a fantastic idea. The only thing is the student section is separate from the rest of the facility, so no freedom as a student. I loved the student ticket policy but the freedom is a bit limited. The fans were into the game from the start and were very loud. Much like Sunlife Stadium though, Auburn has absurdly and unnecessarily large sidelines. This takes away from the views for fans and the noise level for the field. Still the fans and atmosphere deliver one of the best environments in the country.

Florida (The Swamp)- I’ve had the pleasure of attending two games at the Swamp as well. This facility was built to be loud. Surrounded by towering decks which are always filled with Orange and Blue, this is really cool stadium to watch a game in. The seating views are great and no big sidelines. The tailgating is good, but there aren’t as many enormous lots as some other stadiums I’ve visited. There are good bars within walking distance of the stadium and plenty of excitement on the streets nearby. The atmosphere inside is great too, the band is loud and boisterous and the students can be loud too. I was expecting the best atmosphere because of the rave reviews, but it wasn’t quite top notch. Auburn was louder than the Swamp, but I wasn’t at quite as big of a game either time. Overall I still appreciate why its one of the top stadiums in the country and I’d love to go back again.

Clemson's Death Valley

Clemson (Memorial Stadium)- Look, I swear I’m not being biased as saying Clemson is the loudest stadium I’ve ever been too. I love the school, the tailgating, and the tradition, but I am always trying to compare Clemson to other schools in every way possible outside of football. I know the university isn’t the best academic institution in the US, nor does it have the nicest campus I’ve been too (although a great one), but I’ve never been to a stadium louder. I’ll give you this, Clemson fans can be quiet too when expectations are higher and the results are poor. I’ve never seen a quieter 82,000 people before than after a field goal fell short at the end of the BC game in 2007. The great times are great though, and this place gets loud for many reasons. The fans are on top of the field, the stands are steep, the upper decks are high, and the whole stadium is literally in a valley. The tailgating is great, and I love the town. Gamedays in Clemson are my favorite, but I also realize that there are many other schools out there that are great too. I’ve obviously only been to these aforementioned college stadiums, so I realize there are plenty of stadiums that might be louder, but I truly believe Clemson deserves to be way up there.

In my next article as a follow up I will attempt to use my extensive research on College Stadiums to rank the top facilities. I will try to be as reasonable as possible and try to not be biased at all. Thanks for reading and hope you get to visit some of the best stadiums sometime.

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