Readers Choice

WINNERS: Best College Game Day AmbianceChosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best

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    #10 - Tuscaloosa, AL - Univ. of Alabama

    "T-Town" is home to the Crimson Tide and perhaps the friendliest tailgaters in the nation (unless you're from Auburn). Accustomed to winning, ‘Bama fans are quick to welcome visitors with a smile and a hearty "Roll Tide" - maybe even a shot of "Rammer Jammer" Alabama Slammer or a BBQ slider. The pre-game party centers around Bryant-Denney Stadium, but a barstool facing the TV at Dreamland Barbecue is the best seat not in the house.

    Photo courtesy of Steve Burns

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    #9 - Baton Rouge, LA - Louisiana State Univ.

    How crazy does it get at LSU games? The ruckus regularly registers on the Richter scale when 85,000 revelers pack Death Valley to root for the Tigers on a Saturday night. But the party begins well before, as tailgaters set up camp and cook jambalaya, alligator, crawfish and other Cajun classics with plenty of liquid refreshment to wash it all down. Featuring antebellum buildings and 100-plus-year-old oak trees, LSU offers the full college experience.  

    Photo courtesy of David Reber

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    #8 - Columbus, OH - Ohio State Univ.

    Ohio's capital is overrun by Buckeye fans in the fall, but it doesn't bother locals since more than 56,000 residents attend the university. Tailgate parties surround The Horseshoe, as the 105,000-seat Ohio Stadium is called, and thousands of fans attend the Ohio State Marching Band Skull Session, a pre-game concert/party. If you find tickets for the Michigan rivalry, watch out for students jumping into icy Mirror Lake for luck.

    Photo courtesy of Sam Howzit

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    #7 - State College, PA - Penn State Univ.

    The proud Penn State football program may have lost some luster in the wake of recent scandals, but the passion of Nittany Lions fans has not waned. Just check out the pre-game scene around Happy Valley, where vacant lots are transformed into huge parties and fans feast on grilled meats, drink cold beverages and celebrate the arrival of the blue buses that carry their team to Beaver Stadium. Be sure to snap a few selfies with the Nittany Lion statue.

    Photo courtesy of Ben Stanfield

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    #6 - Lincoln, NE - Univ. of Nebraska

    While most college football stadiums are isolated from downtown districts, Nebraska's is located in the heart of Lincoln and surrounded by bars and restaurants. Hot spots include Jack's, Lazlo's, Barry's and The Sidetrack. There are also plenty of Cornhusker fans who tailgate, especially in the popular Haymarket section of town that is filled with the aroma of Omaha beef grilling over fire pits. 

    Photo courtesy of Sarah (Rosenau) Korf

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    #5 - Ann Arbor, MI - Univ. of Michigan

    "The Big House," as the 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium is known, has plenty of room for fans to park and party. Buses, RVs, trucks and tailgates spring up around the largest stadium in college football . . . and the town is painted maize and blue. Fans fire up the grills, ice down coolers and toss around the pigskin, while others opt to stroll to the bars in the top-ranked downtown area before and after the big game.

    Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bronson

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    #4 - College Station, TX - Texas A&M Univ.

    A journalist on assignment from UTEP once described the Aggies of Texas A&M University as cult-like -- and the fervor with which fans support the team and follow longstanding traditions, like midnight yell practice the night before a game, certainly merits the comparison. Now that the Aggies have joined the SEC and have Heisman-winner Johnny "Football" Manziel leading the team, it looks to be an exciting season.

    Photo courtesy of Stuart Seeger

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    #3 - Knoxville, TN - Univ. of Tennessee

    Tailgating comes with a twist up on ol' Rocky Top, where Neyland Stadium sits high above the banks of the Tennessee River. Many of the 100,000 Big Orange fans arrive by boat in the Vol Navy, which ties up for a floating tailgate party before the game. On dry land, orange-clad fans sip and sup on Tennessee's finest whiskey and BBQ before lining the streets for the Vol Walk. If you don't know all the words to "Rocky Top," you will soon.

    Photo courtesy of arctic_whirlwind

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    #2 - Columbia, SC - Univ. of South Carolina

    Columbia goes crazy for the Gamecocks, transforming the state fairgrounds beside Williams-Brice Stadium into a parking lot party for tens of thousands. A few home games coincide with the fall fair, allowing fans to make a full day of football and funnel cakes, but Columbia is tailgating at its finest all season. Wealthier South Carolina boosters party pre-game at the Cockaboose Railroad, a chain of 22 private railroad cabooses, which bring a unique brand of garnet-and-black spirit to a track right next to the stadium.  

    Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics

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    #1 - Clemson, SC - Clemson Univ.

    Clemson's population is less than 15,000, but six times as many visit ‘Death Valley’ on Game Day. Fans hit the Esso Club, an old gas station converted into a bar, and tailgate around Cemetery Hill, where many school benefactors rest eternally beside the stadium. The creepy factor doesn't bother orange-clad tailgaters, who feast on fried chicken, play cornhole and watch the Tigers run down The Hill, a tradition called "The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in Sports."

    Photo courtesy of Mike Burton

Clemson on Top for College Game Day Ambiance

Columbia, Knoxville, College Station, Ann Arbor also great

No matter what the standing are in regard to team performance, fans at Clemson University campus in Clemson, South Carolina have some serious bragging rights.  The public has voted Clemson's pre-game campus scene the best in the nation for game day atmosphere.  

This was a hotly contested category, with influencers ranging from athletic departments to alumni organizations and fans from coast to coast.  All 10 winners are geographically diverse but each is "the place to be" on college game day . . .  a destination for any sports fan's bucket list.   

The 10 Winners in the 'Best Game Day Ambiance' Readers' Choice contest category are as follows:

  1. Clemson, SC - Clemson Univ.
  2. Columbia, SC - Univ. of South Carolina
  3. Knoxville, TN - Univ. of Tennessee
  4. College Station, TX - Texas A&M Univ.
  5. Ann Arbor, MI - Univ. of Michigan
  6. Lincoln, NE - Univ. of Nebraska
  7. State College, PA - Penn State Univ.
  8. Columbus, OH - Ohio State Univ.
  9. Baton Rouge, LA - Louisiana State Univ.
  10. Tuscaloosa, AL - Univ. of Alabama

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all who voted!   

Four more contests are presently underway.  See them and vote here:  http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/

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Meet the Experts

Terry Massey

Terry Massey has been a professional sports journalist for more than 20 years and has visited most of the places on the list. He also happens to be a bit of a tailgate expert and a master griller.

Kristopher Neild

Kris is a travel and sports writer who lives on the Riverbend in New Orleans, the perfect place for him to indulge in his love of slurping oysters, sipping suds and listening to live music. He earns his keep writing about baseball, business and travel for various websites but is also a candidate in the CFA program, as he keeps his options open for a career in finance.  

Libby McMillan

Libby McMillan's friends know not to invite her to anything on a Saturday in fall.  She was raised in a football-crazy household and now finds herself living in the heart of SEC country while still rooting for one particular Big 12 team.  McMillan's not totally conference-driven, however, as she also follows teams in the Pac 12, Big 10, Mountain West and ACC conferences.  Her dream lunch companion: Coach Mike Leach, now at Washington State.