Toughest Stadiums To Play In
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By Richard Cirminiello
Ari Enter at your own risk.
While it’s always a little tougher hitting the road to play a game, there are certain venues in college football that are positively frightening for opposing teams to visit. These stadiums often conjure up nothing but bad memories, years of futility and a feeling of trepidation for players, coaches and fans. Winning here is a true achievement, something kids remember for many years, because few others have done it during their careers.
Copping road wins is tough in every sport. Winning a game in one of these 20 buildings is a colossal pursuit, as recent history will attest.
If the Huskers faithful wasn’t so doggone hospitable, Memorial Stadium would rank even higher on this list. Among enthusiastic fans of college football, the folks in Lincoln consistently stand out among the classiest and respectful in the game. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’ll make life easy on the visitors. In a testament to how the program is woven into the fabric of the state, Nebraska has sold out an NCAA-record 318 games that dates all the way back to 1962. In the four years since Bo Pelini replaced Bill Callahan, the Huskers have treated their fans to 23 wins in 29 games.
19. West Virginia
Morgantown was always the most menacing trip for Big East teams. It’ll be interesting to see how well it translates to the Big 12. Mountaineer Field is historically loud and chaotic, the home to some of the wildest and downright unruly fans in the game of college football. The so-called “Mountaineer Maniacs”, the aptly-named student portion of the crowd will be eager to show zero hospitality to a whole new cast of visitors in 2012 and beyond. West Virginia has lost just 12 home games since the start of 2002.
Underrated for its inhospitable ways, Kinnick Stadium is always one of the toughest stops on the Big Ten tour. The architecture of the building can make visitors feel claustrophobic, with yellow-clad fans practically draping them on the sidelines. Heck, you want to know how serious the Hawkeyes are about their home-field advantage? They’ve got the visiting locker room awash in the color pink in an attempt to provide a calming pregame effect for opponents. Kinnick has become a place where ranked seasons go to rest, as Iowa has delivered its share of upsets in front of the locals. Overall, the program is 60-12 at home since 2001.
17. Florida State
The Seminoles’ home-field advantage certainly isn’t what it was in the 1990s, when absolutely nobody wanted to step foot in Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State was virtually unbeatable during the glory days. These days? Not so much, though the lack of dominance in Tallahassee has more to do with a program struggling in all phases than anything else. When the ‘Noles are the’Noles, they’re as tough to upset at home as anyone else in the SEC. Every game begins with Chief Osceola riding Renegade to midfield, where he inserts a spear into the turf to the delight of 82,000 fans. And every game includes a haunting serenade of the tomahawk chop in order to fuel the host’s fire.
It’s big. It’s historic. But it’s not exactly the loudest of the venues in the sport, a cavernous facility that allows cheering to dissipate into the clouds above Ann Arbor. Still, while the Wolverines clearly lost some of their edge in the four years between 2007 and 2010, bowing to Appalachian State and Toledo among others, don’t be sidetracked by a small sampling during a school’s down period. Michigan has long held a tremendous home-field advantage over visitors, greeting them with an ardent base that jams nearly 110,000 people into the Big House on Saturdays. Brady Hoke took a big first step toward recapturing the school’s swagger in Michigan Stadium, sweeping last year’s eight home games.
Memorial Stadium is known as Death Valley for good reason. The home crowd is imposing and boisterous, and the traditions are among the richest in the game. Oh, and when the Tigers come spilling down the hill in a tidal wave of orange to touch Howard’s Rock, certain opponents just assume get back on the bus. Although Clemson did sweep last season’s seven home games, an inability to hold serve against some of the tougher visitors on the schedule prevent it from climbing much higher in the rankings.
14. South Carolina
Even when the Gamecocks weren’t very good, Williams-Brice Stadium was a hornet’s nest for visiting teams; that’s the sign of a home-field advantage that transcends the product on the field. This venue is downright electric on game day, producing enough energy to light up the city of Columbia. The scene in the stands is revelatory, with jacked-up fans waving their “Cocky Clothes” from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. Since 2005, South Carolina has knocked off six ranked teams at home, but only two away from home.
For opposing teams, traveling to Austin on a Saturday afternoon is like being enveloped by a sea of burnt orange. The Longhorns attract more than 100,000 fans for each and every home game, a religion of sorts in these parts. Although there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Darrell Royal Stadium, besides being loud and dipped in history, Texas is just very difficult to defeat on home soil. Since 2000, the ‘Horns are 65-10 when not having to travel. However, seven of those losses have come in the last two years, and getting Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl has surely protected the home mark, especially during the five-game losing streak that ended in 2005.
Playing “between the hedges” sounds like such a cozy endeavor done with your grandkids. It’s not if you’re a visiting team. Sanford Stadium is quintessential SEC, with the noise, passion and intimidation already built into the girders. Over the last decade under head coach Mark Richt, the Bulldogs have fallen just 11 times in Athens, all to SEC opponents or in-state rival Georgia Tech. Georgia has also authored its share of huge wins at home, feeding off the student body and one of the best atmospheres in the game.
11. Virginia Tech
As the Virginia Tech program has grown over the years, so has Lane Stadium. And has Lane Stadium has grown, so has the challenge for visiting teams. From the moment that the Hokies come out of the tunnel to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, the crowd is already whipped into the kind of frenzied state that can carry a team right into the halftime locker room. At night, Tech becomes exponentially tougher to knock off. Since the beginning of this century, the Hokies are 68-12 in Blacksburg, rarely losing more than a game a year in front of its throngs of supporters.
At Jordan-Hare Stadium, it all starts with the fans, some of the most rabid and raucous backers in all of college football. Prior to kickoff, an eagle soars over the field as the University band belts out the notes to “War Eagle”, the school’s fight song. It’s an iconic and electrifying moment, as if the Auburn faithful need another reason to get amped up before the game starts. The Tigers are a crisp 49-11 on the Plains since 2004, including 14-1 over the past two seasons. The lone loss was to eventual national champion Alabama, 42-14, last Nov. 26.
9. Penn State
Happy Valley has always been a rugged trip for opponents. If the locals are in the mood for a white out, it’s even worse than average. The crowd in State College is passionate, deafening and enormous, routinely packing more than 100,000 fans into Beaver Stadium. Central Pennsylvania adores its football program - possibly a bit too much - and is always eager to display its fervor on Saturdays. Over the past seven seasons the Nittany Lions have had few stumbles at home, winning 42 and losing just eight times over that span.
8. Boise State
No, there’s no added mystique to the blue turf, though the results seem to suggest a different scenario. Boise State has been borderline untouchable since 1999, going 82-3 over that time, which included a 65-game regular season winning streak between 2001 and 2011.The program has gotten in the heads of opponents so much that the Mountain West banned it from wearing all blue unis in conference home games because of a perceived unfair advantage. The elevation of the field is 2,695 feet above sea level, which can wear out other teams, but Boise State has ruled at home for such a long time mainly because it executes better than the guys on the other sideline.
7. Ohio State
While the Horseshoe may not be the loudest venue on the planet, it’s steeped in enough tradition and electricity to completely take visitors out of a game. It all begins with the dotting of the “i”, which helps get Buckeyes fans just a little nutty. Columbus is home to one of the three Big Ten buildings that can accommodate at least 100,000 fans, and boasts a rowdy student section that will rattle opposing teams as they approach the end zone. Prior to last year’s swoon in the ‘Shoe, Ohio State hadn’t lost more than a single home game in a season since 2001.
6. Alabama - On Nov. 17, 2007, arguably the low point of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, the Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe at Bryant-Denny Stadium. ‘Bama has fallen at home just twice since, in 2010 to eventual national champ and in 2011 to then-unbeaten LSU. The program is supported by some of the most loyal and passionate fans in the sport, and never plays in front of anything other than a packed house. While the Crimson Tide hit a rough patch for a decade under Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula, Saban has helped usher in a new era of prosperity on the home soil.
Has Camp Randall become the toughest place to visit in the Big Ten? The argument can certainly be made, especially in light of the recent numbers. The Badgers are a pristine 51-4 in Madison since 2004, losing only to Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa (twice). While Wisconsin doesn’t reside in one of the conference’s super-sized cathedrals, it generates more than enough noise and electricity with its enthusiastic, red-adorned fans who literally shake the stands at the beginning of each fourth quarter. The Badgers have mastered home-field advantage over the years, really turning Camp Randall into the kind of place that opponents hate to see on the schedule.
Too bad BCS bowl games can’t be played in Norman, because few current coaches have had a greater impact on home-field edge than Bob Stoops has at Memorial Stadium. The numbers don’t lie. Since Stoops came aboard in 1999, Oklahoma is 75-3, losing only to Oklahoma State in 2001, TCU in 2005 and Texas Tech last season. Critics like to point out that the Sooners’ toughest game of every year, squaring off with rival Texas, occurs at a neutral site. Point well taken. However, there’s no denying that the OU enjoys a certain mojo and confidence whenever the Sooner Schooner is in the building.
The heat is oppressive. The humidity wears down even the best conditioned visitors. And there are angry Gators as far as the eye can see. Yup, no one likes to travel to The Swamp, especially when the mercury is at its peak in the early parts of the season. The design of the stadium tends to trap in noise like an echo chamber, and the first row of the stands is only a few feet from the benches, bad news for opponents. Is it any wonder that Florida is a stellar 122-18 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1990 for an .871 winning percentage that tops all over programs over that timeframe?
Autzen Stadium is the site for sheer pandemonium in Eugene, a zoo-like atmosphere that the Ducks feed off liberally. The crowd is airplane-engine loud, messing with the other team’s ability to effectively communicate once the offensive huddle breaks. What really makes Autzen so impressive is that it generates the decibels with around half the capacity size of some of the most expansive buildings in college football. Since 2005, the Ducks have gone 40-6 at home, consistently climbing the ranks of the most feared and daunting places for opponents to visit.
When night falls, watch out. It’s often hot, humid and downright scary for visitors. If you’ve got a young quarterback starting behind center, you might as well stay on the bus. Not only have the Tigers had a preponderance of talent in recent years under Les Miles and Nick Saban, but they also call “Death Valley” home, one of the loudest and most chaotic venues in all of college football. Since the start of the century, LSU is a wicked 72-11 at Tiger Stadium, including 17 straight wins.