Thomas: Best and Worst Atmospheres in College Football

A deafening homefield advantage can make or break a football team – and whether it’s the pure noise, the great traditions, the capacity, or anything else, there are many factors to determining the best atmospheres in college football. Here’s my take on the best and worst atmospheres in each Power-5 conference (full rankings to come another day). These rankings are largely based off the 2019 season and recent years, as some atmospheres are only raucous when the home team is a powerhouse, lowering those teams in our rankings. Without further ado here’s the rankings.

Pac-12

Worst Atmosphere: UCLA
The best game to take place at UCLA is the Rose Bowl, and UCLA is rarely a participant. The Bruins rarely play in a full stadium, failing to reach even 50% capacity in three different games last season, and they don’t boast any great traditions, or even a particularly good team, to make up for the lack of rowdiness in the crowd. 

Best Atmosphere: Utah
Size doesn’t always matter. Utah packs just 45,807 people into their stadium, but nearly every game is sold out, cheering on one of the state’s only relevant teams. When the Utes go into battle on the gridiron, it’s easily the most intense athletic competition in the state throughout the year. Their dominance of the Holy War rivalry is always entertaining, and their cannon fire after every Utah score is a thrilling punctuation mark to a successful possession for the home team. 

Honorable Mention: Colorado, Oregon, Washington

Big 12

Worst Atmosphere: Kansas
Look, it’s hard to blame the Jayhawks on this one. They are most definitely a basketball school, and they rarely, if ever, put a competitive product on the gridiron. Some fanbases can stay dedicated through the bad years – but it’s been a never-ending era in Kansas. They haven’t put up more than three wins since 2009, and they have only three top-10 finishes in the AP Poll in school history. Hard to go crazy here. 

Best Atmosphere: Baylor

Coming off my freshman year in college, I am a sucker for great traditions involving freshmen, and the Baylor Line is one of those. The chosen freshman partake in a mad dash to set up a human tunnel for the football team to run through, and then lead the student section in distinctive gold jerseys. Baylor also frequently packs their 45,000 seat stadium well over capacity. Considering they’re rarely the class of the Big 12, the consistently rowdy atmosphere in Waco is impressive, compared to bigger teams like Texas or Oklahoma, where the atmosphere tends to strictly correlate to the team’s success. Probably an unpopular pick, but this is my list so… Sic em Bears. 

Honorable Mention: Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma 

Big 10

Worst Atmosphere: Rutgers
Rutgers is just bad. The team is never competitive, they don’t have a true rivalry game to get hyped up for, and they’re also from New Jersey. I mean, does anything good come out of New Jersey? Shouldn’t be too much explanation needed here. The games aren’t exciting, the crowd isn’t excited, and the scoreboard usually reads something like 42-6 by the end of the game. 

Best Atmosphere: Nebraska
The Big 10 was a brutal decision, but I went with the Cornhuskers and their otherworldly sellout streak. Nebraska has football – and the College World Series – and that’s it. Nothing else relevant happens in Nebraska, and seemingly the entire state turns up for gameday. Nebraska is rarely even relevant in the Big 10, and yet they still pack in some of the rowdiest crowds in the nation. Last year, despite being destroyed by Ohio State after hosting College Gameday, a panorama of the crowd saw virtually every member of the above-capacity game still standing and roaring in a 40-point game in the fourth quarter. Dedication and commitment. Just imagine if the Cornhuskers were good.

Honorable Mention: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State

ACC

Worst Atmosphere: Pittsburgh
I’m generally disappointed by Pitt crowds, because the Panthers produce a quality football team most seasons, and they just don’t get a lot of love from the home crowd. Being the second best team in the state to Penn State definitely hurts, but it would be nice to see Pitt get a little love. They consistently challenge big-name programs and occasionally deliver with a stunning upset, yet rarely get much hometown support. It hurts that they play home games at Heinz Field, meaning they aren’t even on campus, which probably makes it harder to generate excitement. They’re good, but Pitt is still a middle-of-the-road team, and that clearly isn’t enough for Panther nation. 

Best Atmosphere: UNC

Cue all the hate I’ll get for not picking Clemson. Little-known fact: UNC actually filled their stadium more than Clemson did last year. The Tar Heels play in a smaller stadium (50,500) but played every game in front of a capacity crowd. The sheer lack of excitement in many of Clemson’s conference affairs contribute to the Tigers missing out on the top spot. The Tar Heels nearly beat Clemson behind their home crowd last season, and Tar Heel nation consistently turns out for their squad, despite being known as a basketball school, even featuring some underrated traditions – like this fourth quarter hype video which the entire crowd rocks to.

Honorable Mention: Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech

SEC

Worst Atmosphere: Vanderbilt

To be fair, the Commodores probably get some rowdy baseball crowds. But that’s their best sport far and away, and it’s pretty clear that many students, alumni, and fans have better things to do than watch Vandy get smacked by Alabama, LSU, and the rest of the SEC on a weekly basis. 

Best Atmosphere: Georgia
I love Georgia’s stadium, which turns out in a big way for primetime games. Remember when they forced Notre Dame into a dozen false start penalties? Absolutely ridiculous noise levels are reached in Sanford Stadium, and from the call to attention with the trumpet and iconic highlight reel video at the beginning of the game, to the fourth quarter lights tradition, to their well-known bulldog mascot, Georgia produces an electric gameday atmosphere. 

Honorable Mention: Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU

NCAA FOOTBALL TOP MOMENTS – #5: The 1994 Orange Bowl Produced A Classic

Sliding in at #5 on our list is the 1993 Orange Bowl, which decided the national championship at the end of a spectacular college football season. It was played between preseason favorite Florida State and perennial powerhouse Nebraska, and it was an absolute classic, featuring elite defense, no lead of more than eight points, and a spectacular finish. 

Florida State entered the year as the preseason #1 in the AP Poll, and the Seminoles justified the ranking with their level of play in the early stages of the season. They slaughtered Kansas and Duke, 42-0 and 45-7, to start the year. After that, Florida State took on consecutive ranked opponents and hardly broke a sweat, dismantling #17 Clemson 57-0, and travelling to #13 North Carolina and emerged with a 33-7 victory. After a 51-0 drubbing of Georgia Tech, the Seminoles had a glistening 5-0 record, having given up just two touchdowns. They hosted #3 Miami the following week in a huge rivalry contest, but the Hurricanes simply could not match their in-state rivals, as Florida State cruised once more, winning 28-10. They then massacred #15 Virginia by 26 points before dismantling another pair of unranked opponents. 

That led the Seminoles into the Game of the Century against #2 Notre Dame. It was by far their toughest test of the season to date, as the Irish jumped all over the Seminoles, leading 24-7 in the fourth quarter. Florida State cut it to 31-24, but they could not complete the comeback, suffering a loss that seemingly destroyed their national championship hopes. However, the following week, Notre Dame suffered an upset loss to Boston College, and Florida State throttled NC State, returning the Seminoles to the #1 ranking. They finished up their season with a 33-21 rivalry victory over Florida, clinching a spot in the Orange Bowl, which would decide the national championship. 

Meanwhile, Nebraska had been a perennial power under head coach Tom Osborne, accumulating a 195-46-3 record over 20 seasons. Despite his stunningly consistent success, Osborne had not yet won a national title with the Cornhuskers, getting as high as #2, but never climbing the last step. In ‘93, Nebraska started the year at #8, and they slapped 76 points on the scoreboard in their opening victory over North Texas, then another 50 on Texas Tech. They were held to 14 points at UCLA, but they held on for a 14-13 victory in Pasadena. They followed it up with victories over Colorado State, Oklahoma State, a ranked Kansas State team, and Missouri. 

The Cornhuskers, sitting at 7-0 and #6 in the country, travelled to Colorado for their toughest contest of the regular season, taking on the #20 Buffaloes and holding off a late surge from the hosts to win 21-17. Nebraska may have breathed too big a sigh of relief, and they nearly suffered a shocker at Kansas the following week, scraping by 21-20. After that the Cornhuskers put up 49 points on Iowa State and then held #16 Oklahoma to seven to complete an undefeated regular season. While they didn’t win with the same style as Florida State did for most of the year, the results were still there, as they ended the year 11-0 and advanced to the Orange Bowl to fight for the national championship. 

The game took place on January 1, 1994, a year after the same two teams had competed in the Orange Bowl, albeit with far less on the line. The Seminoles had won that one, 27-14, and they entered this contest as massive favorites, with some lines rising as high as 17 ½ points. However, the game was anything but a blowout. Both teams featured spectacular offenses, and the Seminoles were considered to have the better defense, but both defensive units rose to the occasion. 81,536 roaring fans flocked to Miami for the contest, and despite the Seminoles having a massive home-field advantage, neither team notched a point in the first quarter. In what was an indication of things to come, Florida State kicker Scott Bentley booted a field goal for the first points of the game in the second quarter. Bentley added another field goal, but it was only after Nebraska quarterback Tommy Frazier delivered a 25-yard touchdown pass, sending the Cornhuskers to the locker room up 7-6 in a defensive duel. 

Florida State would regain the lead in the third quarter when running back William Floyd bullied into the end zone from a yard out, but the ensuing 2-point conversion failed, keeping the lead at 12-7. Bentley drilled yet another field goal to increase the lead to eight, but the game was hardly over as the two teams played into the fourth quarter.

Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips cut into the advantage, sprinting for a 12-yard touchdown run, but the attempted game-tying conversion was short, and Nebraska remained down by two points. They then held the Seminoles in check, and drove deep into Florida State territory. The Cornhuskers got to the 10-yard line, but they could not advance further. Byron Bennett nailed a 27-yarder, and Nebraska led 16-15, with 1:16 remaining. However, Heisman winner and FSU quarterback Charlie Ward engineered a fantastic drive that culminated in Bentley kicking one more field goal with 21 seconds left. It would be the game-winner, but not without a dose of drama first. 

An excessive celebration penalty on FSU plus a good kickoff return allowed Nebraska to set up shop on their own 43-yard line, albeit with very little time to work with. Frazier connected with tight end Trumane Bell for 29 yards, but the clock hit zero, supposedly ending the game. Florida State doused head coach Bobby Bowden in gatorade and rushed the field, but the referees conferred and determined that Bell was down with a second left on the clock. Controversy raged, but Nebraska setup for a 45-yard field goal. What almost became one of the most controversial finishes in history ended with a horrific field goal attempt, hooked well to the left, sending the Seminoles into raucous celebration for the second time, and putting an end to a classic. 

The Aftermath

The national championship was not only a classic contest, it featured a lot of NFL talent on the field. Nebraska had 21 players from their 1993 roster eventually play in the NFL, while the Seminoles had 14, including 6 draft picks in the ‘94 draft, led by first-round pick Floyd. Ironically, Ward, Florida State’s best player, did not play in the NFL, but that’s not because he didn’t have the opportunity. Ward was drafted in football, basketball, and baseball. He declared he would only pursue the NFL if he was a first round pick, but he was not selected there, and so he pursued a career with the New York Knicks, who took him in the first round of that year’s NBA Draft. He played ten years in the NBA. 

Both teams won titles in the near future, with Nebraska going undefeated in 1994 and completing the task by beating Miami in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Florida State returned to the top of the football world in 1999 and again in 2013. This past season was the first time since 1976 that the Seminoles were unranked the entire year.

Wait ‘Til Next Year: NCAA Basketball Bottom 10 Power Conference Teams

No conference wins are a guarantee in college basketball, but a few are pretty close. Recently, our podcast discussed the worst teams in the country, and this article puts a spin on that, ranking the worst 10 teams in Power-6 basketball. #1 is who we consider the worst team in these rankings. 

Dishonorable Mention:

  • Boston College 
  • St. Johns
  • Pittsburgh

#10 – Wake Forest Demon Deacons

  • The Demon Deacon are saved from the basement of the ACC by North Carolina, but this team is just 4-12 in conference play and 11-15 overall. They’ve been competitive in some games, but they’ve hit some bad lows recently, losing by 17 to a dismal Miami squad and at home to a really bad Georgia Tech team. 

#9 – DePaul Blue Demons 

  • In a competitive Big East, where seemingly every team has a chance in every game, the Blue Demons simply do not. They are a horrific 1-12 in conference games – somehow defeating a ranked Butler team once. After going 12-1 with a weak non-conference schedule, DePaul is now 13-13 and on an 8-game losing streak. 

#8 – Washington State Cougars

  • The Cougars do have a 5-9 conference record, but that’s not saying much in an exceptionally weak Pac-12. They just lost at home to Cal, one of the worst teams in the conference, which is their second loss to the Golden Bears. They’ve been blown out by USC, Stanford, and their lackluster offense leads them to some really ugly games. 

#7 – Kansas State Wildcats

  • The Wildcats bring up the rear of the Big 12, which is entirely mediocre outside of Kansas and Baylor. The biggest headlines K-State has made this year has been their postgame brawl with Kansas. They are just 2-11 in conference play and 9-17 overall, with just one decent win over West Virginia saving them from slipping lower on this list. 

#6 – Texas A&M Aggies

  • This might be a harsher ranking than the Aggies deserve, but they have been so horrifically uncompetitive in so many games that they just played themselves onto this list. They went just 6-6 in a pretty soft no-conference schedule, losing by 11 to Harvard, 23 to Temple, and losing to Fairfield. They hosted Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, currently 10-16 and in 9th in the Southland Conference, and they won by just three. This team is not good, and it’s embarrassing to the SEC that they’ve half a dozen conference games. 

#5 – Cal Golden Bears

  • That bad Cal team that beat Washington State twice? Yeah, they’re going to make this list too. In compiling just an 11-15 record, including 6-7 outside of the barely relevant Pac-12, Cal has been blown out by the likes of San Francisco, Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s, Stanford, and USC, while also dropping home games to Boston College and Harvard. It’s not exactly a bevy of quadrant one losses, and they haven’t beaten any conference opponent that’s more than a half-game better than them in the standings. Tough look for the Golden Bears. 

#4 – Northwestern Wildcats

  • You may have thought the Northwestern athletic department hit their low point with a dismal football season, but they actually may be looking back fondly on their season on the gridiron, after seeing their product on the court. They’ve lost ten straight conference games and bring up the rear in the Big 10 with a 1-14 conference record. Their one win is at home versus Nebraska who – not to offer spoilers – will also appear on this list. Embarrassing results include losses to Hartford, Radford, and Merrimack. Wouldn’t surprise me if Northwestern’s ranked field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams start getting more attendance than their basketball team. 

#3 – Vanderbilt Commodores

  • This team may have been #1 on this list until they somehow manhandled LSU. But at 1-12 in SEC play, that remains their only conference win, as the Commodores sport a measly 9-17 record. They’ve lost to Tulsa and Richmond while also dropping six conference games by at least 15 points, including a 19-point decision to the aforementioned Aggies. At least it’s baseball season for Vandy. 

#2 – Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

  • I’m avoiding recency bias with this ranking. Georgia Tech has been one of the worst teams all year in Power-6 basketball. Somehow, they’ve won three of four including a stunner of a Top-10 Louisville team. Between November 28 and their recent hot streak, a span of over two months, the Yellow Jackets scored more than 74 points just once in an ACC conference hardly known for its defensive prowess. They’ve lost to Ball State by 18 points at home, and by 34 at home to Syracuse. They hosted Bethune-Cookman and barely defeated them as well. If the Yellow Jackets can keep playing well, maybe they’ll work their way off this list, but their offense remains a gigantic eye-sore that fails to remedy their early season woes. 

#1 – Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • The only Big 10 team to fall victim to the atrocious Northwestern team, Nebraska’s equally dismal season has them topping off our list of the worst Power-6 teams. The Cornhuskers have also lost ten straight, and they’ve lost home games to North Dakota and George Mason this year, the latter coming by 19 points. They’ve been blown out by UC Riverside and lost to Southern Utah, teams so irrelevant in the national picture, you may not have even heard of them or known they played D1 basketball before this article. Nebraska has a dismal record of success in most of their major sports, and that certainly does not exclude their basketball team, which is an embarrassment to Power-6 basketball.

Saturday’s Big 10 Recaps And Takeaways

There were very few Big 10 games yesterday, but they were both absolute thrillers, so here’s a quick recap and takeaway from the Big 10 games yesterday, along with results from Friday and games to come on Sunday/

Illinois 64 Michigan 62

The Recap: What a game. Ayo Dosunmu poured in 27 for the Illini including his game-winner with half a second left as Illinois took down the Wolverines on the road to improve to 15-5 overall and take the sole lead in the Big 10 standings. 

The Takeaway: Michigan is not a threat. Lots of credit is due to Illinois, but Michigan just doesn’t seem to have that ‘it’ factor this year. They’ve lost four straight games, all by less than ten points, and they seem unable to pull out wins in close games. 

Rutgers 75 Nebraska 72

The Recap: Well there wasn’t a lot of Big 10 teams in action on Saturday, but the games that were played made up for that. Following Illinois’s buzzer-beater, Geo Baker buried a three with 1.1 seconds to play and Rutgers survived a stiff test from Nebraska at home. 

The Takeaway: No Conference Game is ever a lock. I’m not sure if I learned much about Rutgers, and I’m not any higher on Nebraska after their tight loss, but it does speak to the parity in college basketball. For teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, avoiding letdowns in games they should win will be critical to securing a berth or higher seed come Selection Sunday. 

Friday’s Games


Purdue 70 Wisconsin 51

Sunday’s Games

#17 Maryland @ Indiana

#11 Michigan State @ Minnesota

Ohio State @ Northwestern