August 21, 2005

No place like home

The stadiums have been cleaned, the gridirons groomed and the fields painted. In less than two weeks, fanatics all over the nation will begin to file into their home venues.

But all stadiums were not created equal, and some teams will have competitive advantages when playing at home this season. Though sheer attendance numbers help, it's all about quality - not quantity - when it comes to home field advantage in Division I football.

How hard is it for opponents to infiltrate your stadium in mass? How often do the games sell out? And - forget rivalry games - how loud and nasty does the crowd get for the season-opening cupcakes?

After taking all of these things into account, here are the top 10 home field advantages in college football.

1. Lane Stadium (Virginia Tech)
Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., doesn't blow people away by the brute strength of a massive stadium, but with knowledgeable fans that always reach a frenzied pitch at the right time, the Hokies make the most of their numbers.

Every good stadium has at least one end designed for deafening noise levels, and the enclosed South End Zone at Lane Stadium fits the bill perfectly. Holding more than 11,000 screaming Virginia Tech fans, the section amplifies noise and renders audibles useless. That's not to mention the isolation factor. With the nearest major airport nearly 45 minutes away, opponents' fans are never out in force at Lane Stadium.

The X-factor: Beamer Ball
The hard-nosed Hokies are never outhustled. With the most intense special teams unit in college football year-in and year-out -- not to mention the defense's penchant for scoring points -- there's never a dull moment at a game in Blacksburg.
Capacity: 66,233

2. Tiger Stadium (LSU)
Boasting some of the most hardcore tailgaters in the nation, Baton Rouge is filled with tens of thousands of purple and gold-clad fans by Friday afternoon. An estimated 120,000 fanatics take part in pre-game festivities as the excitement crescendoes until the game's conclusion.

Once inside the stadium, LSU fans don't sit on their hands. With the seats wrapping completely around the field, 'Death Valley' is arguably the loudest venue in college football. Former Alabama coach Paul Bryant may have put it best, saying, "Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team. It's like being inside a drum."

Death Valley isn't going to get any quieter anytime soon, either. For starters, an ongoing renovation, which should be completed during the season, will push the capacity to more than 92,000. Also, the Tigers carry a 10-game home winning streak into the 2005 season.

The X-factor: Night Games
With its home games often firing up around 7 p.m., LSU's fans have all day to get themselves marinated for the big game. By the time kickoff comes, they're ready to roar.
Capacity: 91,209

3. Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)
The Horseshoe is easily one of the most recognizable venues in college football. It's actually listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. More than just a landmark, though, The Horseshoe's double-deck design keeps the fans close to the field and amplifies the sound in the stadium. The Block "O" student section on the enclosed side is absolutely deafening, even during less important games.

Gamedays at Ohio State have it all - the tailgating, The Best Damn Band in the Land and the tens of thousands of frenzied fans build one of the richest traditions in American sports. And when it all comes together inside the stadium, the Buckeyes' have one of the largest and most intimidating home crowds in college football.

The X-factor: The Pride of the Buckeyes
Ohio State's 225-member all-brass marching band, dates all the way back to 1879. Perhaps best known for Script Ohio and the dotting of the 'i,' few bands can fire up both the players and the fans like the Buckeyes'.
Capacity: 102,329

4. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Florida)
It's possible that no college football venue is more intimidating than the house that Steve Spurrier built, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Better known as 'The Swamp,' the stadium has seen more home victories since 1990 than has any other stadium in the SEC. In fact, the Florida Gators rank third in the nation with a .880 home winning percentage during that span.

Ranked by some publications to have the nation's top gameday crowd, the Gators have sold out 96 consecutive home games. And the capacity crowds in Gainesville know how to get rowdy. Silent snap counts are a must for visitors in The Swamp, but if the noise doesn't get to opponents, the heat and humidity will.

The X-factor: Stadium dimensions
The venue wastes no space in cramming nearly 90,000 sweaty, screaming fans into The Swamp, as the fans are a scant 10 feet away from the field in some areas. Talk about up close and personal.
Capacity: 88,548

5. Beaver Stadium (Penn State)
As the second-largest college football stadium in the country, Beaver Stadium is one of the most impressive structures in college football. Even though the student body only has 34,000 undergraduate students, the Nittany Lions still regularly play in front of more than 100,000 fans.

Though Beaver Stadium's attendance numbers are impressive in their own right, the proof of true home field advantage lies in football records. In the last 44 years, Penn State has won 79 percent of their home games. The pregame 'bull in the ring' drill-- performed by defensive backs and linebackers -- always serves to get the crowd rowdy. And the PA system's lion roar, one of the first good stadium sound effects, still gets fans pumped up.

The X-factor: Joe Paterno
Paterno and Penn State football go hand in hand. That's what happens when a coach sticks with a program for 55 years. Paterno has amassed 343 victories in 39 seasons as the Nittany Lions' head coach. Though recent seasons haven't been kind to the coach, JoePa is undeniably one of the greatest coaches of our time.
Capacity: 107,282

6. Autzen Stadium (Oregon)
Arguably the toughest place to play college football on the West Coast, Autzen Stadium has only seen eight Ducks losses in the last eight years. And when considering the up-and-down nature of the Oregon program in that span, the .833 home winning percentage is even more impressive.

The fans at the Autzen Zoo are noisy, wild and obnoxious - in short, they're everything college fanatics should be. With an enrollment of just over 20,000 students, though, most of the Ducks' seats are filled by alums that can be just as jovially hostile as their younger counterparts.

The X-factor: Exceeding capacity
Ducks' fans have a unique ability to cram more people into Autzen than the fire marshal would approve of. Last season Oregon averaged more than 58,000 attendees per home game, which is 107.5 percent of Autzen's capacity.
Capacity: 54,000

7. Kyle Field (Texas A&M)
Some might call 80,000 kissing, roaring, whoop-hollering fans a bit odd, but to the Texas A&M Aggies, it's called home. No fan base in the nation is more rabid than the Aggies'. And considering the stiff competition in college football, that says something. Where else can you find 40,000 students gather at midnight before the game for yell practice?

The only knock against Kyle Field is the lack of consistent sellouts. But even when the stadium is thousands of fans short of capacity, Aggies fans make up for it in spirit. The only time the home crowd sits down from kickoff to final whistle is during the opposing band's halftime show. And with a .830 winning percentage at Kyle Field since 1990, it's tough to dispute A&M's domination in College Station.

The X-factor: Tradition
Tradition is the key word with Kyle Field. Silver Taps, the 12th man, the Elephant Walk, the Aggie Muster - the list goes on and on. The Aggies have gone so far as to build a scoreboard facing their mascots' graves so that the deceased Reveilles can "watch" the game.
Capacity: 82,600

8. Camp Randall Stadium (Wisconsin)
Located in the middle of one of the best college towns in America, Camp Randall Stadium isn't the biggest venue in the Big Ten, but it is one of the best. Badgerland boasts a fraternity-party atmosphere in a crowd which has doubled in size during the Barry Alvarez era. After an addition which added more than 4,000 seats in 2004, Wisconsin sold out all six home games before the first kickoff last season.

Camp Randall was originally a Civil War training ground for 70,000 Union soldiers. How's that for the history of a gridiron battlefield? The intimidation starts early, as the visiting players must pass through the student section when they enter the field. Recent renovations enclosed the stadium completely, so Camp Randall is now louder than ever.

The X-factor: The Fifth Quarter
When the game is over in Madison, the party is only just beginning. Even if the game is a lopsided loss, the sizable student section sticks around for the famed "Fifth Quarter." The band comes back onto the field to play while the students dance, sing and imbibe.
Capacity:82,368

9. Doak Campbell Stadium (Florida State)
Though it may lack some of the ancient history of the other venues on this list, there's little doubt that Doak Campbell Stadium ranks at the top in intimidation factor. It's just nearly impossible to focus when 80,000 Seminoles fans are screaming the infamous Florida State warchant.

And the stats can't be ignored, either, including a 10-year, 54-game unbeaten streak at home at one stage. They've also been to 23 straight bowl games on the strength of a national best .888 home winning percentage during that span. Though it isn't at its loudest against lesser foes, few stadiums in the South can get as noisy as Doak Campbell during a rivalry game.

The X-factor: Chief Osceola
Though the tradition has been axed in recent years in the name of good sportsmanship, who can forget Chief Osceola planting a flaming spear directly in front of the opposing bench while riding Renegade? Now Florida State fans have to settle for the fiery spear being planted at midfield. It's still one of the game's best traditions.
Capacity: 82,300

10. Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn)
Starting out as a 7,500-seat venue, Jordan-Hare Stadium has come a long way since its opening in 1939. There's no question that definitive home field advantages played a large part in Auburn's perfect 2004 season. And those who attended the game against Georgia last November will swear that the atmosphere was undoubtedly one of the best in the history of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Besides the impressive noise and intensity level inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on gamedays, the Tigers are just downright hard to beat at home, too. Auburn boasts a .798 winning percentage at home over the last 65 years.

The X-factor: City-sized crowd
Just how huge is the support for Auburn football? Consider this: On Saturdays during the fall in Auburn, Jordan-Hare stadium becomes Alabama's fifth-largest city.
Capacity: 87,451



 

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