Ranking the SEC College Towns (Expert Poll)

Athlon asked experts to rank their favorite towns in the SEC.

The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true when it comes to ranking college towns.


Do you prefer larger metropolitan areas? Do you enjoy the isolated peace and quiet of a quaint small town? Cost of living, night life, food, culture, weather, surrounding geography and more go into evaluating a city.


Every college campus is unique and each one brings something different to the table.


When evaluating a bigger city like Nashville against a small town like Starkville or the culture of Gainesville with the Midwest tempo of Columbia, Mo., personal opinions will vary greatly. So we had some fun asking 12 SEC experts to rank their favorite SEC locations and here is what we learned:


The Voting Panel:


Tim Brando, FOX Sports

Dari Nowkhah, SEC Network

Tony Barnhart, AJC/SEC Net

Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated

Chris Low, ESPN

Wes Rucker, 247Sports

Laura Rutledge, SEC Network

Chad Withrow, 104.5 The Zone-Nashville

Kayce Smith, ESPN/SEC Net

Seth Emerson, Macon Telegraph

Josh Ward, WNML-Knoxville

Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM


The Results:


Voting: A first-place vote was worth one point and a last-place vote was worth 14 points.


Rk Job Votes (1st)
1. Vanderbilt Football 31 (5)
Nashville, Tenn. There may not be a hotter city in the nation than the 615. An exploding food and rock music scene have only added to the historic charm and excitement of Music City, USA. Vandy is located just outside of downtown and doesn't add too much to the city but West End (where the campus is located), like every surrounding borough, has grown exponentially over the last decade. A cultural hub of the Southeast, there is literally something for everyone in this exploding it-city. Nashville was voted first or second in the SEC by eight of the 12 experts.
2. 34 (5)
Athens, Ga. Great food, great bars, great music — try R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Danger Mouse and the B-52s — and the gorgeous natural beauty of the East Georgia mountains make Athens a contender for best college town in America every year. There are few places in the country where catching a college football game is more enjoyable than Athens, Ga. The Dawgs' home town got five first-place votes and two second-place votes.
3. 49 (2)
Oxford, Miss. It's a very small town but is rich on tradition and culture. Some of America's greatest writers call it home (William Faulkner, John Grisham) and The Grove might be the best place to tailgate anywhere in the world. It's extremely charming and has an excellent night life on Courthouse Square. Square Books, Library, The Blind Pig and countless other shops, bars and eateries belong on your must-do list. Oxford got the other two first-place votes.
4. 64
Knoxville, Tenn. Larger than most towns in the SEC, Knoxville offers some unique attributes others in the league cannot. First, the greatest whitewater rafting in the world and Smoky Mountain National Park are just south of town. But a developing food and night life scene downtown have made Knoxville a much more attractive place to be in recent years. Check out Market Square for shopping, drinking and eating. The same can be said for the Old City as well. 
5. 77
Baton Rouge, La. If food is your thing, then few places in college football can match LSU's home town. The most creative, eclectic and delicious menu of any tailgate can be found in Baton Rouge. And it's all amazing. The weather can border on desert-like when it comes to heat, but being a capital city gives it a ton of modern growth and technology. And being just up the road from New Orleans has its perks.
6. 86
Tuscaloosa, Ala. Houndstooth Sports Bar and Dreamland BBQ are famous for a reason. They are must-do stops if ever in T-Town. Most of the city revolves around the extremely passionate fandom of Alabama sports. But the town is bigger than outsiders traditionally think, giving it more things to do than one might assume. Tuscaloosa is probably the nicest of the true SEC small towns. Which is why Tuscaloosa was voted as high as fourth and as low as 13th in this poll.
7. 99
Auburn, Ala. It's one of the smallest college towns in the nation and there is literally nothing else in the area but the university so it's not for everyone. However, the charm is unending and the food scene is getting better and better. The Hound is awesome for brunch and BBQ. Acre is incredible fine dining and Hamilton's is right off Toomer's Corner (also, a must-see locale). I've eaten at all three and I'd go back to all of them. The developments and upgrades to the gorgeous brick campus only continue to improve the area.
8. 103
Columbia, Mo. Possibly the most underrated town in the SEC, Columbia is one of the most forward-thinking locations in the league. The arts, journalism and social conscious attitudes are fostered by the university. The night scene is extremely underrated (and filled with crazy good pizza). This town has the most Midwestern vibe of any SEC town. 
9. 105
Lexington, Ky. The horse capital of the world is one of the bigger places to live in the SEC at over 300,000 residents. There is a distinct identity with this town that is undeniable. The surrounding horse land has been preserved and the world's largest basketball-specific arena is located in downtown. Bluegrass and hoops, that's what Lexington does! 
10. 106
College Station, Texas If you think Auburn is small and in the middle of nowhere, then you won't like College Station much either. It's flat and non-descript with little else going on but the campus. The food is excellent (duh, it's Texas) and there are a few solid bars with good music. So if you love golf, BBQ and Texas A&M sports, you will enjoy this place.
11. 113
Gainesville, Fla. Unless you are an undergrad at the university, there isn't a whole lot to the city of Gainesville. It's really, really hot and humid most of the year and isn't a beach city like many outside of the region believe. There is some good music and plenty of places to party. But from a standard of living perspective for adults, there isn't a whole lot to sell about this town.
12. 114
Fayetteville, Ark. Not much separates Fayetteville from Tuscaloosa. Arkansas' home base is more charming than outsiders believe and the beautiful Ozark Mountains offer plenty to do outside of town. There is also much more development in the area due to massive corporate growth from Walmart and Tyson. However, Fayetteville is difficult to get to for most travelers. For what it's worth, I had Fayetteville at eighth on my ballot.
13. 120
Columbia, S.C. Another capital city mixing with a college campus. There is a ton of promise in this town but it has yet to catch its stride and develop like a Nashville for example. The school and campus are the best part of being in Columbia. Four of the 12 voters placed this town as one of the worst two in the SEC.
14. 159
Starkville, Miss. There isn't a whole lot to write about here. The atmosphere surrounding the various sporting events (namely, football and baseball) add plenty of charm but there is nothing to do here and it's smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It got nine of the 12 last-place votes.


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