NCAAF
April 23, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Ranking the 10 Largest College Football Stadiums

If you want evidence that there’s something special about college football, look no further than its stadiums. Despite squeezing them onto a college campus that’s filled with quads, dorms and academic buildings, college football stadiums are some of the biggest sports venues in the world.

But there’s so much more to college football stadiums than the large crowds they hold. These are iconic buildings filled with history and tradition while also serving as the venue for gigantic parties several Saturdays every year.

Here, we've ranked the ten biggest college football stadiums in the country. 

10. Sanford Stadium, Georgia

The SEC is home to some of the largest stadiums in college football, and Georgia’s Sanford Stadium is one of them. In addition to holding up to 92,246 fans, Sanford Stadium is regarded as one of the most picturesque sporting venues in the country. For starters, there are hedges that surround the field, which is why folks say games there are played “between the hedges.” Plus, fans who have a view facing the west end zone can see the beautiful hills that surround the University of Georgia campus.

The stadium opened in 1929 and was named in honor of Dr. Steadman Vincent Sanford, who was the driving force in moving the school’s football venue to the center of campus. He later became the president of the university and the chancellor of the entire University of Georgia system. Stanford also helped Georgia build a baseball field and basketball arena. He also aided in forming the Southern Conference, which eventually led to the birth of the SEC.

Anyone going to a game at Sanford Stadium should be encouraged to arrive long before kickoff. After the Georgia marching band finishes, one band member begins playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which segues into longtime Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson on the stadium’s video board. When it’s time for kickoff and the ball is on the tee, fans start to slowly yell the word “Go.” When the kicker strikes the ball, fans finishing yelling “Go” and add: “Dogs, sic ‘em!”

As mentioned, the hedges at Sanford Stadium are a big part of the stadium’s identity. Naturally, the most memorable game in stadium history came when the famous hedges were trampled. Like when the Bulldogs hosted Tennessee in October 2000, Georgia had lost nine straight games against the Volunteers. But when Georgia beat the Vols 21-10, the fans stormed the field and took down the goalposts at Sanford Stadium for the first time in stadium history. In the process, they did some serious damage to the hedges. Unfortunately, some students got hurt while rushing the field, which is part of the reason it’s never happened again.

9. Rose Bowl, UCLA

The UCLA Bruins are among the luckiest teams in college football because they get to play all of their home games at the famous Rose Bowl. The downside is that the stadium is 26 miles from campus, but that’s a small price to pay for playing in one of the most iconic sporting venues in the country. It’s also one of the largest stadiums in the world with a capacity of 92,542 fans and a record of 106,869 fans at the 1974 Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl opened in 1922 around the same time as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was easy to name because it was built to host the Rose Bowl game that was previously played at Tournament Park, also located in Pasadena. When it first opened, the Rose Bowl had a horseshoe shape that was modeled after the Yale Bowl, although the stadium has been renovated since then. 

Part of what makes the Rose Bowl special is that it’s been used to host far more than just the Rose Bowl game or UCLA football tilts over the years. The venue has hosted five Super Bowls and was part of the 1932 Olympics. It’s also hosted countless soccer games, including eight matches during the 1994 World Cup and four matches during the 1999 World Cup. Among those games was the U.S. Men’s upset of Colombia in 1994 and the U.S. women’s penalty-kick victory over China in the final of the 1999 World Cup.

Out of all of the memorable sporting events in Rose Bowl history, it’s difficult to pick one that stands out above the rest. But there’s something about the 2005 BCS National Championship Game between Texas and USC that other games can’t top. This was one of the best college football games of all-time and ended with Vince Young running into the end zone on 4th and 5 to give Texas a 41-38 win over USC.

8. Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Texas

In the state of Texas, football is king, and that makes Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin the state’s biggest castle. The home of the Texas Longhorns opened in 1924 under the name War Memorial Stadium. Nearly a century later, Texas Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 100,100 fans and has a record attendance of 103,507 when the Longhorns hosted USC in 2018.

While the name Texas Memorial Stadium stands, Texas expanded the name of its stadium in 1996 to honor Darrell Royal, who coached the Longhorns for 20 seasons from 1957 to 1976. During those two decades, Texas won the Southwest Conference title 11 times. The Longhorns were also awarded three national championships, including back-to-back titles in 1969 and 1970.

Today, Texas Memorial Stadium is one of the few college football venues that features a live animal on the field before games. Bevo, a longhorn steer, helps to get the fans in attendance excited for the game. Those spectators create a sea of burnt-orange throughout the stadium while singing “The Eyes of Texas,” the university’s spirit song. During the game, the fans up the energy in the building with a call and response that involves half the stadium yelling “Texas” and the other yelling “fight!”

While the crowds at Texas football games nowadays are among the best in the country, the most memorable moment in Texas Memorial Stadium history happened all the way back in 1940. At the time, the Longhorns weren’t exactly a national power. However, Texas put together a strong season in 1940, including a late-season upset over rival Texas A&M, the reigning national champion. Before the game, head coach Dana Bible read his team a poem by Edgar Guest. Texas won the game 7-0 with the only touchdown of the game being scored by Noble Doss on what is known throughout Texas as “the impossible catch.”

7. Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama

Naturally, there is a huge demand among fans to see the best college football program in recent memory, which is why Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium requires a capacity of 101,821 fans. The stadium first opened in 1929 and has been one of the best home-field advantages in college football ever since. The Crimson Tide has won more than 80% of their home games during the stadium’s history, although that percentage is a lot higher during the 21st century.

Most people recognize that the Bryant part of Bryant-Denny Stadium refers to legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who led the 'Bama to six national championships. Meanwhile, the Denny part honors George H. Denny, who served as the president of the University of Alabama from 1912 to 1936. In a unique twist, the visitor’s locker room at Bryant-Denny Stadium is called “The Fail Room.” It was named after the late James M. Fail, who was an Alabama graduate and donor and enjoyed the idea of visiting teams having to come out of “The Fail Room.”

One of the great traditions at Bryant-Denny Stadium is singing Rammer Jammer, which involves the 101,000-plus fans taunting the opposing team after a win by singing a song that ends with: “We just beat the hell outta you! Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer. Give ‘em hell, Alabama.” Ironically, Yellow Hammer is also the name of the signature cocktail at the stadium. Before the game, there's plenty of tailgating on the quad, but inside the stadium, the Yellow Hammer is the drink of choice for Alabama fans.

In Alabama’s long football history, one of the best Bryant-Denny Stadium moments came in 2009 against longtime rival Tennessee. Performance-wise, the Crimson Tide played one of its worst games of the season. Tennessee scored a late touchdown to make it a 12-10 game in favor of Alabama. The Volunteers recovered an onside kick, setting up a 45-yard field goal with the final snap of the game. But Alabama’s Terrence Cody blocked the field goal, his second block of the game to secure the 12-10 victory. That kept Alabama’s undefeated record intact, as the Crimson Tide ended up running the table and winning the national championship.

6. Kyle Field, Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s home field might be the perfect blend of size and atmosphere. A lot of college football stadiums claim to be the 12th man on the field, but Kyle Field is actually known as the “Home of the 12th Man.”

With a capacity of 102,733 fans, it’s the sixth-largest college football venue in the country with its attendance record topping 110,000 fans during a game in 2014. In addition to being the 12th man, Texas A&M fans are widely considered to be among the nicest and most polite at any college football stadium in the country.

Kyle Field is named after Edwin Jackson Kyle, who helped to build the stadium, literally from the ground up. In 1904, Texas A&M didn’t want to pay for a new football stadium, so Kyle, who was a professor of horticulture at the school, took it upon himself to take a part of the campus used for agricultural and turn it into a football venue. He built wooden bleachers himself and purchased a covered grandstand with his own money. Somehow, that makeshift football field grew into the massive and amazing venue it is today.

Nowadays, the fans at Kyle Field are among the most unique and passionate in college football. For starters, Texas A&M is a senior military college and has a volunteer Corps of Cadets who can be seen in uniform at every game. The school also has a military marching band that has around 400 members. During football games, the cadets, band and students will all stand for the entire game. However, they won’t cheer during the game; instead, they have cheers that are led by a group of seniors because Texas A&M doesn’t have any cheerleaders. Finally, one unique Kyle Field tradition is that couples who attend games together are encouraged to kiss every time the Aggies score.

The most memorable game in Kyle Field history came in 1999 when Texas A&M faced in-state rival Texas. It was a longtime tradition at Texas A&M to build a bonfire before the game against Texas. However, a construction accident while building the bonfire killed 11 students and one former student while injuring 27 others. Eight days after the tragedy, an emotional Texas A&M team beat No. 5 Texas. The Aggies overcame a 16-6 halftime deficit to win 20-16 in front of a sold-out crowd still mourning the loss of the 12 people who died.

5. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee

Tennessee’s lack of sustained success on the football field since the turn of the century has made it easy to forget that Neyland Stadium is a massive shrine to football in the Volunteer State. The stadium’s current capacity holds 102,455 fans, although its record attendance sits at over 109,000 fans for a game in 2004 against rival Florida.

Neyland Stadium has stood since 1921 when it was known as Shields-Watkins Field. However, the stadium was renamed in 1962 to honor Robert Neyland, who had three separate stints as the head coach at Tennessee in between his military service, as he climbed the ranks in the U.S. Army all the way to Brigadier General. Between 1926 and 1952, Neyland coached 21 seasons, leading the Volunteers to seven conference championships and four national championships. Neyland is credited with making Tennessee a football powerhouse and was also the first coach to study game film as a way to prepare for opponents.

The stadium that bears his name is now one of the biggest college football stadiums in the country. Even when the Vols struggle, it’s packed with fans wearing some combination of white and creamsicle orange while singing the song “Rocky Top” all game. Like most SEC schools, football games are an all-day event. Tailgating starts six-plus hours before kickoff with options all over the Knoxville area, including the Tennessee River, which allows anyone with a boat to pull up next to Neyland Stadium. There is also no shortage of places to eat or drink before and after games along Cumberland Avenue in Knoxville.

Of all the great moments in Neyland Stadium history, the best was the second game of the 1998 season when the No. 2 Florida Gators rolled into Knoxville. At the time, the Vols had lost five straight games to their bitter rivals. Tennessee forced a low-scoring slugfest that eventually went to overtime. In the extra session, the Vols nailed a 41-yard field goal from Jeff Hall while Florida missed its game-tying attempt, giving Tennessee a 20-17 win. That win set the stage for an undefeated season with Tennessee ultimately beating Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national championship.

4. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State

Ohio State is one of the most successful programs in college football history, so it makes sense for the Buckeyes to have one of the largest stadiums in the country. Ohio Stadium, which is often called “The Horseshoe,” has been open since 1922 and has a capacity of 102,780 fans. However, the Buckeyes have surpassed that total on more than one occasion with the record attendance for Ohio Stadium being more than 110,000 fans for a 2016 game against Michigan.

For most of its history, night games were a rarity at Ohio Stadium, largely because the stadium didn’t have lights until a 2014 renovation. Before then, if the Buckeyes had a night game, temporary lights had to be used. In fact, that wasn’t even an option until 1985 when Ohio Stadium hosted a night game for the first time.

During football games at Ohio Stadium, the OSU marching band is almost as entertaining as the game itself. The band is known as the Best Damn Band in the Land and begins the fun two hours before kickoff with a pep rally known as the Skull Session. The band will also take the field and spell out “Ohio” in cursive, including the dot above the 'i.' The Buckeyes have also invited plenty of A-list celebrities to come to Columbus and serve as the dot.

Of course, while the band is a big draw at Ohio Stadium, football is still the main attraction. In the roughly century-long history of the stadium, the best game has to be the 2006 battle between Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the country heading into the game while the Wolverines were ranked second. The pre-game hype was incredible and the game lived up to it. The Buckeyes got off to a fast start and managed to withstand a furious comeback by Michigan. Ohio State won 42-39 to clinch the Big Ten title and earn a spot in the National Championship Game.

3. Tiger Stadium, LSU

Technically, there are two stadiums in college football that go by the name death valley, but Tiger Stadium on the LSU campus is the larger of the two. Several rounds of expansions after the stadium first opened in 1924 have given Tiger Stadium a capacity of 103,321. As of 2020, the Bayou Bengals have hit that mark 11 times.

Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant called Tiger Stadium “the worst place in the world for a visiting team, it’s like being inside a drum." It’s also worth noting that came from a coach who was 14-2 in visits to Death Valley. The noise inside the stadium, particularly for LSU night games, is second to none among college football venues. In fact, during a 1988 game against Auburn, the geology building on the LSU campus detected an earthquake at the moment that the Bayou Bengals scored their only touchdown of the game in a 7-6 win.

Needless to say, going to a game at Tiger Stadium is a massive event. For night games, tailgating begins as early as eight in the morning. The attire for tailgate parties and football games at LSU is casual and the food is incredible. Tigers fans usually cook up local Cajun favorites from gumbo to jambalaya to crawfish. If that’s not enough, LSU has an actual tiger named Mike who serves as the team’s mascot. The tiger used to be in a cage that the visiting team passed by when taking the field, which was a form of intimidation. That’s no longer the tradition, but fans can see Mike the Tiger at his on-campus home.

Tiger Stadium is such a special place that books have been written about why it’s such an incredible venue, especially at night. While the so-called “Earthquake Game” was memorable, the greatest game in Tiger Stadium history came on Halloween night in 1959 when the top-ranked Tigers hosted No. 3 Ole Miss. LSU got an incredible 89-yard punt return for a touchdown from Billy Cannon for the only touchdown of the game. With a 7-3 lead, the LSU defense made a goal-line stand in the final moments to win what many at the time called the game of the century.

2. Beaver Stadium, Penn State

Beaver Stadium is the second-largest college football stadium and one of the most popular, often being voted the best venue in college athletics by fan polls. It’s on the Penn State campus in the middle of what the locals call Happy Valley. When it first opened in 1960, Beaver Stadium had a capacity of just over 46,000 fans. However, today the official capacity is 106,572 with the record attendance for the stadium being more than 110,000 fans.

While there are plenty of beavers in Pennsylvania, the stadium does not get its name from the animal. Rather, it was named after James A. Beaver, who hails from central Pennsylvania and once served as the President of PSU’s Board of Trustees. The home of Penn State football from 1909 to 1959 was called New Beaver Field, also in Governor Beaver’s honor.

The stadium’s unusual name aside, the fans at Beaver Stadium play a huge role in making this such a special venue. For starters, tailgating before games is prevalent and encouraged by the university. Plus, the Nittany Lion faithful is amazing at coming up with traditions. In 2005, they began the trend of having a “White Out” for big games, imploring everyone in attendance to wear white. While Penn State may have borrowed/stolen the phrase from the Winnipeg Jets, the initial White Out at Beaver Stadium was a huge success as the stands were just a sea of white that helped the Nittany Lions defeat Ohio State. That was the same game that the tradition of playing the song “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation caught on every time the Penn State defense makes a big play, creating utter hysteria in the stands.

Admittedly, it’s tough to top some of the White Out tilts Penn State has had in recent, the best game in Beaver Stadium history came back in 1982. At the time, the Nittany Lions were No. 8 in the country and playing host to No. 2 Nebraska. At the time, this game set a record crowd with over 85,000 in attendance. Penn State took a 14-0 lead early, only to see Nebraska jump ahead 24-21 with less than two minutes left in the game. With no timeouts, PSU quarterback Todd Blackledge led a 65-yard scoring drive to give the Nittany Lions a 27-24 win.

The Nittany Lions lost the next week to Alabama but ran the table the rest of the season, ultimately winning the national championship for the first time. That title would not have been possible without the win over Nebraska at Beaver Stadium.

1. Michigan Stadium, Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines have the largest stadium in college football and the largest stadium in the country for that matter. In fact, only Sardar Patel Stadium in India and Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in North Korea hold more people than Michigan Stadium, which is why it’s known as The Big House. Officially, the capacity is set at 107,601 fans, but the attendance record at Michigan Stadium is over 115,000.

Somewhere in the stadium is a seat that stays empty all of the time. The empty seat honors Fritz Crisler, a former Michigan coach and athletic director. Among Crisler’s accomplishments are designing Michigan’s helmets and being the first coach to use a different set of players for offense and defense. While the location of the “one extra seat” is a mystery, there’s little reason to doubt its existence. In fact, the reason for Michigan Stadium’s official attendance being 107,601 rather than 107,600 is the existence of the seat that remains reserved for Crisler.

With Michigan Stadium regularly attracting over 100,000 fans at games, it’s not hard to locate a tailgate party. However, the largest collection of tailgate parties can be found on the University of Michigan Gold Course, which isn’t far from the stadium. Naturally, parking near the stadium can be difficult and costly. Fortunately, Ann Arbor is often listed as one of the most “walkable” cities in the country, so parking far away at a reasonable price and going for a nice stroll around town isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are also plenty of places to stop on Main Street after the game. As long as you’re dressed in yellow and blue, you should have no trouble fitting in with the crowd.

Unlike most college football programs, night games are a rare and special event at Michigan Stadium, which makes them stand out even more. With that in mind, it’s obvious that the greatest game in Michigan Stadium history came in 2011 against rival Notre Dame. The Wolverines trailed 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter, only to take the lead with 1:12 left. However, Notre Dame struck back right away to retake the lead. A big play got Michigan within range for the game-tying field goal with eight seconds left. But the Wolverines threw the ball to the end zone to take a 35-31 lead with two ticks left on the clock.

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