The space between Cleveland and Pittsburgh is awfully quiet, but there is some life in the otherwise sleepy town of Kent when gameday arrives. Kent State University is located ten miles outside of Akron, making the Zips their most heated rival. The Golden Flashes have their home in Dix Stadium. It very recently was renovated with an impressive press box, jumbotron, and training facilities.
Fondly called “The Shoe,” Ohio Stadium ranks as one of the most powerful sporting venues in the country. It’s dumbfounding enough just gazing at the vast amount of red and hearing the band blast “Across the Field” and “Hang on Sloopy.”
Even though Lexington lies on the northern portion of SEC country, the southern flavor still lives strongly in Kentucky. The scenery toward Lexington is what one might expect with rolling hills giving way to fenced in horse pastures. Additionally, the fans might be what most expect as hoards of devoted tailgaters surround the stadium and songs like, “Shootin’ Rabbits With a 22,” tend to remind visitors that they are in the south. The wide mass of fans dressed in blue moves like ocean waves toward Commonwealth Stadium to watch the band perform its traditional parade around the stadium prior to kickoff. Kentucky’s band bangs out “Kentucky Fight” while fans stop to cheer along.
Friendliness comes to mind when mentioning Penn State and Beaver Stadium. Happy Valley is a joyous place for the home team, and outside of a few conference rivals, it’s a welcoming spot for visiting fans, as well. Perhaps it’s because Nittany Lion fans know that wherever these fans came from, they must have traveled a tremendous distance. University Park, Pennsylvania is hidden in a valley amongst the Allegheny Mountains and the famous Mount Nittany. Lion fans arrive days before kickoff parking their RVs in the many open grass lots around the 100,000+ seat arena. Tailgating at Penn State is tops in the Big Ten conference. Fans start early and celebrate late.
Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio is another hidden gem of college football that few people know about. Only an hour south of Columbus, Athens appears as a cute brick laden college community, but only after the highway dwindles from three lanes, to two, and down to one. The campus is visible from the highway and as soon as the exit for Ohio U is reached, the stadium appears in the near distance. Tents lined up across the street and adjacent to the Hocking River host tailgaters that sprinkle the lawns with enthusiasm. Just a short drive from the stadium is Court Street – an all brick road brimming with fans weaving in and out of shops and filling up on novelties and gear for gameday. Ohio is known for its party-school status and traces of this were evident along Court Street.
Central Michigan University is an unexpected surprise hidden among the nothingness in the middle of Michigan. Driving into Mount Pleasant provides immediate clues that you have arrived onto a college campus. Folks decked in maroon and gold trickle around the area and it all flows toward Kelly Shorts Stadium where just outside awaits a massive party in preparation for game action. Live bands, loud music, dancing on trucks, and other common college behavior electrifies the area around the stadium. It’s a concentrated gaggle of young adults crammed together making it difficult to walk through and get to the stadium.
Lost between the shadows of Michigan Stadium’s 111,000 seat “Big House” and the metropolitan area of Detroit, Rynearson Stadium sits quietly off the campus of Eastern Michigan University. With the Wolverines only ten minutes away, EMU really gets lost in the shuffle. It’s almost like a gathering place where fans who couldn’t get a ticket to the Michigan game can chat about the Big Ten.
The smoke off the mountains welcomes visitors to Knoxville. These massive natural structures highlight the beauty of this Tennessee town. The Tennessee River that runs along Neyland Stadium adds to this picturesque venue and is the site of a tradition known as the Volunteer Navy. Here, a bevy of boats of all sizes line up along the river side to engage in pregame tailgating. Neyland Stadium is one of only two stadiums accessible by boat, and Vol fans have turned this into one of college football’s most unique traditions.
Although Missouri football lacks a bit in tradition compared to its SEC siblings, Memorial Stadium offers plenty of atmosphere. Driving along Stadium Boulevard, parked cars are lined up for miles creating a pathway to the stadium. Welcoming fans into the arena is a large statue of Don Faurot for whom the field is named after. Faurot coached at Missouri and left a great legacy during the mid 1900s. However, the fans have seen mounds of frustration over the years and their mood reflects that.
Nebraska fans are billed as being some of the most knowledgeable and respectful in the country. Memorial Stadium is noted as being a top ten stadium to visit on a college football Saturday. The stories about Nebraska’s devotion to their athletics are endless and after my experience in Lincoln, Nebraska, it can be safely said that these statements are absolutely true.