You have to love a school whose diehard fans are the best part of any football game. Read on to discover the 25 best colleges for tailgating.
#25 South Carolina State University
Bulldog tailgates mainly made it on this list for the quality food you’ll find in the tailgating lot. Elaborate spreads are accessible in a warm, welcoming environment that makes tailgating for the whole family enjoyable. There are a few restrictions as to where you can cook, so be sure to check the lot out before you commit.
Image Credit: Flickr/mhaithaca
#24 University of Michigan
We have one thing to say about the University of Michigan’s tailgating experience: #GoBlue! Ok, we have a little more to say about it than that. The party starts when the lot opens at 7 a.m. and continues on until the beginning of the game, when dedicated fans head in for some quality field watching time. Roughly 90 minutes before the show, fans are invited in to watch the traditional drumline stepshow to get them psyched for the game. In the tailgating area, you’ll find a spacious lot where tailgaters can spread out to get their pre-game party on. On the way to the stadium, some fans hang out at the local Quickie Burger, which also serves breakfast all day for those who need a boost to last through the game. There are also plenty of surrounding spots to pick up a bite to eat if you don’t want to cook at the game.
Image Credit: Flickr/Rtreadway
#23 University of Arkansas
Razorback fans know a thing or two about how to properly tailgate a game. Tailgating setup can be stressful, but when you are a pro like any Razorback fan is, you can set yourself up in style. After all, the campus caters to organized tailgaters by offering fans a chance to reserve a spot in their Victory Village lot. Fans can rent everything from a simple space to a huge tent that includes four tables and 20 chairs. All you have to do is show up. They even offer a catering service so your game-day meals can be supplied as well if you don't want to cook yourself.
Image Credit: Flickr/weretable
#22 University of Virginia
Look at the stands at the University of Virginia's home game and all you’ll see is a sea of orange and blue. Students, known as Wahoos, gather around the grounds for a spirited tailgate full of fun, and palpable school pride. Hanging out on the Lawn is great for laid-back tailgating. Then there is Rugby Road, a row of fraternity homes once dubbed by Playboy Magazine as the site of "the best party in America." The party has been tamed, but the wild spirit still exists.
Image Credit: Flickr/Mister Speed on the
#21 Arizona State University
Sun Devil fans are not shy about their school pride. At the game itself, there is a section dubbed "the inferno,” where fans go to bleed gold and cheer loud. The party starts five hours prior to kick-off and tailgaters are welcome to grill (propane tanks only on the roof) and guzzle beer and wine. Near the school, tailgaters can take the party to any number of the surrounding bars for a rowdy, football-loving’ good time.
Image Credit: Flickr/CEBImagery
#20 Northwestern University
Back in the glory days, Northwestern’s ability to tailgate was unrivaled — so much so that the school had to put a cap on the partying. Since then the tailgates have gotten tamer, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a blast. In fact, the school even has a Northwestern University Tailgating Society, which ensures that the good times keep rolling.
Image Credit: Flickr/Part of Five
#19 University of Kansas
The University of Kansas’ atmosphere is alive with Hawk pride, and tailgates here involve a whole town of celebration. While the fun stays family-friendly for the most part, the students and alumni know how to cut loose for a good time. Hospitality on the Hill, a tailgating organization that provides rentals and catering, is a guaranteed way to make KU tailgate a success!
Image Credit: Flickr/Proforged
#18 Florida State University
What could be more hardcore than cooking and eating your mascot? Florida State University’s Seminoles fans always host an alligator roast to celebrate their football team. Plus there are a ton of tents and grills fired up for a good time in the surrounding lots.
Image Credit: Editorial/Thinkstock
#17 Ohio State University
When an Ohio State University game is going on, the whole town pitches in to celebrate, especially when facing their arch-nemesis, the University of Michigan Wolverines. Despite the fact that Buckeye fans’ tradition of getting drunk and jumping into the Mirror Lake is totally frowned upon (not to mention dangerous), the spirit of their tailgate goes far beyond that. Surrounded by college-friendly bars and fully loaded tailgate lots, a Buckeye tailgate is full of fun for all.
Image Credit: Flickr/JyChen
#16 University of Georgia
This tailgate is all about the party all the time. With a great atmosphere, Bulldogs fans can start setting up as early as 7 a.m. and proceed to grill and party until the start of the game in their spacious tailgating lots. Plus, Bulldog fans who are of age can hang at any of the surrounding game-day friendly bars around this college town to keep the party going.
Image Credit: Flickr/Pzed
#15 Oklahoma State University
At Oklahoma State University, there is no shortage of fun, especially when homecoming time rolls around. Not only is Oklahoma chock-full of enthusiastic school spirit, its traditions are carried out with pride when it comes to tailgating; you’ll catch both alumni and current students belting out "The Waving Song” and indulging in a tented tailgating good time.
Image Credit: Flickr/Ensign
#14 Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University is one of the schools to envy when it comes to a killer tailgate. The celebration begins many hours before kickoff, thanks to the "Midnight Yell" on Kyle Field. But Texas A&M has other rich traditions unlike any other school to make way for game day, including the giant maroon tailgating buses arrayed around campus and the Corps of Cadets March-In about an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.
Image Credit: Flickr/Raghu Jana
#13 University of Tennessee
A University of Tennessee tailgate is sure to have one thing: diehard fans. Their allegiance to the school and tailgating doesn’t disappear after they graduate from college. Even parents of former students return after their kids have long since left the school’s hallways. The Neyland Stadium is right on the Tennessee River, hence the "Vol Navy’s" creation back in 1962 so sea-loving tailgaters could party right on the water. Did we mention that there are waterslides? Waterslides, seriously! Plus, Tennessee fans know a thing or two about delicious tailgating tradition. In addition to elaborate Southern cooking spreads, they also enjoy a classic cocktail known as what one fan called “the Knoxville Ice Pick.” It is widely held hereabouts that you don’t know tailgate cocktails until you’ve tried this one.
Image Credit: Flickr/TripleTri
#12 University of Wisconsin
The Badgers know how to kick off a game; their pre-game parties include the entire town for a public display of fun and food. The Badger Bash Tailgate and Pro-Game Concert Party include fun for the kids as well as plenty of beer and brats for adults roughly three hours before the game. There are cheerleaders, dance teams, and of course mascot Bucky the Badger. Other organized celebrations like Badgerville (an open-to-the-public tailgate that features a ton of local fare) and plenty of surrounding bars for viewing and brews are available to everyone who wants to really get pumped before the game.
Image Credit: Flickr/iZENstein
#11 Auburn University
Tailgating at this university takes dedication. Fans line up in their campers days before the actual kickoff. Auburn University’s school tradition of the pre-game walk with the players to the stadium, called the Tiger Walk, is one in which students and alumni proudly participate. Before the walk, fans enjoy a myriad of delicious foods and drinks in their Tiger gear, including iconic Southern barbecued pulled pork. Should the team win, Toomer’s Corner (a fanzone hotspot) will be TP-ed, so bring extra toilet paper.
Image Credit: Auburn Alumni Association
#10 University of Nebraska
Three words: Omaha Steak Dogs. This iconic food makes a frequent appearance at tailgates and totally blows average franks out of the water. With an alarming amount of food and pimped out tents, the party is pretty profound in the tailgate area. But it doesn't stop there; post-game celebrations continue at the Historic Haymarket, where fans can either drown their sorrows from a loss or keep their post-victory adrenaline rush going.
Image Credit: Flickr/Rlevans
#9 Michigan State University
With the fight song "MSU Shadows" ringing from Beaumont Tower over the crowd, Spartan fans get pumped for a day of serious tailgating. Their lots are wide, spacious, and totally packed with people looking to party and have a great time, and they are surrounded by bars to keep the post-game party going.
Image Credit: Flickr/Churl
#8 Penn State University
With close to 100,000 fans swarming the games and mulling around "Nittanyville" (formerly Paternoville), the tent city students set up before game day to get the best seats in the student section, there is no denying that this is a top place to tailgate. The crowd is rowdy, but the spirit is strong and there are tons of traditional foods to enjoy other than just your average tailgate fare. Penn State “stickies” (sticky buns laced with caramelized sugar) from the Ye Olde College Diner are a game-day must.
Image Credit: Flickr/Targuman
#7 Purdue University
The band leads the way to Slayter Center to get the Boilermakers amped up for the game, while the lot overflows with spirited fans. The mindset at Purdue? It is all about the tailgate party; don your black and gold for some good old working-class fun. Or, if you are feeling really spirited, join the Purdue "Breakfast Club." Surrounding bars open their doors to students around the campus early in the morning for a costume party (yes, people take this seriously and super dress up) that lasts all day.
Image Credit: Flickr/TownePost Network
#6 University of Florida
Partying around a place called “The Swamp” might sound like a bad idea, but if you’re a Gator, you know that this is where the party is at. A Gator tailgate just may be the biggest such affair you’ll ever go to, with dozens of out-of-towners filling up tents and RVs for a good time. Gator fans are always decked out in extravagant tailgate garb and fry up amazing Southern food for a celebration the whole town can enjoy.
Image Credit: Flickr/ChasingFun
#5 University of South Carolina
Gamecock fans literally take the party to the streets. With a stadium located off campus, game days mean rowdy fans chowing down on bacon-wrapped hot dogs and washing them down with apple-pie moonshine. But the coolest part of the University of South Carolina’s tailgate scene? It has to be the "Cockabooses.” They are repurposed, South Carolina-themed cabooses on an abandoned railroad track that are fully loaded with all the things on your tailgate wish list.
Image Credit: Flickr/Kmoliver
#4 North Dakota State University
Reserve your spot early if you are a Bison fan: things are about to get intense. With a killer marching band, an intense spread of food, and a whole lot of diehard fans, tailgating in North Dakota is an experience. The coolest part about a North Dakota State tailgate has to be their” traditions. For one, at the game, you can play a real life game of “Where’s Waldo?” by finding the one kid at the game who is dressed up like that elusive character. Deer sausage, as it is affectionately called, is a must for the menu. And Icehole (mint schnapps) is a staple. You shouldn’t have to ask about it though, because according to real fans if you need an explanation, “stay far away.”
Image Credit: Flickr/Caseyhelbling
#3 University of Southern California
Hours before kickoff, fans flood the Trousdale to set up for a wild day. Be sure to follow the band as it plays around campus and partake in the game-day tradition of kicking the flagpole at the edge of campus for good luck. The USC tailgate is only majorly amped up for UCLA games, where you’ll find plenty of UCLA teddy bears dragged around campus or hung up in trees.
Image Credit: Flickr/Neon Tommy
#2 University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
To have a tailgate experience like you’ve never had before, you have to visit The Grove at Ole Miss. Prepare for sensory overload: in addition to the miles of tented, Rebel-Nation-loving fans in red, white, and blue garb, there are folk hanging chandeliers and donning bow ties and pearls. This is one very serious party time. All of this is just a precursor to the Walk of Champions, where players walk to the stadium through The Grove full of fans on the way to victory. The spirit and pride Ole Miss fans have fills the stands and overflows outside the game for post-parties that rage on and on.
Image Credit: Flickr/Ken Lund
#1 Louisiana State University
LSU fans won our hearts by offering one of the most gourmet tailgating experiences you could have. Channeling that true Baton Rouge spirit, tailgates are overflowing with alligators and pigs on the pit, boiled crawfish, and steaming gumbo. The LSU band marches down the hill to the stadium, inciting an atmosphere of pure fun. Tailgate setups are so elaborate, you feel like a living room has moved onto the lot, which is good because you should get comfortable — the party doesn’t stop all day or all night.
Image Credit: Flickr/Rustytanton
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School unity is something that is often palpable, especially when it comes to sports. It is an energy that is hard to encapsulate into a single feeling. The bonds of pride, teamwork, and passion roll into one ball of emotion that explodes fanatically every time your team takes the field. And for colleges that live and breathe that sense of pride, tailgating isn't just a casual endeavor. It is an art form.
Tailgating is the perfect blend of fanatical sports pride, savory foods that you can't believe were cooked in the back of a truck and plenty of delicious beer (and stronger stuff). You're entertaining while being entertained, which is part of the reason that nothing compares to a college tailgate. From alumni reliving their glory days, to current students looking to have a good time, a college tailgate is an epic event for all involved. And what makes a tailgate great actually has little to do with the school's team itself.
Sure, if your team is on a winning streak, that always keeps the crowd going, but a successful tailgate is measured by far more than success on the field. It's all about traditions: war paint dutifully applied, folks who'll camp out for days waiting for the perfect spot, the expenditure of hundreds of dollars on food all season long to feed the masses and create the perfect atmosphere. Much as a team works together to win a game, the fans work together to create the perfect tailgate.
What exactly makes a tailgate one of the best in the country? We decided to do a thorough investigation that gave fans not only an opportunity to vote for their alma mater, but also to reveal their favorite tailgating traditions. To do this, we took to social media and asked the fans and followers of 70 college teams (the ones that are considered to be the best football colleges in the country) to vote in a 10-question survey.
In addition to the survey results, we factored in each school's top traditions, how many traditions there were, and how many people participated in them at each tailgate. We also took atmosphere into consideration. Were tailgate lots wide and spacious or overcrowded? Was the crowd wild and rowdy or gleefully inebriated? And just how long did the party last? Our fourth category was, of course, focused around the food and drink. We favorably marked schools that not only have iconic tailgate dishes and cocktails, but also have access to surrounding catering and bar scenes. And finally, we conducted our own editorial review, which took all of these factors into consideration, and looked at how strong the alumni and student spirit was through their social engagement and program offerings.
If you want to cheer on your favorite college football team, then, stop by one of these epic tailgates for a guaranteed good time!
Check out the slideshow above for the 25 best colleges for tailgating.