NCAAF
August 20, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Ranking The 10 Best College Football Towns

College towns come in all shapes and sizes, and some are just better at embracing their school’s college football team than others. Of course, there are a lot of college towns that treat their local college team like a professional football team, bringing insane amounts of passion and enthusiasm to every home game. But we all know that some college towns do that better than others.

While the competition is stiff and up for debate, we've narrowed it down to our 10 favorite college football towns in the nation.

10. Clemson, South Carolina

It’s amazing what a little success on the field can do for a college town. With Clemson becoming a national powerhouse under Dabo Swinney, Clemson has surpassed a lot of SEC schools in becoming a great college football town. The city of Clemson itself has fewer than 14,000 residents — if you don’t count the students living on campus. However, Clemson has one of the best town-gown relationships in the country, making it easy for the folks in this charming Southern town to embrace Swinney and the football program.

Despite the Tigers' recent rise to national prominence, Clemson has game-day traditions that date back decades, including Howard’s Rock and the team running down the hill before every game. 

Even if the Tigers weren’t championship contenders every year, Clemson’s “Death Valley” would still be one of the best college football towns in the country. The team’s recent success just helped shine a light on it.

9. Gainesville, Florida

Few colleges are more successful across the entire sports spectrum than the Florida Gators, and the folks in Gainesville know it. More than anything, they love Florida football.

When the Gators are playing well, the Swamp can be one of the most intimidating places in the country. 

When things aren’t going quite as well for Florida, the fans tend to have little patience while waiting for them to return to championship contender status.

Gainesville is also one of the more underrated music cities in the country. That combination of music and elite college football makes Gainesville full of energy and one of the great party towns in the nation.

8. Morgantown, West Virginia

Frankly, there isn’t much to do in Morgantown unless you’re a true outdoorsman or a fan of scenic mountains and landscapes. In terms of team sports, there’s nothing going on outside of the West Virginia Mountaineers. But the folks of Morgantown embrace the Mountaineers like few other fan bases in college football. Things can sometimes get a little out of control for night games at Milan Puskar Stadium after fans have had all day to tailgate. 

Crowds can be raucous and borderline hostile for big games, which is why Big 12 teams have quickly learned to resent trips to Morgantown just as much as old Big East teams did.

The people of Morgantown whole-heartedly embrace what makes their city unique and it shows whenever the Mountaineers take the field.

7. Knoxville, Tennessee

Tennessee has lost its status as an SEC powerhouse in recent years, but it’ll take more than losing to knock Knoxville off the list of the top college football towns. Neyland Stadium holds over 102,000 fans and is a sight to see when it’s filled to capacity with creamsicle orange-clad fans who are singing “Rocky Top.” It’s also one of the few stadiums in the country where fans can arrive via boat on the Tennessee River.

Between the Tennessee River, the Great Smoky Mountains, and a picturesque campus, Knoxville is one of the most beautiful college towns in the country to visit. 

It also helps that the music and food in Knoxville are outstanding, making the city’s downtown the perfect place to hang out before and after games during football season.

6. College Station, Texas

A lot of colleges would love to think that their home crowds serve as the 12th man, but only College Station and Texas A&M can officially claim that title. 

Kyle Field has long been known as one of the most unique and intimidating venues in college football.

College Station is far from one of the biggest cities in the Lone Star State. But the people there take tremendous pride in the Aggies. The city is also the home to the George Bush Presidential Library, creating an interesting balance with College Station’s primary attraction, which is Texas A&M football. 

5. Ann Arbor, Michigan

With the largest stadium in the country, it’s easy to see why Ann Arbor is one of the great college football towns. Even if you take away Michigan football from the equation, Ann Arbor is a gorgeous city that’s totally worth a visit. The “Big House” helps to put Ann Arbor over the top.

Even if the Wolverines are still playing the role of little brother to Ohio State, there aren’t many places in the country that can top Michigan's game-day atmosphere. 

There’s just something about 107,000-plus fans in maize and blue and Michigan’s iconic helmet that makes Ann Arbor a special place.

4. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

In the South, football is king, and few places better exemplify that better than Tuscaloosa. Between Bear Bryant and Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide is accustomed to winning championships, and that breeds both passion and expectations.

Life in Tuscaloosa revolves around Alabama football perhaps more than any other school in the country. 

Tailgating outside Bryant-Denney Stadium isn’t restricted to those with a ticket to the game. The entire Alabama campus and city of Tuscaloosa turns into one giant party while the Crimson Tide is playing. More importantly, the fans in Tuscaloosa never get sick of winning, which is why the atmosphere for Alabama football games is still second-to-none.

3. State College, Pennsylvania

Few cities are as synonymous with a college and a football program than State College is with the Penn State Nittany Lions. It’s a college town through and through with multiple festivals and a great art scene. Usually, State College is the 12th largest city in the state of Pennsylvania. However, when the Nittany Lions play a home game, State College, which is conveniently located in the middle of Pennsylvania, suddenly becomes the state’s fourth-largest city. 

Beaver Stadium holds over 106,000 fans, the second-largest stadium in the country, and is almost always filled to the brim with fans regardless of the opponent.

The folks in Happy Valley have created a wealth of traditions during football season. Penn State also helped to spearhead the idea of “White Out” games at Beaver Stadium, helping it stand out amongst all of the other great college football towns.

2. Athens, Georgia

For proof that Athens is a great college football town, the only thing you have to know is that the city is the leader in ber per capita in America.

When you combine that amazing Southern cooking, a music scene that produced R.E.M. and other legends, and a top-class football program, it’s clear that Athens brings things to the table that ordinary college towns simply can't. 

On the field, the Bulldogs have been embraced by fans as much as any other SEC program, especially in recent years. Off the field, there’s so much for fans to enjoy before and after games in Athens that games become all-day events. Anybody who has ever visited Athens on a game day usually walks away knowing that they’ve experienced something special.

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is the quintessential college town, and Wisconsin football is only one part of the equation. The campus is located in the middle of several lakes, making Madison a beautiful setting, especially during football season. There’s also no shortage of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the Wisconsin-Madison campus, so there’s plenty of places to go out and mingle.

Of course, things reach a fevered pitch on game days at Camp Randall. Despite only holding a modest 80,000 fans for football games, the Badgers always have an amazing atmosphere for home games. One thing that stands out about Camp Randall compared to other stadiums is that fans don’t leave early. Everyone sticks around for the “Jump Around” tradition right before the fourth quarter, as well as the Wisconsin marching band’s postgame performance. Those are just two of the many things that help make Madison the best college football town in the country.

Photo: Getty Images