The Best Football Colleges

December 1, 2020

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Saturday football games make for some of the most memorable experiences for college students. The list below features the top football schools in the country, ranked based on factors like the average number of fans in attendance, unique football traditions, and the overall gameday experience for students, alumni, and other fans. A school's Heisman Trophy winners and conference and national championships also help set them apart as a top football school.

Top Football Colleges

The Ohio State University View School Profile Columbus, OH

The Ohio State University tops the list of the best football colleges in the country due to an incredibly dedicated fan base, success on the field, and the gameday experience. An average of more than 103,000 fans filled Ohio Stadium — known as the Horseshoe — for each home game during the 2019 season.

The Buckeyes' success has led to a record 84 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while 10 Ohio State alumni are members of the NFL Hall of Fame. The Buckeyes have also won eight national championships — the latest in 2014.

Ohio State competes in the east division of the Big Ten conference. In the last regular season game of each season, the Buckeyes face off against their archrival — the University of Michigan. The Wolverines are so detested that Buckeyes fans famously refer to them as "that team up north."

University of Alabama View School Profile Tuscaloosa, AL

No other school has had more success on the football field over the past decade than the University of Alabama. Since 2009, the Crimson Tide have won five national titles — the most recent in 2018. Overall, UA has claimed 17 national titles, winning its first in the 1925 season.

An average of just over 101,000 fans filled Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for Crimson Tide home games in 2019. The stadium is the seventh-largest in the United States.

The Crimson Tide compete in the Southeastern Conference, home to several powerhouse programs that dominate NCAA Division I football each year. UA faces top rival Auburn University in the Iron Bowl in the final regular season game each year.

Auburn University View School Profile Auburn, AL

Auburn University's highly attended games, rich traditions, and success in the competitive Southeastern Conference earn the school a place on the list of the best football colleges in the United States. The Tigers' football program dates back to 1892.

An average of nearly 86,000 fans attended Auburn's home games in 2019. Tigers fans also travel well, with more than one million fans in attendance across all the team's home and away games in 2019.

NFL teams have selected 33 Auburn players in the first round of the draft, while five have been the first overall pick. Two former Tigers are members of the NFL Hall of Fame. The Tigers have claimed five national titles, with the most recent coming with a win over the Oregon Ducks in 2010.

University of Georgia View School Profile Athens, GA

The University of Georgia's six national championships and unique gameday traditions earn the school a spot among the top football colleges in the country. The Bulldogs compete in the east division of the Southeastern Conference, facing off against rivals like the University of Florida and Auburn University.

During orientation, incoming first-year students must "Call the Dawgs" in the dining hall before they're allowed to eat. This practice pays off at home games, when the entire stadium reaches deafening levels by calling the Dawgs before each kickoff. After each home victory, students and fans take turns ringing the Chapel Bell on the school's North Campus.

The Bulldogs play at Sanford Stadium, which saw an average attendance of nearly 93,000 fans per game in 2019. UGA has also won 15 conference championships.

The Pennsylvania State University View School Profile University Park, PA

Starting about a week before most Penn State home games, a makeshift tent village known as "Nittanyville" starts to take shape outside Beaver Stadium. Students camp out to be first in line for student section tickets, provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Penn State coaches and players often stop by to greet fans.

On the field, the Nittany Lions have won two national championships and four Big Ten titles. The NFL Hall of Fame has inducted six former Penn State players.

In 2019, the school's average home attendance of nearly 106,000 fans per game ranked second nationally. More than 1.14 million Penn State fans attended home and away games that season. For the biggest home games, Penn State fans all wear white to create a "white-out" effect in the stands.

Louisiana State University View School Profile Baton Rouge, LA

LSU features the most well-traveled fans across all football colleges. In 2019, more than 1.28 million Tigers fans attended home and away games, leading the nation. The university's average home attendance that season was just over 100,000 fans per game.

Tiger Stadium, known as "Death Valley" across the college football world, gets fans into the action with famous chants and cheers. LSU defeated Clemson in the 2019 NCAA championship game for the Tigers' fourth national title. The Tigers' active all-time record of 812-416-47 is among the best in college football history.

NFL teams have selected 41 Tigers in the first round of the draft. Three of them, including quarterback Joe Burrow in 2020, were the first overall pick.

Clemson University View School Profile Clemson, SC

Clemson University features a variety of gameday traditions that provide countless memories and experiences for students and fans alike. Known as the "most exciting 25 seconds in football," Tigers players run down The Hill before each home game to the roar of the Memorial Stadium crowd. Players also touch Howard's Rock on their way down for good luck.

Clemson fans turn out for home games, with an average attendance of nearly 81,000 fans in 2019. Head Coach Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to considerable success on the field over the past several years, winning national championships in 2016 and 2018. Clemson has won 19 total Atlantic Coast Conference titles, including five straight from 2015-2019.

University of Michigan View School Profile Ann Arbor, MI

As of the end of the 2019 season, the University of Michigan Wolverines had won 962 football games — the most among NCAA Division I football teams.

The Wolverines play their home games in Michigan Stadium, known as the "Big House." The stadium — the largest in the United States — can seat up to 115,000 spectators. In 2019, Michigan ranked first in the nation in home attendance at nearly 111,500 fans per game.

Michigan's fight song, "The Victors," is one of the most recognized fight songs in the nation. The song originated after an 1898 win over the University of Chicago. Today, the Wolverines compete in the eastern division of the Big Ten. Each year, they take on The Ohio State University in what's known simply as "The Game" — one of the most heated rivalries in college football.

University of Texas at Austin View School Profile Austin, TX

Fans dressed in burnt orange and white fill Texas Memorial Stadium each fall to cheer on their beloved Texas Longhorns. Gamedays involve decades-old traditions like the singing of "The Eyes of Texas." Attendants also cheer on Bevo, a steer that runs along the sidelines before the start of each game.

On the field, the Longhorns have claimed four national titles, with the most recent coming after a 2005 Rose Bowl victory. Texas has also won 32 conference championships. In 2019, Texas had the seventh-highest average home attendance in the nation, welcoming approximately 96,300 fans per game.

Texas competes in the Big 12 Conference. Each year, the team faces off against the University of Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown, a rivalry game played at the neutral-site Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

University of Oklahoma View School Profile Norman, OK

The University of Oklahoma's fans are some of the most passionate in the country. In 2019, an average of almost 84,000 fans attended home games in Norman.

After every score, the Sooner Schooner — a smaller-sized replica of a Conestoga wagon settlers used in the 19th century — charges the field, pulled by two white ponies. OU has won seven national championships, with the most recent coming after the 2000 season. Seven Sooners have won the Heisman Trophy, including back-to-back winners in 2017 (Baker Mayfield) and 2018 (Kyler Murray).

The Sooners compete in the Big 12 Conference. Each year, they take on their biggest rival, the University of Texas, in the Red River Showdown.

Texas A&M University View School Profile College Station, TX

While Texas A&M has long ranked among the best football colleges in the nation, the program became truly top-notch upon entering the highly competitive Southeastern Conference in 2012.

The Aggies' most famous football traditions include the "Midnight Yell," where thousands of fans scream at the top of their lungs in the early morning hours before home games. There's also the annual Maroon Out, which once caused a national shortage of maroon T-shirts. The Kyle Stadium crowd is referred to as "The 12th Man."

To date, the program has won three national titles, and two Aggies have won the Heisman Trophy. Texas A&M averaged almost 102,000 fans at each home game in 2019.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville View School Profile Knoxville, TN

UT Knoxville earns a spot among the best football colleges in America thanks to rich traditions and a passionate fan base. In 2019, about 88,000 fans attended each home game in Neyland Stadium. UT Knoxville's fans also travel well, ranking 10th in total attendance across all home, away, and neutral-site games.

Before each home game, the Volunteers run onto the field surrounded by the marching band, which forms a "T" across the field. Neyland Stadium also features Tennessee's iconic checkerboard end zone design, which dates back to the 1920s.

Tennessee has won six national championships and 18 conference titles. The Volunteers also rank sixth in all-time bowl victories with 28. The Volunteers compete in the Southeastern Conference.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln View School Profile Lincoln, NE

As of the end of the 2019 season, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln held the longest active home sellout streak at 375 consecutive games. In 2019, an average of almost 90,000 fans packed Memorial Stadium for each home game. When full, the stadium contains more people than Bellevue — the state's third-largest city.

Before each home game, the Cornhusker marching band enters through all four corners of the stadium. Players then enter with the "Tunnel Walk," which whips the Husker fans — adorned almost entirely in red — into a frenzy.

While Nebraska has struggled on the field in recent years, the program has won five national titles. In 2011, the Huskers joined the Big Ten Conference, now competing in the western division. In the last regular season game each season, Nebraska takes on the University of Iowa — their top rival.

University of Notre Dame View School Profile South Bend, IN

The University of Notre Dame's memorable game day traditions and excellence on the field earn the school a place among the nation's best football colleges.

As they walk down the steps from the locker room toward the entrance tunnel, each Notre Dame player touches the famous "Play Like a Champion Today" sign. The sign reminds players to focus on the game and reflect on the tradition of Fighting Irish excellence.

Students enjoy an electric Friday pep rally the evening before each Saturday home game. Notre Dame coaches, players, and legends from years past often speak at these events.

The Fighting Irish averaged over 76,000 fans per home game in 2019, and more than 920,000 fans attended home and away games that season.

University of Wisconsin Madison View School Profile Madison, WI

The University of Wisconsin Madison's football program has moved from a perennial loser to a yearly Big Ten title contender over the past three decades. The Badgers compete in the conference's western division.

On game days, the entire UW campus and surrounding neighborhoods begin tailgating early in the morning, with fans filling front yards and balconies. Between the third and fourth quarters, fans dance to "Jump Around," which rocks Camp Randall Stadium.

After the game, the UW marching band leads the famous 5th Quarter celebration, playing songs like "Beer Barrel Polka" and "If You Want to Be a Badger."

The Badgers averaged just over 76,000 fans per home game in 2019. UW fans are also known for traveling well, ranking 12th in the nation in total attendance at home, away, and neutral-site games.

Who Are the Top College Football Teams?

While the best college football teams vary by season, some programs have experienced sustained levels of success on the field.

The University of Michigan features the winningest major football program in the nation, with 953 all-time victories as of the end of the 2019 season. The University of Alabama has won 17 national championships, the most of any school. The University of Michigan, the University of Southern California, and Notre Dame University have each won 11.

The University of Alabama's dominance has been especially noteworthy over the past decade — the school has won five national titles since 2009 alone. Clemson University, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, and The Ohio State University have also won championships within the past decade.

What Colleges Have Some of the Best Football Traditions?

Nearly all the best football colleges maintain unique traditions, many of which date back generations.

At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, a live steer named Bevo storms the field before each game and after each Longhorns score. The University of Oklahoma, meanwhile, maintains a similar tradition that features a replica horse-drawn wagon from the settler days.

Fans at some schools, such as The Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University, all wear the same color for a unifying effect on the most important home games of the year. At Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin Madison, fans jump and dance to "Jump Around," which is a more recent — yet no less memorable — tradition that has become a favorite across the college football world.

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