At the heart of any college football game, there is the tailgate. With backyard burgers, loud music and TVs, and fans of all ages, nothing brings together a college town quite like a tailgating experience. But what are the best schools for tailgating? We decided to seek them out for the fifth year in a row.
Because we want to spread the love, for 2017 we increased our ranking of the best colleges for tailgating from 25 to 30. With that new, higher number, we’ve added nine new schools to our ranking thanks to a combination of your survey feedback and our own research. Football giants like Notre Dame and Ohio State University have made the list, and newcomers like the University of Nebraska, Iowa State University, and the University of Oregon also get to shine after The Daily Meal readers raved about their pre-game festivities.
Did your alma mater make the list? Click through to find out!
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Gamecock fans literally take the party to the streets. With a stadium located off campus, game days can get rowdy. Fans chow down on bacon-wrapped hot dogs and wash them down with apple pie moonshine. But the coolest part of the University of South Carolina’s tailgate scene 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 wishlist.
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McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, may be small in size but it’s one that shouldn’t be missed. Parking spots fill up fast at this drive-in tailgate where Green Terror fans can drive up to the ridge that overlooks the field. This means that you can tailgate while you are watching the game, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
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Tailgates at Notre Dame start the night before the big games with a pep rally and a midnight marching band drummer’s circle to get you extra pumped. After a brief respite from Friday’s festivities, on Saturday, Fighting Irish fans are anything but punchy. There’s a meet and greet with the players two hours before the game and multiple tailgates across campus with family, friends, and tailgating classics like burgers, hot dogs, and sausages. Of course, there’s also plenty of beer. What Irish party would be complete without that?
Nestled in the upstate of South Carolina, Clemson University is a picturesque setting for an on-campus tailgate. Luckily, Tigers fans are more than willing to take in the sights and the activities of a good tailgate. Fried chicken — be it KFC, Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, or homemade — is a must for this Southern school. With a vibe that’s been likened to a family reunion, Clemson tailgates are filled with tents, games, music, and the kind of fellowship that only Southern hospitality can bring.
One of the key things that makes the University of Washington’s tailgate so unique is the ability to party on land and water. There are two huge parking lots with plenty of space for cooking, but the stadium is right next to Lake Washington, so the real way to party is to swap your tailgate for a “sailgate.” Tailgating on a yacht? Yes, please! Embrace the water with a seafood-inspired menu with plenty of fried fish and salmon. Just don’t forget to layer up and warm up with shots of Fireball.
University of Tennessee students have such a strong allegiance to the school and its tailgating traditions that even parents of former students return long after their kids have graduated. Neyland Stadium is right on the Tennessee River, so since the creation of the Vol Navy in 1962, Volunteer fans have been able to party on the water. The floating tailgaters make the most of their water-based location by making their own waterslides off the edges of the boats. The Tennessee fans don’t skimp on food, either: While feasting on elaborate Southern spreads, they sip on a classic Knoxville Ice Pick cocktail, which is made of vodka, iced tea, and lemon juice.
Getting a spot for an Auburn tailgate can be a difficult task, so you need to be sure to reserve it early. Once there, you’ll find friendly Tigers fans with locally catered tailgates highlighting regional dishes and classic grilled foods. Come dressed in your finest blue and orange garments, bring a cooler with your favorite beer, and stroll around. You’ll always be invited in to another tailgate and can make fast friends.
At Oklahoma State University tailgates, you’ll find a sea of orange-clad Cowboy alumni and current students reuniting and coming together to sing “The Waving Song” (many, many times). The food spread is fit for true cowboys, with plenty of melt-in-your mouth barbecue, slow-cooked brisket, and plenty of smoked meats.
Iowa State University tailgates have whatever you may want at them. If you’re looking for family-friendly activities, the school will often have inflatables and fun areas for smaller children. If you’re looking to party, then you’ve also definitely found your school. Cyclones fans flood the tailgating area and aren’t afraid to drink plenty of beer and wine.
The band leads the way to Slayter Center to get Boilermaker fans amped up for the game, while the lot overflows with spirited fans. The mindset at Purdue is all about the tailgate party. Don your black and gold for some good old casual fun; no need to dress up here. 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 get super dressed up) that lasts all day.
Razorback fans know to set up a tailgate in style. After all, the campus caters to organized tailgaters by offering fans a chance to reserve a spot in the 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. Sounds easy and elegant to us!
Baylor University’s new stadium has transformed this Texan tailgate into a stunning sailgate on the Brazos River. However, if boating isn’t your thing, you can still make the most of this Southern tailgate: Rent an RV and get grilling. Classic Texas-style burgers and hot dogs are everywhere at Baylor’s pre-game parties.
Florida State University and the University of Florida have such a rivalry that the main event at FSU’s tailgate is roasting an alligator. FSU fans always host a gator roast to celebrate their team, but if that isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There are plenty of other tents of fans and alumni cooking up ribs and other barbecue classics, all washed down with plenty of beer.
On University of Texas game days, the whole city becomes a fan zone. Take your pick from all the great food and music available in the Texas capital prior to the game, and choose between a rowdy country-and-western bar on Sixth Street, a local beer garden like Scholz Garten, or one of the city's many excellent barbecue joints or Tex-Mex restaurants. Of course, there’s a classic tailgate on campus itself with semi-professional superfans, coolers that are longer than your body stacked with brewskis, and plenty of "Texas, Fight!" calls.
For Buckeye fans, tailgating is an all-day event that takes over the Ohio capital of Columbus. Before the big game at Ohio Stadium, the OSU marching band holds a “Skull session” in the basketball arena to get fans pumped. From there, a sea of scarlet and grey takes over Columbus with every bar playing the game. And of course, no Ohio tailgate would be complete without the state’s signature candy: the buckeye.
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Texas A&M University’s tailgates are so legendary their fans are called the “12th man.” Things start long before kickoff with the “Midnight Yell” on Kyle Field. Texas A&M has many tailgating traditions, such as the giant maroon tailgating buses arrayed around campus and the Corps of Cadets March-In, which always happens just over an hour before the game starts.
After bar hopping all morning, Cornhusker fans flood to the tailgating area of campus to be greeted by the football players two-and-a-half hours before the game and the marching band 60 minutes before kickoff. While tailgating in Lincoln, these Midwesterners dine on tailgating classics like bratwurst and wings as well as local favorites like Valentino’s Pizza and burgers from Runza.
Up to 5,000 fans can celebrate at the largest indoor tailgate in the country at The Moshofksy Center at the University of Oregon. Inside, plenty of beer, wine, food, and music flows as Duck cheerleaders get the fans pumped for the big game. And game day in Eugene is loud. Because of the unusual acoustics of the stadium, game day gets rowdy fast.
Hours before kickoff, USC fans flood the spacious Trousdale area to set up for a raucous day. Here you’ll find ballpark-style, family-friendly food trucks serving classics like nachos, grilled sliders, and hot dogs. Fans always follow the band as it plays around campus before kicking the flagpole at the edge of campus for good luck.
South Carolina State tailgates involve high-quality food and warm, welcoming Bulldog fans who will let you join them for a day of food and fun. Elaborate spreads are enjoyed in a warm, welcoming environment, which is wonderfully family-friendly.
The Gators partying kicks off at “The Swamp” and keeps going all. night. long. A Gator tailgate is a huge affair with fans wearing extravagant orange and blue tailgate garb. The tastiest fried Southern food is enjoyed by the whole town, as well as the out-of-towners who’ve come in just for the game.
University of Missouri tailgate is a boozy, rowdy party. Head to “the jungle” located at the top of the field, where the crowd is young and boisterous, the food and drinks flow freely, and there’s lots of space for cooking, too. If you’re after a more family-friendly vibe, head to the Mizzou Experience at the Hearnes Fieldhouse where there is plenty of catered food, in case you don’t want to bother with hosting your own tailgate.
The Roll Tide tailgates at Tucaloosa are a busy affair. Game day celebrations typically begin early at “The Quads,” located near the stadium. This area will be packed with grills cooking up classics like hamburgers and hot dogs. The signature Yellowhammer Slammer cocktail served at Gallette’s is an essential feature. This lethal drink is made of vodka, rum, amaretto, orange juice, and pineapple juice, and is served in a 20-ounce cup. Make sure you don’t miss the Elephant Stomp pep rally. The Million Dollar Band, which plays before and during the game, always meets an hour before the game on the stairs of the Gorgas Library and then marches to the president’s mansion to perform before the game begins. After the game, fans looking to continue the party head to Dreamland Bar-B-Que, where the festivities run late into the night.
The University of Wisconsin is located in downtown Madison, which means there’s not much space for partying. However, the lack of space is made up for by the numerous pubs and bars that open their doors to Badger fans. On Breese Terrace, more than 30 residences will be blasting music and grilling some of your favorite tailgating foods such as burgers, brats, and grilled shrimp prior to kick off. For a more drink-focused party, head over to Jordan’s Big Ten Pub, which turns its parking lot into a beer garden on game days. Lucky’s has a similar beer-centric set-up, and is also famous for its burgers and brats.
The University of Michigan’s tailgates start as soon as the parking lot opens at 7 a.m. Fans watch the spectacular drumline step show, which really gets everyone psyched up before the game. The tailgating area is a spacious lot where Wolverine fans have plenty of space to cook and party. Many fans hang out at the local Quickie Burger, which is conveniently located on the way to the stadium and serves breakfast all day — the perfect boost to help keep you going for the whole game.
At 7 a.m. on game day you’ll find Bulldog fans at the University of Georgia setting up. They’ll start grilling straight away, and will carry on serving up chicken and cheeseburger sliders, and lots of spinach and artichoke dip, right until kickoff. If you want to focus on drinking, fans can head to any of the surrounding game-day-friendly bars around the college town.
For one of the most amazing tailgate experiences, you have to visit The Grove at Ole Miss. This tailgate party is taken incredibly seriously: Tented, Rebel Nation-loving fans in red, white, and blue garb fill the space, and many of them hang chandeliers and don bow ties and pearls. This tailgate party is just part of the buildup to the Walk of Champions, where players walk to the stadium through The Grove full of fans. The Ole Miss fans are incredibly proud and celebratory at every game, and here, the post-game parties never seem to end.
On game day, close to 100,000 fans swarm Nittanyville, the tent city students set up before kickoff. The crowds are crazy, the school spirit is strong, and food abounds everywhere. Besides the classic tailgate fare, Penn State “stickies” (sticky buns laced with caramelized sugar) from the Ye Olde College Diner are a game day classic.
Louisiana State University tailgates really channel that amazing Baton Rouge spirit. The tailgates are always filled with the most spectacular Creole food, from boiled crawfish to steaming gumbo to alligators. It’s not only the food that is extravagant. The tailgate setups are amazingly elaborate — it often feels like people’s homes have been moved into the parking lot. This level of comfort and the quantities of amazing food perhaps explain why the party doesn’t stop at any point throughout the day or night. Before the game, the fans get riled up by the LSU band as it marches down the hill to the stadium, making sure everybody is ready for the game.