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 Big Ten stack up.
1. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
2012 Attendance: 105,330 (2nd)
There is little doubt that the Horseshoe is the Big Ten’s best place to watch a game. A great nickname, awesome traditions, tremendous fan support and commitment, elite level of success, High Street and the Banks of the Olentangy make Ohio Stadium a bucket list destination for fans of every team. And with a brand new video board, audio system and LED lighting, Ohio State boasts one of the top college football venues in the nation. Watching the "Dotting of the I" before a Buckeyes game is something all college fans should experience. Finishing No. 2 in average attendance doesn’t hurt either.
2. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
2012 Attendance: 96,730 (5th)
From a massive city like Columbus to a sleepy college town like State College, Beaver Stadium nearly matches The Horseshoe’s every facet. Named after former Board of Trustees’ President James Beaver, Penn State’s home stadium is as intimidating as any in the nation — especially when 100,000 fans are all wearing white. Massive, boisterous crowds steeped in rich tradition and history make Nittany Lions’ home games a sight to behold. And climbing nearby Mount Nittany is a right of passage of sorts for all who attend a game at Beaver Stadium.
3. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
2012 Attendance: 85,517 (12th)
Towering over the sprawling Lincoln campus, Memorial Stadium rises high into the horizon for all Big Red faithful to see. The façade of Memorial Stadium is extremely intimidating to those down on the field and the crowds are the most committed in the nation. This venue has been sold out since 1962. With another round of multimillion dollar expansions coming, this college football cathedral is expected to get even bigger (91,000) and even more luxurious. And from a technology standpoint, few programs in the nation can boast the level of advancement of the Cornhuskers football program.
4. Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin
2012 Attendance: 80,006 (17th)
Madison is routinely considered one of the nation’s most enjoyable college towns. Nestled between two gorgeous lakes, the downtown campus “jumps around” on fall Saturdays. The brat haze that floats over State Street and down Regent Street ushers fans through a gorgeous campus and into the House that Barry built. Camp Randall got its name from its time as a Civil War army base in the 1800s long before Big Ten athletics were created. Wisconsin has consistently poured money into renovating its prized gem of a stadium over the years, with some finishing touches still yet to come. One of the nation’s best game day atmospheres is only getting better with time.
5. Michigan Stadium, Michigan
2012 Attendance: 112,252 (1st)
The biggest stadium in the nation is located in Ann Arbor, Mich. And capable of holding upwards of 80,000 people at the time it opened, The Big House was well ahead of its time in terms of sheer size and capacity. Built down into the ground, the massive bowl doesn’t tower over the land or hold in the sound like some of its 100,000-seat brethren. However, the renovations completed in 2010 installed new luxury boxes, added a massive video scoreboard and thousands of club seats. These changes have contained the noise to some degree and made The Big House more inhospitable to opposing teams.
6. Kinnick Stadium, Iowa
2012 Attendance: 70,474 (21st)
Formerly Iowa Stadium, the name changed in 1972 when a local sports writer convinced the powers that be to rename the building after former Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick. The Hawkeyes' home field took its current shape in 2006 when a $86 million renovation added a new press box, video scoreboard and built permanent seating in the south end zone, complete with upgraded amenities. The no-frills, straight forward seating can be as loud as any stadium in the Big Ten and the famous pink visitors’ locker room only adds to the building’s rich tradition.
7. Spartans Stadium, Michigan State
2012 Attendance: 75,382 (20th)
Entering the 2012 season, Michigan State has put together an extremely respectable 69.6-percent winning percentage (334-142-13) at home since taking up residency in Spartan Stadium. So clearly, last year’s bizarre 2-5 home mark isn’t indicative of the home-field advantage that Sparty has enjoyed within the perfectly symmetrical walls of Spartan Stadium. Renovations completed in 2006 upgraded the luxury suites, club seats, concourses and amenities and added The Grand Entrance, a sharp looking glass and brick façade that welcomes Green and White faithful each Saturday.
8. TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
2012 Attendance: 46,637 (47th)
The newest building in the Big Ten is home to the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. The on-campus, outdoor facility opened in 2009 and cost roughly $300 million to build. It could be expanded to 80,000 should it be needed. The west end zone is open air, holds a massive HD video board and provides a scenic view of downtown Minneapolis. “The Bank” or “Gopher Hole” has dramatically improved the game day atmosphere for home games and provides Minnesota an on-campus home of its own for decades to come. The amenities are also among the league’s best considering it’s the newest building in the conference.
9. Ross Ade Stadium, Purdue
2012 Attendance: 43,588 (55th)
Named for Boilermakers alumni David Ross and George Ade, Purdue’s home stadium could be the next Big Ten stadium to get a makeover. It has plenty of tradition, a rich history of elite players and has provided plenty of upsets — just ask Ohio State. But an upper deck on the North and East sides as well as a facelift for the amenities would go a long way to improving the status of this proud venue. The rumored additions would balance out the currently western heavy feel to the building — due to the massive press box and luxury suites towering over the single-bowl facility. Winning more games, of course, would go a long way to pushing forward these potential renovations.
10. Memorial Stadium, Illinois
2012 Attendance: 45,564 (49th)
The exterior of Illinois’ facility has always had a classic and traditional feel that welcomes home and road fans. But prior to 2008, this facility lacked the passion and intensity of the bigger Big Ten buildings. However, a brand new press box and luxury suites on the West side coupled with 10,000 new seats in the north end zone have helped rebuild the Memorial experience. And when the multimillion dollar video board is added in the coming months, the Fighting Illini’s home venue will be even better.
11. Memorial Stadium, Indiana
2012 Attendance: 44,802 (52nd)
The Hooisers’ home field is one of the few in the nation that has remained largely unchanged throughout the years. The signature, solitary press box rests gently atop the single-tier bowl nicknamed “The Rock.” A rare 2009 renovation expanded seating slightly, added the brand new Hall of Champions athletic facility and enclosed the north end zone. Bloomington is an awesome college town and Memorial offers the homely experience of a laid-back Midwestern campus. But until the team can win at a higher level more consistently, The Rock won’t be nearly as intimidating as most places in the league.
12. Ryan Field, Northwestern
2012 Attendance: 35,697 (65th)
Formerly Dyche Stadium, the Wildcats' home stadium was renamed Ryan Field in honor of Patrick G. Ryan, who was the chairman of the Board of Trustees at that time. The unique gentle curves of the stadium allow for great sight lines and few bad seats. Located in northeast Chicago along Lake Michigan, the Evanston campus offers plenty for fans to enjoy. However, much like Duke or Vanderbilt, this venue struggles to match the rabid intensity of bigger more powerful athletic departments.
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