Question of the Week: What school has the best stadium atmosphere in college football?
Each week during the season, the USA TODAY Sports college staff (Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith and Eddie Timanus) will provide their answers to on an intriguing question from college football.
There are many great home fields across the country in college football. Which school has the best environment?
It’s hard not to put LSU’s Tiger Stadium back at No. 1. The Tigers were virtually unbeatable at home during the peak of Les Miles’ tenure – there’s a reason he once said that Death Valley is the place where “dreams come to die” – but as the team had fallen off over the course of this decade, so too did the luster of this vaunted stadium. But LSU is back in the top five, and its home demolition over then-No. 2 Georgia this past weekend reminded everyone just how hard it can be to play in Baton Rouge. The atmosphere at Tiger Stadium shouldn’t be dipping anytime soon either; LSU’s next two games are both at home against a solid Mississippi State team followed by a date with No. 1 Alabama.
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In terms of pure intimidation, it’s hard to pick against Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tide have lost just four games at home this decade: Ole Miss in 2015, Texas A&M in 2012, LSU in 2011 and Auburn in 2010. But that might not be the same as the “best” environment, which is a little more subjective. I’m partial to older stadiums with history and charm, so my pick for the top homefield environment goes to Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium – especially during the rare combination of a night game in the snow.
College football is filled with tremendous homefield environs, but a handful of places stand above the others for their consistency. Most of them are huge, nearing or topping 100,000 in attendance. But I’ll take a bowl half that size, nestled in the Willamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest and filled with fans wearing bright green or yellow (or black or anthracite or …).
Autzen Stadium, Oregon’s home, crams in less than 60,000 fans. But jam-packed, it’s tight. The fans are right on top of the teams. And they’re LOUD. Duck fans know their reputation for volume, and they revel in the idea they can impact the game. And as nice as the good folk of Cascadia are on an individual basis – and they’re super nice – something happens when they get together at Autzen. The experience is awesome, but for visiting teams it is not pleasant.
A Saturday night in LSU’s Death Valley can’t be beaten. Texas A&M’s Kyle Field is a swaying monstrosity of sound. There are other fantastic cathedrals we could name, too. But for outsized, ear-splitting impact in a pint-sized package, give me Autzen.
You have your Death Valleys – I'll leave LSU and Clemson fans to argue about which one is better. You have your unheralded locations like Oregon, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. You have your historical stadiums at Army and Navy. You have the beauty of the Rose Bowl, where UCLA plays its home games. And you have Horseshoe and Big House of Ohio State and Michigan, respectively.
But if you want to experience the history and beauty of college football in one setting, there's no place like Notre Dame. It's walking through the campus on a fall day and soaking in the pregame scene. It's entering the gate as Touchdown Jesus looks overhead. And it's also embracing the history of Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian as you consider all the great games that have taken place inside the stadium.
It certainly is a must-see destination for any college football fan.
College football is about competition, of course, but it’s also about spectacle and theater. And, as any producer will tell you, one of the most important things about good theater is an unforgettable entrance — which brings us to Clemson.
Every Tigers’ home game is guaranteed to start with a huge roar as all the players touch Howard’s Rock, which incidentally came from the original Death Valley in California, before sprinting down the hill into the stadium. That’s a pretty good entrance, and the team usually delivers as well.
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