Fall Saturdays are special.
Small towns, huge crowds, tailgating, bands, cheerleaders and student sections are just a few of the reasons college football is the best sport on the planet. When campuses jump to life across the nation each weekend in the fall, college stadiums become a staging ground for history.
There are a variety of ways to evaluate the greatness of a stadium. Huge attendance numbers, home-field advantage in the win-loss column, rich traditions, picturesque landscapes and amenities are just a few of the aspects that must be considered to rank so many great college football cathedrals.
With that in mind, here's how the stadiums in the American Athletic Conference stack up.
1. Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville
2012 Attendance: 49,991 (40th)
When it opened, the Cardinals' home stadium was a 42,000-seat, single-deck facility. After the 2010 expansion, which added an upper deck to the East Side, capacity grew to 55,000. The completion of the Howard Schnellenberger Complex and the addition of the massive video board put the final touches on the American Athletic Conference’s finest stadium. The amenities are new and there is plenty of area to enjoy an adult beverage or two. Should things continue under mastermind A.D. Tom Jurich, this venue — which already leads the league in attendance — is poised to grow even further.
2. High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers
2012 Attendance: 49,188 (42nd)
The No. 2 stadium in attendance in the league formerly known as the Big East is located in New Jersey. This on-campus facility grew from 41,500 seats to its current capacity after an extensive round of additions in 2009. The Knights use a signature two-tone green field turf for football games and the atmosphere performed well in signature moments — see Jeremy Ito’s field goal in 2006. It lacks a great name due to corporate sponsorship, but its symmetry, fan support and view of the Raritan River make it one of the AAC’s top venues.
3. Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati
2012 Attendance: 29,138 (77th)
Easily the league’s oldest venue, there is much to like about quaint Nippert Stadium. Built into the downtown campus streets of UC, Nippert is named after a player (Jimmy Nippert) who suffered a deadly injury during a 1923 game with Miami (Ohio). Multiple renovations and new turf — the first of its kind in the U.S. in 2000 — have not taken away from the old-school feel of the classic brick and wrought iron trim. It is one of the smallest buildings in the nation but sells tickets at one of the AAC’s best rates (83.3 percent).
4. Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF
2012 Attendance: 34,608 (68th)
After playing in the dilapidated Citrus Bowl for years, the Knights moved into a brand new, on-campus facility in 2007. It’s one of the newest facilities in the nation, is one of the AAC’s bigger on-campus venues and has excellent surrounding scenery. Additionally, considering UCF’s massive student body population, the building has been built to expand to seat 65,000 if an upper deck is needed. That said, the building is said to be lacking in character and nearly 10,000 seats in its current configuration were empty each Saturday in 2012.
5. Rentschler Field, UConn
2012 Attendance: 34,672 (67th)
Built just a decade ago and named after famous aviator Frederick Rentschler, the Huskies' football stadium is actually underrated nationally. While ranking just 67th in attendance a year ago, the building provides one of the league’s top ticket rates at 86.7-percent sold. Two narrow decks make the building feel bigger than its 40,000-seat capacity might indicate and it is located in the plush greenery of a former airfield run by Pratt & Whitney.
6. Liberty Bowl, Memphis
2012 Attendance: 24,371 (87th)
This building is a bizarre dichotomy of characteristics. Because it houses the Liberty Bowl each winter, the powers that be maintain its upkeep fairly well. And its strangely curved shape give it plenty of character. However, Memphis sells only 39.1-percent of its tickets each weekend, leaving nearly 40,000 empty seats to suck the pageantry out of the building. This facility has plenty of upside should the team ever compete at a high level for an extended period of time. But until then, it will never be considered one of the better locations to watch a game.
7. Gerald Ford Stadium, SMU
2012 Attendance: 21,292 (92nd)
Built 25 feet below street level, SMU’s single-tier horseshoe opened just 12 seasons ago in Dallas. The Mustangs have a rich and high profile football tradition in a football crazy state. And the building is a nice facility. Yet, SMU is would have been last in the conference in attendance a year ago as nearly 11,000 seats go empty each weekend. Simply put, there isn’t much to Gerald Ford Stadium.
8. Raymond James Stadium, South Florida
2012 Attendance: 44,130 (53rd)
The facility is fairly new, good enough for an NFL team and the Bulls are third in the league in attendance. However, this means the building is not on campus and that roughly 20,000 seats go empty each Saturday. The building is adorned with Buccaneers logos and a tacky pirate ship caps the North end zone. At least, those in charge repaint the end zones with “Bulls” for home games unlike other NFL-turned-NCAA stadiums in the nation.
9. Lincoln Financial Field, Temple
2012 Attendance: 26,580 (81st)
The building is nearly brand new and is amenity heavy because the Philadelphia Eagles call it home. But on Saturdays, this is arguably the worst atmosphere in the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Only SMU trails the Owls in attendance as more than 40,000 seats go empty each weekend at “The Link.” Adorned by Eagles logos, Temple takes a back seat in its off-campus, shared facility.
10. Reliant Stadium, Houston
2012 Attendance: 27,247 (80th)
By default, this building is ranked last in the AAC. Reliant is an awesome football stadium that is packed to the gills and loud as any in the nation — when the Texans are playing. Houston will rent the facility in 2013 while a replacement for Robertson Stadium is built. The new $105 million building will be at the same site as the old building and will seat 40,000. As far as 2013 goes, however, the 30,000 Cougar fans will look wildly out of place in the Texans' home, which will double as the AAC's largest venue this fall.
2013 American Athletic Conference Team Previews
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