The pageantry that is college football extends beyond the games played. It begins simply with the field of play and carries into the bleachers, upon which generations of fans have willed their teams to victory and suffered in defeat. The frameworks that have contained these games, the bowls and stadia, are as much a part of the fabric if not more than the games themselves. So, hoist a glass to the 20 greatest college football venues as you fire up your grill, then take a poke around inside.
20. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, capacity 93,607
The track is gone, but the venerable building is still the only one that can lay claim to hosting two Olympic Summer Games – 1932 and 1984. Home to USC since 1923, capacity swelled to over 100,000 before benches were removed in the early 1970s and replaced by individual seats throughout most of the stadium. In addition to the Trojans, the L.A. Coliseum has been the home of UCLA, the NFL’s Rams and Raiders; it played host to the first Super Bowl (also SB VII) and the 1959 World Series.
19. The Sun Bowl, capacity 50,426
Home to the UTEP Miners, the Sun Bowl also hosts a New Year’s Eve day game by the same name. The annual contest pits a team from the Pac-12 against an at-large opponent or an affiliated conference. That will be the ACC in 2011. First opened in 1963 on the campus of then Texas Western, the Sun Bowl is nestled into a hillside on campus that forms a natural bowl. The stadium is also a half-mile from the Rio Grande River and the U.S./Mexico border.
18. West Virginia's Milan Puskar Stadium, capacity 60,000
To the locals it’s Mountaineer Field and a relative newcomer that opened in 1980 after the team outgrew its last place. Capacity ranks the highest in the Big East that is not an NFL stadium but its run in the conference could be coming to an end. Now members of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will be hosting the likes of Oklahoma and Texas on a regular basis.
17. Texas' Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, capacity 100,119
Football in the state of Texas has long run through Austin, where the Longhorns call home. From the old Southwest Conference days that led to a Cotton Bowl berth to the latest iteration of the Big 12, Texas is part of the conversation. As much a piece of Austin as the City Limits, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium opened in 1924.
16. Oklahoma's Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, capacity 82,112
That sound you hear is the full-throated roar from a crimson-clad crowd in Norman as the Boomer Schooner rolls across the field. A regular entrant in the BCS sweepstakes, Oklahoma is no stranger to the lore of college football either as owners of the longest winning streak in the sport – 47 games. That was under Bud Wilkinson from 1953-57. Five Heisman Trophy winners were Sooners.
15. Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, capacity 88,548
As nicknames go, Florida’s home field would suggest a place best left to the Alligatoridae, but “The Swamp” is revered by the football cognoscenti of Gainesville. And as such, the Gators have adopted a reputation as predator in the perennially tough Southeastern Conference. Three Heisman Trophy winners (all quarterbacks) have played for Florida -- Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow -- and the school has three national titles played largely on a field that opened in 1930.
14. Clemson's Memorial Stadium, capacity 81,473
It starts with a nickname and usually ends with a home team victory as Clemson has enjoyed “Death Valley” since upending Presbyterian College, 32-13, in 1942. Legend points to an adjacent cemetery and the Presbyterian coach for coining the name Death Valley, but it firmly took root under Tigers coach Frank Howard who reportedly was given a rock by a Clemson alumnus from -- yes, Death Valley, Calif. That rock, “Howard’s Rock,” is a central piece of Clemson football tradition.
13. LSU's Tiger Stadium, capacity 92,542
When a crowd can post a number on the local seismograph, that’s home field advantage, but that is exactly what happened in 1988 as LSU downed Auburn, 7-6, on a late touchdown pass from Tommy Hodson to Eddie Fuller. The on-campus stadium also housed student dorms until the early 1990s as part of a stadium improvement deal shepherded by legendary Louisiana governor Huey Long. The Tigers' lone Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, helped lead LSU to its first national championship following the 1958 season. His No. 20 was the only Tigers jersey to be retired until Tommy Casanova’s No. 37 in 2009.
12. Washington's Husky Stadium, capacity 72,500
While Tennessee has the Volunteer Navy, the local proponents in Seattle navigate Lake Washington on a course to Husky Stadium to embark on its stylized version of gameday celebrating known as “Sailgating.” Opened in 1920 with a Huskies loss to Dartmouth, the building is the last one in the Pac-12 conference with a track. Large overhangs for rain give Husky Stadium its distinctive look while views of Mount Rainier to the south and the Olympic Mountain range to the west are nonpareil.
11. Ohio Stadium, capacity 102,329
Known to many as The Horseshoe, Ohio Stadium serves as the home of the Buckeyes on the campus of The Ohio State University. Ohio State lays claim to seven national titles and has also had seven Heisman Trophy winners, including the only two-time winner -- Archie Griffin.
10. Harvard Stadium, capacity 30,323
Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, along with the Yale Bowl and the Rose Bowl, Harvard Stadium is a classic. It employs a horseshoe design and opened in 1903 as a gift from the Crimson graduating class of 1879. The first large permanent venue for American athletics, Harvard Stadium echoes both Greek and Roman architecture.
9. Penn State's Beaver Stadium, capacity 106,572
The Penn State Nittany Lions have been a prominent college football program for years and Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. is one of the leading venues to see a game throughout college athletics. Despite NCAA sanctions, the atmosphere will unlikely be diminished on Saturdays.
8. Oregon's Autzen Stadium, capacity 54,000
That sunshine on the field of Autzen is a bit misleading. Games in Eugene are often gray, cold and wet. But the Ducks have forged a nice little home on this field, and in the past few seasons have been one of the nation's best college football programs. The atmosphere at Autzen is loud and largely inhospitable to non-Ducks.
7. Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, capacity 81,067
Nebraska became the 12th member of the Big Ten in 2011. But who's counting? The Big Red held serve for many years over rivals like Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, and Texas in recent years. Now they'll be rolling out the welcome mat for the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa as they battle in the Big Ten's Legends division.
6. Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, capacity 101,821
Named for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and former Alabama University president George Hutchenson Denny, the stadium has grown considerably since opening in 1929 with seating for 12,000. The school can boast of 58 bowl appearances, the current high, but didn't have a Heisman Trophy winner until Mark Ingram in 2009.
5. Michigan Stadium, capacity 109,901
The Big House doesn't need much of an introduction. Michigan's home field was always big. Seating was estimated to be 72,000 when it opened in 1927 and since has swelled to more than 100K. One thing the largest U.S. stadium hadn't had was a Wolverine home night game. That all changed Sept. 10, 2011 when Michigan hosted Notre Dame.
4. The Rose Bowl, capacity 91,500
The seating is tight and the tunnels are narrow, but few places scream college football as loudly as the Rose Bowl. The current home field of the UCLA Bruins, the Rose Bowl opened in 1922, while its annual contest, the Rose Bowl game, was first played in 1902, hence the term "Granddaddy of Them All. "A pair of adjacent golf courses provide supreme tailgating while the weather provides the ultimate setting.
3. Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, capacity 102,455
This building may have experienced the greatest fluctuation in growth on this list, going from an estimated 3,200 when it opened in 1921 to more than 104K in 2005 and just about every iteration in between. Hard by the Tennessee River, the home of the Volunteers attracts an armada of boats to home games which adds a distinct nautical flavor to local tailgating.
2. Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, capacity 80,321
When you've said Wisconsin, you've said it all, or so a Badgers fan will tell you. Camp Randall exudes a red glow many fall Saturday afternoons as the Madison stands fill with the faithful. Good reason, too. Wisconsin has 13 bowl appearances in the last 14 seasons.
1. Notre Dame Stadium, capacity 80,795
Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen, 11 national titles and seven Heisman trophy winners -- Notre Dame is synonymous with college football and the game's best have played on this field. The Fighting Irish last won a national title in 1988 under Lou Holtz but Brian Kelly has put his team back into the national picture making Notre Dame one of the great places to watch a game.