For many college-bound students, a school's reputation in the football world means just as much as its graduation rates, academic performance records, and alumni outcomes. Students base their overall decision to attend a particular school on a wide range of higher learning statistics, but a college's unique football culture and camaraderie can tip the scales for many applicants.
Many schools build their reputations on academic scholarship, but you can't overstate the pride a student feels in supporting a champion team, tailgating with friends before the big game, and feeling the electricity of cheering fans in a full stadium. Continuing a nationally treasured pastime of the last 150 years, college football plays a crucial role in determining many students' prospects for the next phase of their lives.
With this in mind, Best Colleges ranked the top 25 football colleges in the United States based on our assessment of three major criteria: game-day attendance, team awards and achievements, and long standing traditions in each school's football history.
Ohio State University
Home of the Buckeyes, Ohio State University competes in the east division of NCAA Big Ten Conference Football. The Buckeyes continue the traditions of Ohio State's legendary football history, begun during the team's 1890 inaugural season. Over the years, more than 400 Ohio State alumni have joined the NFL.
Head coach since 2011, Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to five division championships in five seasons, and 24 straight game victories, including a perfect season in 2012. This marked a record for Ohio State. To date, the team claims six division titles, eight national titles, and 38 conference titles, with an all-time record of 899-324-53. Ohio State's football program boasts seven Heisman winners, a Rimington Trophy recipient, and multiple CoSIDA honorees.
Game days fill Ohio Stadium to capacity, with roaring fans clad in the scarlet and gray team colors occupying nearly 105,000 seats. No. 1 in total fan attendance in 2017, the Ohio State Buckeyes drew more than 1.2 million fans to their home and away games last year. The team also ranks as the priciest in the NCAA, valued at $1.5 billion in 2017.
University of Georgia
Fans of University of Georgia's beloved Bulldogs show up in force on game day, not only to cheer on the team in a sea of red and black, but to catch a glimpse of one of two team mascots: Hairy Dawg and Uga, a live English Bulldog named for the school's acronym. Uga represents a prestigious lineage of bulldogs, first implemented as the team's live mascot in 1943. The team, first referred to as "bulldogs" by a writer for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1920, simply kept the nickname as its official moniker.
Home to the NCAA's 10th-largest stadium, University of Georgia can accommodate nearly 95,000 fans at each home game. In fact, in 2017 the school hosted 556,476 fans at its six home games, totaling more than 1.2 million spectators at both home and away games.
Half of the "Deep South's oldest rivalry" since 1892, the Bulldogs regularly face off against their nemeses, the Auburn Tigers, also ranked among the highest for fan attendance on our list (see below). A Division I member of the NCAA and Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Bulldogs claim two national championships and 15 conference titles.
University of Alabama
University of Alabama football began in 1892, when the team that would become the school's beloved Crimson Tide won its first game against a team of local players from Livingston and Birmingham. Aptly named after a 1905 game in which the team played Auburn in the historic red Alabama mud, the Crimson Tide first made national history in 1925, winning its first undefeated season and earning an invitation to the Rose Bowl.
Today, the team ranks third in the nation for overall fan attendance, which reached 1,228,376 in 2017. The University of Alabama also saw the fourth-largest fan gathering across all seven of its home games last year, with 712,053 spectators sporting crimson and white in support of their team.
The Crimson Tide have made a record 65 bowl appearances, including in the 2018 Sugar Bowl. The team also boasts 30 conference titles, 17 national titles, two Heisman winners, and 69 All-American award recipients.
Auburn University played its first football game in 1892, and today, games at Auburn's famed Jordan-Hare Stadium rank among college football's largest (and loudest) crowd gatherings. The university hosts nearly 87,500 fans on game days, earning its stadium the title of Alabama's fifth-largest city.
The Tigers attracted more than 605,000 fans to their home games in 2017. Also among the top five in the nation for overall fan attendance, Auburn football fans showed up in full force to home, away, and neutral games last year, with a total attendance of more than 1.1 million. The team belongs to a prestigious group of only 11 -- including its arch rival, the Alabama Crimson tide -- to surpass the one million mark in game attendance for 2017.
The Tigers compete in the west division of the NCAA and SEC. To date, the team claims 12 football hall of fame inductees, 29 All-Americans, and three Heisman winners. Auburn has won 12 undefeated seasons and five national championships.
Pennsylvania State University
|State College, PA||
A member of the Big Ten Conference, Penn State's Nittany Lions represent one of the oldest U.S. college football teams, founded in 1887. Today, the school hosts as many as 746,946 fans at home games, earning the Nittany Lions a spot among the nation's top 10 most enthusiastic fan bases for college teams.
In total, nearly 1.15 million fans of the Nittany Lions proudly wore their blue and white to all 13 home, away, and neutral games in the team's 2017 season. Home games take place at Beaver Stadium, the second-largest in the western hemisphere, with a seating capacity for a staggering 106,572 fans. The team draws the largest crowds during faceoffs with its rival teams, Pittsburgh and Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions boast two national and three conference championships, ranking No. 8 for all-time total wins. Other notable achievements include four Big Ten Conference championships, 48 bowl games, and Heisman winner John Cappelletti. The team's longest-standing head coach, Joe Paterno, led the Nittany Lions for 46 seasons, also the record for any head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
University of Michigan
|Ann Arbor, MI||
Steeped in years of tradition among college football legends, the U-M Wolverines won their first Big Ten football title in 1898, and their first national title in 1901. The team roused the crowds with the appearance of two live wolves, mascots Bernie and Biff, for just one year in 1927, before retiring the mascots due to their ferociousness.
Known among U-M students as "the big house," Michigan Stadium was the largest and most expensive construction of its kind when it was completed in 1927, with seating for more than 84,000 fans and a price tag of more than $950,000. Today, the venue can accommodate 107,601 Wolverines fans, undoubtedly clad in maize and blue and signing along to the team's iconic fight song, "the victors." In 2017, nearly 670,000 fans cheered on the Wolverines at home games, and more than 1.14 million showed up for the team both at home and on the road.
The U-M Wolverines end every season with a game against their rivals, the Ohio State Buckeyes, an enduring match called one of the best great rivalries in sports by ESPN. The team boasts the most all-time wins of any college football team, with a record of 951-344-36. The Wolverines also claim 42 conference titles, 11 national titles, and three Heisman winners.
Louisiana State University
|Baton Rouge, LA||
The LSU Tigers, also called the Fighting Tigers, compete in the SEC Western Division. The Tigers played their first game in 1893, losing to their rivals at Tulane. Today, with one of the best all-time records in college football (787-414-47), the team's notable reputation precedes its regal purple and gold appearance on the field.
Ominously referred to as "death valley" by opponents, Tiger Stadium seats more than 102,000 fans, likely cheering along to one of the team's many fight songs or chants, such as "hot boudin!" or "geaux Tigers!" The venue recently incorporated several major upgrades for fans, including a new beer and food section called "the Chute." Last year, more than 591,034 showed up for their beloved Tigers at Tiger Stadium, and more than 1,114,000 spectators cheered on the Tigers home and away games.
To date, LSU claims the most NFL drafts of any college program, with 51 former LSU football players now active on an NFL team. The Tigers also boast 14 conference titles, three national titles, eight division titles, and 31 All-American award winners.
Texas A & M University
|College Station, TX||
A member of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the SEC Western Division, Texas A & M's beloved Aggies began attracting fans at their first game in 1894. That same year, the team first played its nemesis, the Texas Longhorns, in what is known today as one of college football's longest-standing rivalries.
Home to the Aggies since 1905, Kyle Stadium expanded its already massive seating capacity through a major reconstruction endeavor in 2014 and 2015. It now accommodates nearly 103,000 fans at each home game, ranking it among the five largest college football venues. Whether at home games or on the road, a total of nearly 1.1 million Aggies fans sported their maroon and white in support of the team, honoring squad player E.King Gill and the tradition of the "12th man" and enjoying the sounds of the largest military marching band in the United States.
The Aggies claim an all-time record of 732-477-48, with 18 conference titles, three division titles, two Heisman winners, and 28 All-American recipients.
University of Oklahoma
A member of the NCAA Division I FBS and the Big 12 Conference, OU's Oklahoma Sooners claim one of college football's most celebrated histories. The team not only holds one of the highest percentages of wins (at .725) but also a record-breaking winning streak of 47 straight victories, the most of any team its NCAA division.
The Sooners' home venue, Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, ranks as the largest of its kind in the state, and among the 15 largest in the U.S. Fans showed up in full force in 2017, with more than 519,000 spectators attending home games. The Sooners even set a record for seating 88,308 spectators at the OU vs. TCU game last year. The team attracted 1,054,046 fans total in 2017 between home and away games.
The team's unique mascot, the Sooner Schooner, replicates a wagon manned by Oklahoma Territory settlers, and drives across the field to open each game. The Sooners boast 47 conference titles, six Heisman winners, and a record 80 All-Americans.
University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee Volunteers, also called "the Vols," are named for their service to the state of Tennessee since the team's first incarnation in 1891. The team is also one of only a handful of college athletics programs in the U.S. that does not receive state funds. The Vols compete as a charter member of the SEC.
Home games saw 670,454 fans sporting their orange and white in 2017, proudly witnessing the tradition of the team "running through the T" formation on the field to open the football season. The Vols compete at home at Neyland Stadium, the fifth-largest of its kind in the nation. In total, more than 1,043,000 spectators cheered on the Vols during home, away, and neutral games last year. The team holds the all-time record for home game wins (464).
The Tennessee Volunteers claim 18 conference championships, six all-time national championships, and a record 28 bowl wins. The Vols also boast dozens of Hall of Fame inductees, 40 All-Americans, and retired jerseys from the likes of Peyton Manning and Doug Atkins.
With a history rich in athletic traditions, the Clemson Tigers average hundreds of thousands of fans at their games, especially when facing off against rivals like the South Carolina Gamecocks or the Florida Seminoles. Game days open with players "running down the hill" onto the field to a sea of spectators clad in orange and purple (regalia), touching Howard's Rock along the way for good luck.
More than 565,000 fans showed up to cheer on the Tigers at home games last year. In total, 1,016,347 spectators watched the Tigers compete on the road and at home at Memorial Stadium, or "Death Valley," as a former coach once called it. The venue ranks 16th among the largest stadiums in college football.
Competitors in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Tigers claim 700 victories since their first game in 1896. The team also holds a record for seven consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins, the second-longest winning streak in the NCAA.
University of Texas
A member of the Big 12 Conference, the Texas Longhorns represent UT by sporting Longhorns on their iconic burnt orange jerseys and with their live mascot, a beloved Texas steer named Bevo.
Well more than half a million fans flocked to Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas to support the Longhorns last year. The venue ranks as the eighth-largest in the FBS, with a capacity of more than 100,000, and has provided a home for the team to play and practice since 1924. All around, more than 1 million UT football fans came out to cheer on the Longhorns at home and away games in 2017.
The Longhorns claim rank for the second-most wins of any team in the FBS, with an impressive all-time record of 891-359-33. The team also holds an NCAA record for winning 108 out of 122 seasons, nine undefeated. Longhorns alumni include Heisman winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
University of South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks compete in the SEC Eastern Division and belong to Division I of the NCAA. The Gamecocks first played independently (not sanctioned by the university, at the time) in 1892, in an inaugural Christmas Eve game against Furman University. Since then, fans have amassed at games in the team's signature colors, garnet and black, to catch a glimpse of the aptly named mascot, "Cocky."
The Gamecocks are still known for filling stadiums with rowdy crowds on game day, especially when facing off against the Clemson Tigers, arch rivals of the Gamecocks since 1896. Nearly one million fans supported the Gamecocks at home and away games last year, and more than 550,000 cheered them on at William-Brice Stadium, the 20th-largest venue in the NCAA, for the team's seven-game home season.
The South Carolina Gamecocks boast six bowl appearances, and numerous top-25 final rankings in the SEC. The team also produced a Heisman winner; four All-Americans; and national, SEC, and ACC coaches of the year.
University of Nebraska
The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers belong to the Big Ten Conference, one of only 10 teams in the FBS to win at least 800 games. Nearly a decade after playing their first game in 1890, the Cornhuskers were so nicknamed by a journalist, in reference to Nebraska's victory over Iowa in a historic match.
Fans turned out in full force to support the Cornhuskers in 2017, with 628,583 spectators filling Memorial Stadium on game days. At home and away games last year, more than 918,000 cheering supporters donned scarlet and cream team colors for Nebraska football. The Cornhuskers' home since 1923, Memorial Stadium transforms into Nebraska's third-largest city on game days. The venue claims the record for longest sellout streak in the NCAA (362 games and counting), exceeding maximum capacity.
The Cornhuskers claim 46 conference titles, 10 division titles, and five national titles, plus a record 54 All-Americans and three Heisman winners. The team claims the most wins over "Power Five" Division I FBS competitors overall, and is the fourth-most winning team of all time in the NCAA.
Michigan State University
|East Lansing, MI||
Members of the Big Ten Conference, the Michigan State Spartans claim high rankings for their wins on the field, championship titles, and acclaimed showmanship on game day. Fans wear their green and white to home games to hear the Spartan Marching Band, now in its 148th season, and catch a glimpse of the award-winning mascot, "Sparty" -- the first Big Ten mascot to win a national title.
With a capacity of more than 75,000, Spartan Stadium accommodated a total 507,398 fans at seven home games in 2017. The Spartans have won 70% of games played on their home field since Spartan Stadium opened in 1923. Spartans fans stayed true to their team at home and away games in 2017, with all-around attendance totaling nearly 896,000 last year.
Today, the Spartans continue their rivalry with Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, reaching a fever pitch during "the game of the century" in 1966, which ended in a 10-10 tie and produced championship titles for both teams. The Spartans boast 11 conference titles, six national titles, and 31 All-American players.
University of Notre Dame
|Notre Dame, IN||
The infamous Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame claim several unique rankings among fellow NCAA competitors. One of only six teams to compete as independents in the FBS, the Fighting Irish are the only such team to belong to the Bowl Championship Series coalition (and receive its guaranteed payout). It's also the only college football team contractually bound since 1991 to televise all home games on NBC.
Notre Dame football draws one of the league's largest and most loyal fan bases. In the spirit of the university's Roman Catholic heritage, Notre Dame Stadium invokes a regal, traditional setting for lively home games, often regarded more like a basilica than a sporting venue. In 2017, more than 543,000 fans watched the Fighting Irish compete on their home turf, and a total of 889,258 fans donned their blue and gold at Notre Dame and on the road.
The Fighting Irish claim college football's highest all-time winning percentage, and the second-most wins of all time (908). The team ties with Alabama for the most national championships in the FBS, and rivals Ohio for a record seven Heisman winners.
University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA||
Established in 1888, the USC Trojans belong to Division I FBS of the NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference. The team boasts the all-time most players drafted by the NFL, at 502, and the most first-time draft picks of any college in the NCAA, totaling 80 as of 2017.
As one of the largest sports venues in the country, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is a fitting home for the larger-than-life Trojans. The stadium has also hosted two Olympic games and countless sporting events and concerts, earning the nickname, "the grand old lady." Trojans home games in 2017 drew nearly 509,000 fans to LA Memorial Coliseum. That same season, 885,247 spectators supported USC between all 13 home and away games.
USC maintains a longstanding tradition of producing Heisman winners -- especially running backs, including O.J. Simpson and Reggie Bush. The Trojans also appeared at a record 54 bowl games, including 34 Rose Bowls, and set a record for winning 25.
University of Florida
The UF Gators compete in Division I of the NCAA and the SEC Eastern Division. The team has played the Florida State Seminoles, one of its rivals, every year since 1958, prompting die-hard UF football fans to form their own "Gator nation."
More than 520,290 fans cheered on the Gators at home games in 2017, and more than 872,000 showed up to home and away games in their support. The Gators' infamous fight song, like the team's uniforms, celebrate "the orange and blue." UF's Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, known among fans as "the swamp," can accommodate 90,000 spectators, making it Florida's largest football venue.
The Gators claim 14 division titles, eight conference titles, and three Heisman winners. Since its inception in 1906, the team has employed 26 head coaches, including three inducted into the Hall of Fame for college football.
University of Iowa
|Iowa City, IA||
A member of the Big Ten Conference, the Iowa Hawkeyes are led by Kirk Ferentz, in his 20th season and currently the longest tenured head coach in in the FBS division of the NCAA. Praised by ESPN for starting a bold new tradition in college football in 2017, Hawkeyes fans now turn and wave to patients at the university's adjacent children's hospital during every home game, where the patients can see an unobstructed view of the field from the top three floors.
In fact, 520,290 fans supported the Hawkeyes at home games last year, wearing their black and gold, and cheering on the team as they enter the field to "Back in Black" by AC/DC and "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. Fans totaled 872,025 at home and away games in 2017, especially to watch the Hawkeyes battle their rivals, the Iowa State Cyclones or the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
To date, Iowa boasts 13 conference titles, four national titles, and 27 All-Americans. The university named its football stadium, the seventh-largest in the NCAA, after the Hawkeyes' only Heisman winner, Nile Kinnick.
University of Arkansas
Formed in 1894, the first incarnation of the Arkansas Razorbacks was coached by the university's Latin professor, John Futrall, and featured a cardinal moniker and mascot. Later christened by its new coach in 1909 for being as "tough" as fighting hogs, the team changed its name and adopted its enduring "woo pig sooie," or "calling the hogs" chant as tradition in the 1920s.
Fans of the Razorbacks show so much spirit in numbers that they need multiple venues. Home games may take place at either Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium or War Memorial Stadium, though the latter is only for two or three games each season. More than 442,000 spectators attended Arkansas' home games last year, and nearly 843,000 watched the Razorbacks play at home and on the road in 2017.
The Razorbacks rank among college football's top 25 most-winning teams of all time. The team boasts 13 conference titles, 24 All-American players, and an all-time record of 702-476-40.
Mississippi State University
Known for their long history of producing All-American players and desirable NFL draft picks, the Mississippi State Bulldogs also claim several of the longest-running rivalries in college football, with Ole Miss, LSU, and Alabama. The team competes in NCAA Division I FBS and SEC Western Division.
With more than 816,000 fans recorded at home games in 2017, Bulldogs fans have a reputation for being loud and proud. Spectators ring cowbells (though noise restrictions imposed by the SEC limit this tradition somewhat) to show their support for the team. Interestingly, the Bulldogs (originally called the Mississippi A&M Aggies) share the same maroon and white colors as the Texas A&M Aggies.
The Bulldogs boast 38 All-American players, 16 post-season bowl appearances, and 124 players who joined the NFL, including 11 drafted in the first round.
Florida State University
With a long history of victories, champion players, and league titles, it comes as no surprise that Florida State Seminoles fans show fierce enough loyalty to earn them their nickname, "the tribe." The team competes in the NCAA Division I and the ACC Atlantic Division.
The Seminoles incorporate several unique traditions into game days, honoring the Native American heritage of Florida's Seminole Tribe. Fans showed up in force in 2017, totaling 809,381, to join in the Seminole War Chant, hear the largest college marching band in the world, and catch a glimpse of horses Osceola and Renegade, the team's live mascots. Spectators especially enjoy watching the Seminoles take on their arch rivals, the Florida Gators, at Doak Campbell Stadium, the second-largest college football venue in the ACC.
The Seminoles boast three undefeated seasons, and placed in the top four of the Associated Press Poll for 14 consecutive years. The team also claims 18 conference titles, six division titles, and three Heisman winners.
University of Washington
As a member of the NCAA Division I FBS and the North Division of the Pac-12 Conference, The Washington Huskies represent a history of long winning streaks and a high all-time record. The team maintains intense rivalries with the Washington State Cougars and the Oregon Ducks, both pitted against the Huskies since 1900.
2017 saw more than 771,000 fans at the Huskies' home and away games, with nearly 482,000 cheering on the team at its own Husky Stadium in Seattle. The venue claims rank as the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and among the loudest. Huskies fans roared at a record-setting 135 decibels during a game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1992, the loudest crowd in the history of the NCAA.
Nicknamed "quarterback U" for fielding the second-most QBs of all time in the NFL, the Huskies also boast a 64-game winning streak -- an FBS record -- and the second-longest NCAA winning streak, at 40 consecutive games.
Texas Christian University
|Fort Worth, TX||
Competitors in Division I of the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference, the TCU Horned Frogs rank among the top four private college football programs, and the 30 best all-time college football teams. The team won the first game it ever played on Dec. 7, 1896.
The TCU Horned Frogs play home games at Amon G. Carter Stadium, setting a record for attendance in 2009, when 50,307 fans watched the Horned Frogs beat the Utah Utes. A total of 764,596 fans cheered on the Horned Frogs in 2017 at home and away games, likely wearing their spirited purple and white, listening to "TCU March," and looking for the Super Frog mascot.
The Horned Frogs represent one of only four teams in the FBS to play in each and every College Football Playoff Bowl to date (and win all but two). The team claims 18 conference titles and 17 All-Americans, and has inducted eight former players into the Hall of Fame.
University of Mississippi
The Rebels at the University of Mississippi, fondly named "Ole Miss," compete in the NCAA Division I FBS and the SEC Western Conference. Maintaining a long and victorious history of more than 115 years, the Rebels mark the first football team in the state of Mississippi.
The Ole Miss Rebels play against rivals like the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers on their home turf at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the largest of its kind in the state, and the site of the highest all-time attendance record in Mississippi. Last year, 410,414 fans supported the Rebels at home, while more than 751,000 attended home and away games.
Ole Miss has fielded its beloved Rebels nearly every single year since the team's formation in 1893, making exceptions only for the yellow fever epidemic and WWII. The team claims six conference titles, three national titles, and 12 All-Americans.
Our careful methodology in selecting America's best football colleges highlights the importance of the quintessential game-day experience. Thus, schools with the largest number of fans in the seats on game day topped our list, as did those with notable athletic awards and accolades, and commitment to keeping tradition alive among student football players and fans. Many schools on the list also boast impressive stats for producing Heisman award-winning athletes, hosting the loudest crowds at football games, and graduating multiple alumni drafted by the NFL.