It’s no secret that any football fan, let alone any college student, would pounce on the opportunity to travel to see their favorite team take the field. While taking a trip and dawning your team’s colors is enjoyable no matter what stadium or school you plan on visiting, some stand out with their traditions, tailgates, stadiums, and atmosphere and culture surrounding the university and college town. With college football returning in a matter of weeks, we’re here to break these down along with the must-hit spots in each location to get you set for kickoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s hard to argue any better football atmosphere than in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Crimson Tide annually boasts one of the best college football in the country, along with a fan base that sure knows how to make noise and cheer on their beloved team. With a capacity of over 100,000 fans and a hard to match mystique, Bryant-Denny stadium is as coveted across the country as the team itself. Located on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, it has no shortage of history either, having been open since September 28, 1929.
Photo cred: benjaminboeckle/123rf.com
As far as traditions go, ‘Bama fans have a long history of great traditions starting with classic songs … don’t be surprised if you hear the roar of “Sweet Home Alabama” or the cheer of “Dixieland Delight” during the game. Crimson and white “shakers” (pom poms) will be rocking before kickoff and after a big play. Head Coach Nick Saban leads the Crimson Tide during the Walk of Champions, a parade to the stadium two hours before every home game. Tailgates are well known amongst all fans, especially fraternities, and are loaded with great southern food and beverages. An Alabama specialty, the “Yellow Hammer,” is a cocktail sold at a local bar called Galletes. Fans enjoy the drink to the chants of “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer” as they celebrate rolling over opponents. But what truly sets Alabama apart: the world-class football team with a head coach with more national championships to his name than the other 129 active FBS coaches combined.
While in Tuscaloosa, we recommend taking a Mercedes Benz factory tour, famous in the nearby area and a must see while in town. Also worth visiting is the famous Jemison-Van de Graaf mansion and Lake Tuscaloosa. As for eats, be sure to check out the smoked ribs at Archibald’s BBQ, the simple yet extravagantly delicious Five Bar, and on game-day morning, try Rama Jama’s. You won’t regret it!
2. Michigan Wolverines
The “Big House, “holding 107,600 fans and counting” is the largest stadium in the United States and Western Hemisphere and the third-largest on the planet. Shall we continue? The stadium broke ground on September 12, 1926, at the cost of over $11.5 million dollars in today’s money. Behind its massive walls and vast field is a team and Wolverines fan base full of blue and maize pride that creates an electric atmosphere.
The football atmosphere in Ann Arbor is virtually unmatched, and with a big fanbase comes significant traditions. One of the most unique is the goal post toss, where the drum major takes the stage at the north end zone before the game start and throws the mace over the goal post crossbar. Tradition has it that if the mace is dropped, the Wolverines will lose the game. The Michigan players explode out of the tunnel and touch the “M Club” banner before every home game to honor team members that have received the prestigious “M” award over the years. Tailgates are no light affair, with over 200,000 fans showing up for food and games before kickoff. Expect to hear plenty of “Let’s Go Blue!” chants during your stay at the historic Big House, watching the team with the most NCAA wins in all of college football history take the stage.
During your stay in Ann Arbor, we recommend taking a trip to the historic district of Kerrytown, where you can shop and taste some of the top local foods. We recommend trying the Cuban burger at Frida Batidos, the tapas at Aventura, and the kimchi fries found at Hola-Seoul. You better bring a postgame appetite!
3. Georgia Bulldogs
We head back to the SEC (Southeastern Conference) with this historic powerhouse found in Athens, Georgia. Holding the fifth-largest capacity in football, Sanford stadium is one of the world’s largest and most unique football stadiums. In addition to hosting one of the college football’s marquee teams, the stadium also played host during the 1996 Olympic Games, with over three billion fans watching the event around the world. The stadium’s historic hedges complemented by their real-life bulldog mascot, UGA, are as sacred as this successful franchise.
Traditions run deep in Athens, and you don’t want to miss out on taking part! The chapel bell is rung after every athletic victory and academic accomplishment. Might want to pack an extra set of earplugs with a team as mighty as the Bulldogs. Similar to the Walk of Champions in Alabama, UGA has its own “Dawg Walk,” with the football team marching to the stadium across the Tate Center two hours before kickoff. As for photo-ops, don’t forget to check out the Arch, the priceless symbol of the University. Additionally, the “Calling the Dawgs” chant unifies the crowd during games and consists of a distinctive Go Dawgs, Sic them… followed by several Woof calls. In the fourth quarter, fans light up Sanford stadium with cell phone lights, a Georgia football tradition and staple. If you plan on tailgating, head towards UGA’s historic North Campus and Herty Field or Downtown Athens for some of the best pregame entertainment. One of the winningest college football programs is back for a total capacity in 2021.
While in Athens, be sure to visit the state botanical garden of Georgia and bring your little ones to Bear Hollow Zoo. Head over to the famous Arch that connects campus and downtown after the game. Worked up an appetite cheering on the Dawgs? Head over to Home. Made, a mouth-watering southern staple with a world-class avocado toast, or Last Resort Grill for the potato onion pancakes.
4. Texas Longhorns
Everythings bigger in Texas. Well, how about a capacity exceeding 100,000 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the largest stadium in the Big 12 Conference and the ninth-largest in the world. Even the scoreboard, after its creation, was deemed the giant HD video screen in the world.
Fans take football very seriously in Texas, and it would come as a surprise if you haven’t heard a “Hook em Horns” yell in your lifetime or seen someone wearing burnt orange and white. Oh yeah, and how about the real-life Longhorn steer, Bevo, that takes the field at every home game to a Texan roar. “The Eyes of Texas” song along with “Texas Fight” are played at special marks, including for touchdowns and extra points while fans hold up the horns sign, with their fists held high in the air. One of the most intriguing and long-standing Texas traditions is Big Bertha, a massive bass drum that stands over 10 feet tall (over 90 years old) and is a marching band staple. A favorite UT tradition: Smokey the cannon. This replica Civil War cannon is fired off at the kickoff of every home game and is sure to get you fired up for Texas football too.
Austin is one of the best up-and-coming cities globally, and be sure to take advantage of the surrounding area when visiting. Popular bars include Maggie Mae’s and Aquarium. Nearby the stadium, dine at Arturo’s Underground Cafe for southwestern surprises, Hoover’s Cooking for soul food classics, or Aster’s if you’re looking to try some of the top exotic food from Ethiopia. You can’t miss out on Texas BBQ either, and Franklin barbecue is a must-eat.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish boast one of the most historic stadiums and franchises in the world. With names like Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, Rudy Ruettiger, Joe Montana, and George Gipp (The Gipper), there is no shortage of excitement in South Bend. Head Coach Knute Rockne primarily designed Notre Dame Stadium, and its historic roots took place on October 4, 1930. The stadium view is as unique as any, with the classic “Touchdown Jesus” mosaic wall hovering over the north end zone inside the stadium.
You can’t talk about Notre Dame football traditions without talking about the fans. Fans across the globe love and hate the Fighting Irish with a passion for several reasons. First, Notre Dame has garnered all kinds of recognition and has been featured in the Associated Press poll over 750 times. What’s more, the team has refused to join a conference and remains independent in the sport of football.
The Fighting Irish also boast some of the world’s most remarkable and most recognizable practices. The pep rallies held before football games are a treat for any fan, with well-known guest speakers pumping up crowds. The players slap a prideful sign labeled “Play like a champion today” as they take the field before home games. The fight song, “The Notre Dame Victory March,” is one of the most well-established countries and is undoubtedly worth staying for. With the luck of a leprechaun, you might get the chance to take part in Fighting Irish history.
While in South Bend for a Notre Dame game, check out the Potawatomi Zoo, Indiana’s oldest animal park. History, art, or nature fan? You can’t go wrong with the Studebaker National Museum, the Snite Museum of Art, or the St. Patrick’s County Park. For a postgame meal, grab a pizza at Barnaby’s or celebrate a Fighting Irish victory at Legends of Notre Dame.
6. Florida Gators
Welcome to “The Swamp, “home of Florida’s Gators. Found in Gainesville, Florida, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is where upwards of 90,000 passionate fans cheer on their college gridiron team. Entering as the largest football stadium in Florida, no easy feat, the Swamp offers valuable home-field advantage at every game. In addition, the atmosphere surrounding the Gators is insurmountable and lively; fans travel far and wide to watch the team take on some of the most challenging teams within the SEC.
Traditions begin before the game even starts, with an official “Gator Walk,” where thousands of fans line up to greet the team as they first enter the stadium and as they make their way to the locker room. Gator Growl is another beautiful and unique tradition that involves a show and concert during homecoming week. Formally started in 1932, the event featured dads visiting their sons-as the school was all-boys at the time- to evolve into what it is today. Big names such as Kevin Hart and Jay Leno tend to visit, definitely worth a trip. One of the most admirable home game day traditions is “We are the Boys.” The Florida faithful lock arms and sway to the tunes of the song after every third quarter. The most unique and well-known Florida Gator tradition: the Gator chomp. The band opens with the chomp during a pregame rendition of the Jaws theme song and follows it up during big plays and after a win. No doubt a staple that you have recognized or will soon see during your visit to the University of Florida.
There is no shortage of must-hit spots within the surrounding Gainesville area, including some of the best tailgating in all of football. Florida fans know how to do it right, so correct that their annual rivalry game with Georgia has been deemed the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. Expect to see plenty of Orange and Blue while all sorts of party games are played to set the mood along with plenty of food (all kinds of BBQ) and drinks are served. The tailgates generally take place several hours before the game start, just south of the stadium on Reitz Union Lawn. As for activities and adventures during your stay at Gainesville, check out the Butterfly Rainforest and the Florida Museum of Natural History. Looking for restaurants and bars for a postgame meal or drink, be sure to stop by Miller’s Gainesville Ale House and Burrito Brothers Taco Co.
7. Ole Miss Rebels
Another SEC giant, Ole Miss, sure knows how to take football seriously. Though it has a minor stadium in comparison to others on this list, Vaught Hemingway Stadium is the largest in the state of Mississippi, and fans sure know how to pack a punch. The stadium, which opened in 1915, recently underwent renovations in 2016 that cost upwards of 25 million dollars!
The Grove, the site of the Ole Miss tailgating before home games on Saturdays, is one of the premier tailgating destinations in all sports. Since the 1950s, the spot has served as more than just the culture and pride of Ole Miss fans but has brought together an entire community of Red and Blue. Fans gather under areas full of chandeliers, tents, and candelabras, waiting for the Walk of Champions to take place. This formal “walk” is formed under a famous arch put together in honor of the 1962 Ole Miss football team, which miraculously completed a perfect season. Talk about formal; Ole Miss fans show up on game day dawning their fanciest apparel, a tradition first formed to replicate women and children dressing up before the Civil War and sending their boys to battle. Crazy cool, right?! Expect to hear the phrase “Hotty Toddy,” it’s so much more than just a scrambling of southern words to these dedicated fans. It has served as a greeting and a unique cheer for these fans since 1926, where it was strung together in the Mississippi student newspaper. It evokes a sense of pride, glory, and cumulative success among some of the most passionate sports fans in all of the game.
Many can’t miss museums, restaurants, and bars that are full of history within the Oxford area. This is all a bonus from the consistently named one of the most beautiful campuses in all of the country, in the University of Mississippi. One of the most incredible places worth visiting is Rowan Oak. It was home to William Faulkner, a native Mississippian writer, and built in the 1840s. It features the Pulitzer prize penciled in graphite in his study, a site undoubtedly worth a peek. The Burns-Belfry museum and Multicultural center (home of profound African-American history) and the L.Q.C. Lamar House Museum contains some of the most influential moments in the history of the United States. As for top bars and restaurants, these southern folks surely don’t mess around. Head to the classic Blind Pig Pub or Funky’s (can’t go wrong with a pizza to share) to celebrate a Rebels win. Are you looking for a place full of passion, history, and traditions? This may be your premier destination to visit.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
Beaver Stadium ranks as the second-largest college football stadium in the world, nicknamed the “White House” for its illustrious size and beauty, behind only Michigan, as mentioned earlier. It’s also known as “Happy Valley,” a term given out following the Great Depression when Penn State was not hit hard financially as the rest of the nation was. No doubt any fan of the White and Blue is happy with their team with only one winless season in their school’s history, back in 1888. What’s more, in its 128-year existence, Penn State boasts one of the nation’s best all-time home records, advancing to 50 bowl games and appearing in the prestigious AP poll 654 weeks total. The Nittany Lions have also sent several top players into the National Football League, including four-time super bowl champion Jack Ham, Hall of Famers Mike Munchak and Franco Harris, and star running back, Lenny Moore.
With a team as long-tenured and high-caliber as Penn State, indeed, several traditions and rituals are as good as any in the sport of college football. Picture a stadium full of over 107,000 people all decked out in white and unified in singing “Zombie Nation.” Scary, right? With an undeniably booming atmosphere, Penn State scares opponents off the field before the first snap begins. One of the most dated traditions is the full uniform worn by the Nittany Lions. First, the helmet is solid white with a simple blue stripe down the middle, while the team has stuck to tradition and worn blue jerseys at home and white on the road since the beginning of time. Pants and cleats must be worn a particular way, and stickers are limited to the simple Penn State on the top of the helmet. Far off from the ever-changing uniforms like Oregon, Penn State has no problem being traditional and straightforward. Fans and students camp out for more than six days, and thus the nickname “Paternoville” was given, and rightfully so. One thing is for sure: when you head to Happy Valley, you will be immersed in a football culture that bleeds blue; you better be prepared.
State College in Pennsylvania is the place to be for Penn State football, but it is home to several other beautiful landmarks and premier destinations. During your football road trip, be sure to check out the hotspots fun for all ages, which include a hike through the Rothrock State Forest, collections of ancient ceramics at the Palmer Museum of Art, and the famous Discovery Space children’s science museum. For adults, be sure to check out local bars, including Zeno’s and Local Whiskey. Following a Nittany Lions win, celebrate at the Champ’s Sports Grill, which houses scrumptious food named after Penn State football legends.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
Housing the largest stadium in Texas by regular seating capacity, Texas A&M doesn’t mess around when it comes to football. Nearly 110,000 Aggie faithful form in Kyle Field, which has been around since 1904 and is the biggest stadium in the SEC as well. Recently, a 425 million dollar renovation boosted the stadium’s size and further exemplified the “12th man” mentality.
Traditions run big for the Aggies, and it all begins with a “gig em” and a simple “howdy.” The two slogans are familiar all around Texas, but their origin traces back to Texas A&M. The Aggies “War Hymn” is the official fight song, and the stadium begins to erupt as they sway and “saw” with their hands in the stands. Another amusing tradition only native to the Aggies is scoring both on and off the field. Tracing back to when A&M brought their dates to the games on trains, fans would kiss their lovers when the team scored on the area. Sure, it is hard to beat this two-way score, and I must say, students must have been thrilled to keep this tradition alive. As high scoring as the Aggies can be, there is sure to be plenty of action in the end zone and bleachers.
Not far from Aggie town is Austin, which we covered for you already in our section about the Texas Longhorns (sorry, A&M fans). However, there are plenty of sites, restaurants, and bars that are native to College Station. Dixie Chicken is rated one of America’s top bars and features mouth-watering burgers to go along with its diverse beer selection. Looking for a food you can only get here, go to MAD Taco, where everything is made from scratch, including the to-die-for tamale bread. Aside from seeing the Aggies play while in College Station, be sure to stop by the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Bonfire Memorial, and Santa’s Wonderland! I’m sure you didn’t expect to hear the word “snow” used with Texas, but you can see it firsthand on your trip.
10. Oregon Ducks
Our only Pac-12 team featured on this list, the Oregon Ducks, are a proud part of football faithful without question. With a capacity of 54,000, one would think that the stadium would be relatively normal; they couldn’t be more wrong. The stadium was built to replicate a double-sided theater, and as a result, the noise echoes without getting broken up by nearby stadium structures. Autzen Stadium is truly one of a kind, and the renovation cost was north of 270 million dollars. Yeah, you heard it right. The Nike-backed stadium is truly state of the art, and with high-class facilities comes valued traditions.
You can’t look into Oregon Ducks traditions without pulling out one of the most well-known mascots in sports: the duck. This is not just any ordinary duck, and Donald is fully capable of riding a motorcycle and doing push-ups to impress the massive fanbase wearing green and yellow. The swagger of the Ducks can be attributed to the unique uniform combinations, which include bright and colorful looks that “WOW” any sports fan. Don’t forget to throw the “O” as you cheer on alongside the Oregon faithful. Tailgates are another major commodity in Eugene, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Most notably, fans crowd at the “Mo” to pregame before the Ducks take the field.
While in Eugene, it is worth watching magnificent birds take flight at the Cascades Raptor Center and taking a stroll along the Willamette River bike trail. Adults will want to stop by the King Estate Winery, which uses local ingredients in their food and beverages. You can’t go wrong on game day with the chicken and waffles at Buck Buck or the brewery found at Agrarian Ales.
Planning Your Trip
No question taking any trip to watch a college football game is an exciting venue that any sports fan will enjoy. However, those aware of these ten schools know that they do things a little differently. No matter what colors you put on come Saturday morning, what chant and fight song you memorize by heart, or where your Alma Mater is located, the atmosphere found at these schools is unlike any other. To stay up to date on all things college football, as well as for updates on college towns and finding the best place to stay this fall on game day, visit College Weekends. The site connects alumni, fans, parents of students, and other travelers with short-term lodging and vacation rentals in college towns across the nation. Fans have never been more eager to attend a college football game this Fall … so don’t miss out on your chance to visit the most popular destinations in the country, and make sure to book your college trip before it’s too late!