Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. They shared their observations and insights from their trips.
A charmed life on the Plains
By: Adam Rittenberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Page Remillard and his friends gather in their standard Saturday spot, atop the hill flanking Auburn's athletic complex, near the start of the Tiger Walk (the original pregame parade, Auburn fans are quick to point out; anything else is a reproduction).
Eight couples constitute the Lake Martin Tailgate Club, one of hundreds of organized tailgates at Auburn home games. The names derive from familial connections, variations of the school's "War Eagle" battle cry or, in this case, a vacation spot about an hour away. They dine on shrimp, corn, red potatoes and sausage -- prepared by Neal Reynolds, a former Auburn kicker, and his wife, Jan -- and discuss the upcoming game against Georgia.
These are happy times, as thousands have lined Donahue Drive to welcome the 9-1 Tigers into Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the Lake Martin crew was there a year ago, too, when Auburn went 0-8 in the SEC.
"The whole culture here is real," Remillard says, "not just when we're winning."
At Auburn, football weekends don't begin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, but days before, as RVs flood the hay fields south of Jordan-Hare Stadium and hundreds cram into Bob's Victory Grille for "Tiger Talk," coach Gus Malzahn's weekly radio show. One of the most expansive and structured tailgating scenes in college football starts quietly, as fans sit alone in the rain Friday morning, waiting to mark their areas with orange tape.
Everyone knows how successful Saturdays end at Auburn, with the rolling of Toomer's Corner, where beloved oak trees once stood until an Alabama fan poisoned them in 2010. Fewer understand the scope of football weekends for a fan base that takes unique pride in its personal connection to the school.
"The family atmosphere," athletic director Jay Jacobs said while driving through the hay fields. "Not that others don't have it, but we embrace it."
Many Auburn fans either attended the school or have ties to those who did. Approximately 40 percent of Auburn students are legacies, according to Bill Stone, president of Auburn's alumni association.
Most members of the War Damn Tailgate graduated from AU, including Trey Eiland (1996) and his brother, Parker (2002). Their parents started the tailgate 14 years ago. Gathering just north of Jordan-Hare, the group swelled to 70 before reducing to around 20.
"Last year, we just came to tailgate," says Trey Eiland, who, like many in the party, commutes from Atlanta for games. "We're nervous now. Nervous means you care."
Auburn-Georgia is the oldest rivalry in the Deep South, but the pregame mood is civil. Many tailgates include flags from both teams.
"I might think bad thoughts, but I won't do anything," Eiland says, nodding toward a Georgia tailgate yards away, "As long as you come to campus with a good attitude, you're going to get it back."
Good attitudes abound in these hay fields, where some tailgates resemble small villages, others parade floats or even museums. Many groups will have Thanksgiving dinner here, two days before the Alabama game.
At the massive Stoll family tailgate, Lester Stoll stands beside a Daihatsu Hijet mini truck, decked out in Auburn orange and blue, "War Eagle" on its front and a margarita tap on the side. Stoll, who lives across from campus, bought the truck from the university. "They say this took [former Auburn star] Bo Jackson off the field in '85 when he was hurt," Stoll says.
The Stoll group includes the keepers of the famous Tiger Walk banner, which players touch at the start of their procession. In its 24th season, the banner travels to most Auburn road games. It made it to Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 10, 2011, when the Tigers beat Oregon for the national championship.
"This is what it's all about," says Dick Glenn of Enterprise, Ala., who shepherds the banner with Ron and Cindy Terry, of Lawrenceville, Ga. "The interaction between the Auburn family."
The Auburn family celebrates late that afternoon, as their Tigers build and then squander a 20-point lead, only to win on a miraculous 73-yard touchdown catch by Ricardo Louis after a deflection on fourth and 18. After the game, fans march toward Toomer's Corner, bypassing a young man in a Cam Newton jersey selling toilet paper and chanting, "Continue the tradition."
In minutes, the light posts above the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue are draped with paper.
Life is good on the Plains on this night. Auburn is 10-1 and has exceeded all expectations. The Iron Bowl is next, and the best is yet to come.
Tigers of a different stripe
By: Brian Bennett
CLEMSON, S.C. -- For a place that regularly packs in more than 80,000 fans for its home games, Clemson can feel awfully small.
We're not just talking about the city, with a population of 14,000, or even the campus, which isn't the sprawling behemoth that houses many other major programs.
It's the people who make Clemson feel small, in the best way possible. Tigers fans form a close-knit community that reunites on game days. Everybody knows everybody here, it seems. And if not, few strangers are left by the end of a football weekend.
"Some teams have a nation, like Gator Nation at Florida," said Rob Bashore, a 1992 Clemson graduate. "Clemson fans aren't a nation. We're a family."
"Family" is the word that popped up repeatedly while visiting with Tigers fans before a game against Georgia Tech. It helps that there are easy through-lines for generations to connect, from lasting traditions to familiar haunts.
Start at a place like Mac's Drive-In, which isn't actually a drive-in but a small diner that opened in 1956. From the looks of the wood paneling and Formica counters, not much has changed since then. A cheeseburger here costs $3.05. Yellowing photos of famous Clemson athletes line the wall. Founder Harold "Mac" McKeown fed many of those athletes and coaches before passing away in 2009.
"People still come back from all over," said Ted Hunter, who manages the diner with his father. "People who went to school here now bring their grandkids in."
No trip to a Clemson game is complete without a stop at the Esso Club, a 1920s-era gas station that was transformed into a sports bar in 1985. The Esso proudly proclaims that it's Clemson's oldest place to get a beer, serving suds since 1933.
On game days, fans line up three and four deep around the main bar and sit on picnic tables outside as live music plays. It's the kind of place where old-timers relive details from the 1981 national championship-winning season over a plate of Famous Wangs, or where old friends catch up. On this day, Tigers fan Will Jameson unexpectedly ran into Ricky Thompson and Kevin Nettles, high school buddies from Orangeburg, S.C.
"You see a lot of the same people here over and over again," Nettles said.
The same is true at a Tigers tailgate, which more closely resembles the SEC in scope and fervor than most of the ACC. ("We're the SEC school of the ACC," Jameson says. "That's a compliment, I guess."). The fact that the Tigers were playing the Yellow Jackets on Thursday night -- their first such contest since 2002 -- made getting in and out of town difficult, despite the university cancelling all Thursday afternoon classes to handle the influx of traffic.
Still, the regulars made it, including Jeff Herbert from Anderson, S.C., who has been slowing traffic for 30 years with his customized, 1967 Cadillac hearse he uses for tailgating. Herbert drives "The Paw Bearer", as the hearse is known, to his tailgating spot just below the cemetery on the hill overlooking the stadium. There he shares food and swaps stories with neighbors.
"Not everybody does tailgating like this," Herbert said over a bowl of potato stew. "It's one big family."
If there's one thing the entire Clemson community rallies around, it's the Howard's Rock tradition before the start of every game. To describe the ritual as simply players rubbing a rock and running down a hill can't begin to do it justice. Students camp out for tickets to sit on the hill in the end zone. Fans wait in line to get their picture taken with the rock after games. Grown men tear up watching it.
"I get chills over it," Bashore said. "I get emotional. People in the South hold on to their traditions hard."
Another tradition at Clemson is that fans are allowed onto the field after every game, no matter the opponent or outcome. The stadium turf becomes another place for them to congregate.
"It's just a small-town atmosphere," said Rusty White, 52, from Fort Mill, S.C. "You can come here and not know anybody. But when you leave, you'll have eight or nine new friends."
Meet Bill and his Manhattan family
By: Ted Miller
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Big-time college football programs are often complicated things, full of up and down cycles, famous and infamous names, notorious rivalries and unique traditions. Kansas State is not that way.
It doesn't take a visitor long to distill the essence of the Wildcats football program. Spend one weekend in the charming town of Manhattan before, during and after a home game, and the beating heart of Kanas State is made clearly manifest: family and Bill Snyder.
Kansas State is about family and the coach who placed the concept at the center of the greatest turnaround in the history of college football. Snyder -- laconic, unassuming, steadfast, brilliant -- would tell you family came first. We know this because it says so on the plaque on a granite pedestal under the eight-foot bronze statue of Snyder that stands just outside of Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
It reads, "We came to Kansas State University because of the people, we stayed here because of the people and we came back because of the people."
When Snyder was interviewing for the Kansas State job in 1988, the program resided in abject and seemingly permanent misery. Sports Illustrated called it "Futility U." The program owned a a cumulative record of 299–510 (.370) in 93 years of playing the game. The Wildcats had been to one bowl game and had last won a conference title in 1934. Snyder was considering taking over a program that was winless in its last 27 games.
But instead of focusing on the football program, Snyder wandered the campus and stopped to talk to students and faculty. It was a cold November day, but he was engaged warmly. Folks had time for his questions. To Snyder, that was reason enough to take the job. These people deserved a football program that would make them proud.
"The thing about Kansas State is you won't beat the people," All-Big-12 center B.J. Finney said. "It truly is a family. You can walk up and talk to anybody. [A football game ] is like coming to a big, family holiday dinner."
"Family" isn't a term employed opportunistically by an ambitious coach who is climbing the employment ladder. Kansas State is Snyder's family.
He coached there 17 years and transformed the program into a national power and never considered bolting for a more marquee job. He then retired in 2005. When the program foundered in 2008, he came back because his family needed him, providing reporters with the previously noted quote as his motivation.
Snyder only agreed to have the stadium named after him if they included the word "Family." The statue includes hand impressions of 18 members of Snyder's extended family at its base. On the Wildcats' 2013 poster, linebacker Tre Walker holds up a two-by-four that simply reads "Family." You see those throughout the stadium on game days.
"Family" at Kansas State is a stadium swaying in unison to the "Wabash Cannonball," the school's second but more famous fight song. Family is Joan Friederich working as an administrative assistant in the football office for 42 years. Family is the Kansas State band circulating through Aggieville, the festive restaurant and bar district just off campus, firing up fans on Friday nights. Family is half of the program's season ticket holders commuting from more than 100 miles away for home games.
The family has grown up. Kansas State's athletic facilities are first-rate. "Futility U" is a quaint part of the school's history.
But if you ask any Kansas State football fan what their program is about, the will say two things: Bill Snyder and family.
Not life, but something like it
By: Chris Low
LOS ANGELES -- The first giveaway that I was in a land far, far away from the SEC -- in Los Angeles, covering USC and UCLA on back-to-back nights -- was that fans from UCLA and Washington sat together in the lobby of a Pasadena hotel on Friday, the night the Bruins were set to host the Huskies, exchanging pleasantries and sipping on green tea.
It was almost as if they were going to the theater together, not to a football game.
Come on, where were the insults and the taunts?
Then I stepped outside and made the rounds in the Old Town district of Pasadena, just a few Brett Hundley passes away from the Rose Bowl, and right around the corner was Thurgood Marshall Street.
No Cade McNown Boulevard or Troy Aikman Thruway?
In the SEC, you navigate your way to stadiums on Paul W. Bryant Drive and Peyton Manning Pass and even have to observe an 18 mph speed limit on Ole Miss' campus (most recently a 10 mph speed limit) to honor former Ole Miss greats Archie and Eli Manning.
Out on the West Coast, let's just say there's a little bit more going on outside the world of college football.
But that doesn't mean the passion, people and pageantry, all in their own way, aren't a treat.
Pat West, a diehard USC fan who's had a chance to travel to games at Arkansas, Nebraska and Ohio State, summed it up this way: "We have a life other than football. Football is this extra part of our life, but it's not our whole life. There's a whole life outside of football here."
Jenny Bailey, a regular at UCLA games, added, "In California, you don't grow up with football in your blood like they do in the South."
Nonetheless, similar to football in the SEC, it's the people who make the game-day experiences so special.
Benny Castro of Whittier, Calif., arrives at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum by 5 a.m. on game days to snag a prime spot for tailgating just across the street. He's been attending USC games for 25 years, and his tailgates put Southern hospitality to shame.
He and his best friend's sister, Lori Zavala, put on a massive spread with all the amenities, ranging from homemade salads, to chicken on the barbie, to a flat-screen television to watch all the other games and even a neon USC Trojans sign.
"Lori's the only one crazy enough to come here at 5 in the morning and sit in line so we can get our spot," Castro quipped.
One of their regulars, Russell Love, described their tailgate as "our own little sports bar. You really don't even need to go into the stadium."
Just around the corner on the South Lawn, Al Bautista of Downey, Calif., is whipping up a shrimp concoction that smells and tastes heavenly. His tailgate is easy to spot. Towering right next to him is a custom-made USC monster truck that belongs to his buddy, Juan Duran.
Once upon a time, Bautista's tailgate was so elaborate that he had a live band playing. OK, it might not have been Earth, Wind & Fire, but talk about livening up an already festive party. Sadly, USC officials don't allow live bands anymore on the South Lawn.
Prior to this season's Stanford game, which kicked off at 5 p.m. Pacific time, Bautista arrived early enough (6:45 a.m.) to cook breakfast for everyone. He then left at 8:30 a.m. to take his 10-year-old son, Angel, to his youth football game, but was back before lunch time.
"Hey, at least they won," Bautista joked.
Just getting to the games in Los Angeles can be an adventure. As iconic a setting as the Rose Bowl is, it's not like UCLA students can roll out of bed just prior to noon on Saturdays and stroll across campus to the stadium. The university does provide shuttles for students.
Either way, it's a haul, and the UCLA-Washington game this season kicked off at 6 p.m. Pacific time on a Friday.
What that meant for Andrew Biren was taking the day off. He's an attorney who works in the Hollywood Hills area of L.A.
"Getting here from where I work during rush-hour traffic would be like coming from Siberia," said Biren, who's been coming to UCLA games since 1998.
Biren misses very few home games and tailgates with his brother, Dustin Biren, and friends Ryan Draizin, Spencer Sloan and Daniel Fogelson. Prior to the Washington game, they were munching on a giant sandwich from Bay Cities, a renowned Italian Deli in Santa Monica.
"We've been through some crappy seasons, but UCLA fans are very loyal and we like where we're headed with [Jim Mora]," Andrew Biren said. "Still, though, the only time football really engulfs the city is when UCLA and USC are both good.
Game on the field, party in the stands
By: Edward Aschoff
MADISON, Wis. -- It's borderline sacrilege for any Southern football fan to devote attention to anything outside of the 60 minutes of football being played.
Where football is religion, devotion hinges on the utmost concentration.
Football doesn't rest upon such conservative values in Madison. Sure, the football is important, but there's so much more to the experience of attending a Wisconsin home game.
The student section at Camp Randall Stadium, as it does in most places, fills up midway through the first quarter. For early games, like this one against Indiana on Nov. 16, it's a late-arriving crowd.
While the game takes place, one of the liveliest fan bases you'll see provides a bevy of the entertainment from the stands above. There's no question those in attendance inside rustic Camp Randall are there for the game, but there's a show going on in the stands that often rivals the one on the field.
"It's a lifestyle," Wisconsin senior Danielle Savino said. "It's a way of approaching the game where you take everything in and you experience everything that you possibly can -- the game, the people, the atmosphere, the songs. You take what the stadium gives you and it's unbelievable. You can't help but love life while you're there.
"You are the entertainment. You are the stadium, the stadium is you. The whole thing is entertainment -- the team, the band, the fans -- it's all one thing. It's not separate at all."
From the players, to the students, to the band, it's hard to know where to look but within the chaos, there's harmony.
The songs, chants and organized movements don't serve to interrupt or distract from the action on the field -- even though they continue as play goes on -- they're simply part of the game.
Occasionally, members of the band will walk around the stadium to play for fans … while plays are going on.
"I love the atmosphere," said Cindy Alvarez, wife of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. "I think the energy that we get from the students and the fans, the music, the band, you can't beat it."
Six minutes into the second quarter, the student section begins the vulgar, yet giddy call-and-response chant of "Eat S---/F--- You," which originated from Wisconsin's band playing Steve Miller Band's "Swingtown" back in the 1980s when the team struggled. It stood as a way to keep students involved. When the team improved under then-coach Alvarez in the 1990s, the band stopped playing it in order to eliminate the chant.
"It's probably a chant that shouldn't be going on, but the students embraced it," 2011 Wisconsin graduate Brandon Selner said. "It's a great chant."
There's also the "We want beer" chant that erupted a few times and a stadium-wide a cappella rendition of "Build Me Up Buttercup," but fans took it to another level with their choreography and unity. After scoring plays -- or just when it felt right -- students started the wave, which could start and stop on a dime. It sped up, slowed down and even traveled backward.
"The team was so bad [in the '80s] that the only thing we had was the party," said Adam Erickson, who has been coming to Wisconsin games for 20 years. "And then the team became good, then great, and the thing that continued was the party."
And like any good party, it has an epic finale.
Despite a comfortable lead over an overmatched Indiana team, there's a sense of anxiety in the air in the minutes between the third and fourth quarter, as fans and players brace for a minute-and-a-half of mayhem.
The buildup is fierce, as raucous students fall into a trance while former Badgers quarterback Darrell Bevell leads into "Jump Around" with a video message on the scoreboard.
"'Jump Around' is Wisconsin," Savino said.
The playing of House of Pain's 1992 hip-hop, rock mix leading into fourth quarter has become one of college football's best traditions since 1998.
As soon as that first note hit, cheers erupted, and bedlam ensued, as the better part of 77,000-plus jumped up and down in unison, shaking Camp Randall's foundation.
"It's organized chaos, is what it is," former Wisconsin student Tyler Percy said. "End of the third quarter, you have to be there for it. It's fantastic."
New money, same old Ducks
By: Heather Dinich
EUGENE, Ore. -- The wealth oozing through Oregon's football facilities flows as freely as the waterfalls that accentuate the hot and cold pools in the spa-like training rooms.
Italian marble covers the floors of the locker room's 7-foot showers, the seats in the meeting rooms are made of genuine Ferrari leather, there is a hand-stitched rug from Nepal that weighs 500 pounds in the players' lounge, along with a pool table custom-made in Portland, and a one-of-a-kind foosball table made in Barcelona that has the Ducks playing the rest of the Pac-12. The floor in the weight room is indestructible Brazilian Ipe. Even the garbage cans are unique, as each one is engraved with the name of somebody who had a hand in constructing the palatial facility.
"You run out of adjectives for it," said senior associate athletic director Craig Pintens. "The building is special. It's going to stand the test of time because the materials we used are the best."
It all glistens on campus in stark contrast with the traditional folksy football feel of downtown Eugene. Oregon's brand has become national, as Phil Knight's fortune has single-handedly turned the program into one of the best and most innovative in the country. Both on and off the field, the Ducks have found ways to stay ahead of the game, whether it's their fast-paced offense, or stunning facilities and trendsetting uniforms. And yet through all of its growth, the program has somehow found a way to maintain its small-town charm. Oregon football is unique not only because of its traditions and its picturesque location in the Pacific Northwest, but because of the striking balance it has achieved between corporate and community.
"I really think it's about the people, to be honest with you," said Kenny Farr, the Ducks' football equipment administrator for the past four years, and a 2002 alum. "A lot of our coaches have been here for 20-plus years. It's a community. The community embraces Oregon football. It's so exciting around here. It's the biggest thing going in this town."
A town that has become a blend of past and present, a new generation of fans spoiled by the Ducks' recent success, mingling with an older crowd that still remembers when tickets were easy to come by. Familiar faces like Don Essig, who has been the public address announcer at Autzen Stadium since it first opened in 1967.
"What I love?" said Essig, "The whole ambiance of being in Autzen Stadium. What makes it unique is the program. We have a great football program, that's all there is to it. We did not have a great program in the '70s and early '80s. The people who've been around here for a long time really realize and appreciate what we have now. We used to have 20,000 people, and half of them would go home at halftime. And it rained about every game.
"Now," he said, quoting his favorite line, "it never rains here."
The bustling corner of 13th Avenue and Kincaid Street on campus is where you'll find Shari Chrissis, more commonly recognized as "the hot dog lady," a vendor who occupies what she called "probably one of the most exciting corners in all of Eugene." Across the street from Chrissis' stand is the Duck Store, the university's book store that has been there since 1920. Want a history lesson in Oregon football or legendary runner Steve Prefontaine? Chrissis will send you to Pete Peterson, the barber at the Red Rooster for the past 44 years, who has been cutting the hair of Oregon coaches and players so long that five of them are now NFL head coaches. Not far from Peterson's shop, on Alder Street, is the Glenwood Restaurant, a must-stop on game day morning for eggs Benedict.
It's the people and places that have remained unchanged through Oregon's rapid transformation that have helped sustain the culture surrounding the program. It's the traditional walk over the Willamette Bridge to and from Autzen Stadium that literally brings them together. Somehow, in spite of the flashy fortune Oregon has created, the heart of the program still remains the same.
And for that, Oregon and its fans are all the richer.
Austin, Texas: College town, etc.
By: Andrea Adelson
AUSTIN -- What you expect to see are burnt orange flags flying from cars, and Longhorn logos plastered on T-shirts, and folks proclaiming "Hook 'Em!" as you make your way into Austin.
Instead, the first question you get seems incongruous with the reason for your visit.
"Are you here for the Formula One race?"
Two days before the biggest Texas football home game of the season, versus No. 12 Oklahoma State, and Austin is clearly in another mode. But, as you quickly learn, Austin is always in another mode, because this is a city that cannot be defined or described in one neat, tidy way.
Austin transforms into whatever you want it to be, which makes it the rare college town that is not just a college town. It is a government town, a hipster town, a festival town, a foodie town, a barbeque town, a tourist town, a live music town, a coffeehouse town, a car racing town, a Friday night lights town, a fill-in-your-own-blank town.
So on this particular Thursday, there was nothing that shouted, "TEXAS FOOTBALL!"
You double check. Yes, there still is a game Saturday.
It wasn't very different on Friday morning. The line outside Franklin Barbecue near downtown was cut off at 9:30 a.m. because there would not be enough food to feed everybody. The friendly hostess said the line was longer than usual not because of football, but because of the Formula One race.
Strolling along South Congress Avenue brought much of the same. While perusing the shop storefronts, it was no surprise to find "Keep Austin Weird" souvenirs, but there were still no "Beat Oklahoma State" buttons or signs to be found.
Returning to campus in the afternoon is a different story. Finally, all the telltale football signs. Students walking around campus with T-shirts that read, "Students Hooked on Texas." Barricades going up for on-campus tailgates. Much more traffic inside the University Co-Op, now brimming with fans upstairs and downstairs stocking up on burnt orange gear.
At 5 p.m., a 40-foot motor home is parked near Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, one of the first to arrive. A television is already plugged in outside, turned to the nightly news. Edward Taylor drove five hours from Angleton, the way he has done for years. The menu for Saturday is set: quail, sausage, ribs and stuffed jalapeno peppers. Inside, his wife, two friends and a dog relax on some couches. Suzann Smith tells stories about her father, Howard Terry, captain of the football team in 1937. The team's locker room bears his name. Cheering for Texas has always been a way of life, she explains.
By 6 p.m., trucks hauling smokers have converged on a parking lot near the motor home. An hour later, Chuy's, a Tex-Mex restaurant four miles from campus, has a wait. The influx of Texas fans has only just begun.
By noon Saturday, the streets close to and far away from the stadium are filled. A police escort blares its sirens, making way for Bevo XIV. Fans stop, put up their fingers and yell, "Hook 'Em!" Scholz Garten, a game-day institution, is standing room only. A black-and-white steer named Oreo sits in an alley next to the restaurant, docile enough to allow passersby to sit on his saddle and pose for photos.
By contrast, the iconic Bevo cannot be touched. It is time to head to the football stadium, but the walk is made more difficult with all the people who have descended here, from towns nearby like Georgetown and Elgin, to those further away, like Bandera and Houston. They are all Austinites today.
Once inside, all the football traditions are fully on display: Bevo in his corner, his handlers constantly gripping a rope to help keep him still; Smokey the Cannon on the other side, with select members of the Texas Cowboys student service organization in control (with ear plugs at the ready); the Longhorn Band pregame performance, complete with Big Bertha and "The Eyes of Texas."
Anticipation builds for kickoff. Plastic ropes cordon off the lane where the players will run onto the field from the locker room. You wait, find a place next to the rope. The smoke spills. The players run. The burnt orange-and-white crowd roars.
Welcome to Austin, college town.
It's always Happy in the Valley
By: Jake Trotter
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, it's the same.
The state of Pennsylvania loves its state university. And it's the state university that brings Pennsylvanians together.
In Big 12 states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa, loyalties are divided between two schools.
But Pennsylvania, with a population four times those states, is all about the Nittany Lions – making Penn State one of college football's most wondrous settings.
"The environment around the university is like no other," said Nittany Lions guard John Urschel, who, already with a master's degree in mathematics, taught calculus to Penn State undergrads while playing football.
Elsewhere, students might not even bother attending games such as Penn State's visit from Purdue. In Happy Valley, they camped outside in freezing temperatures the night before in Nittanyville to get the best seats.
It wasn't just football that had the campus buzzing the night before: Hockey, women's soccer and women's basketball games were all taking place around Beaver Stadium. The parking lots overflowed. So did the sidewalks.
Those in town who didn't go to those games were in downtown State College just off campus filling up its iconic bistros like the Allen Street Grille and the Corner Room.
Or they were in line at the Berkey Creamery, waiting to get ice cream at the largest university run creamery in the nation.
"It's a Penn State tradition to come and get your ice cream," said Nancy, a Penn State sophomore who works at the Creamery, which once served President Bill Clinton, the only person on record allowed to mix flavors there.
The grandest spectacle of them all, and the reason why so many descend upon Penn State these fall weekends, is the tailgates before football games.
On game days, State College famously becomes the third largest city in Pennsylvania. And hours before the Nittany Lions took on Purdue, fans from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia flocked to the lots surrounding Beaver Stadium.
But not just fans. Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Cousins, uncles and aunts. The Penn State tailgate is almost like a weekly family reunion.
"It's like when the Pied Piper plays the music, and all the mice rush to it," said Luigi Puglia, who hosted one tailgate this year that went 142-people deep, reeling in family and friends scattered across Pennsylvania and beyond. "All the kids show up. All the parents of the kids show up.
"It's a way to reconnect."
The Penn State community has been through a lot the last three years. And those wounds still cut deep. But that has hardly stopped the campus from being a tie that binds.
"Even after everything that happened," said Ken Constanble, Puglia's neighbor in suburban Philadelphia and a regular at his tailgates. "All this is just like it was."
Hours after Penn State beat Purdue 45-21, the lights around the stadium remained bright. The tailgates carried on. The family reunions did, too.
Lose the game, but never the tailgate
By: Kevin GemmellCOLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ray Schooler and Chris Fulmer had been traveling to South Carolina football games for years before their paths crossed for the first time in West Virginia in 1989. Sitting in the Gamecocks cheering section, Fulmer was yelling a bit of nastiness at the officials, earning him a high five from nearby Schooler.
That's how "The Ultimate Tailgaters," a group of more than 50 South Carolina fans, was born.
Every home game they meet on the corner of Bluff Road and Rosewood Drive -- two blocks north of Williams-Brice Stadium -- to celebrate their love of all things South Carolina football. They caravan together for road games. But they also celebrate what the group has become over the decades.
You can identify them by the banner that proclaims them The Ultimate Tailgaters. They have hats and polo shirts with their logo. They've won national tailgating competitions. Fulmer's barbecue has won national awards. Anyone is welcome to stop by and say hi, have a cold one, do a little line dancing and join in the pre-meal prayer. But once you're in, you can't leave until Chris' wife, Kathy, gives you a hug. And you won't leave hungry.
"We've lost a lot of games over the years, but we've never lost a tailgate. We're something like 250-0," says Fulmer, 52, who has only missed one game since 1970, and that was to get married. "It was in 1981, and I think we lost to Ole Miss, 17-10."
I checked the record book. It was 20-13, but who's counting?
The Ultimate Tailgaters are but one grain of sand on a beach of friends and loved ones who come out to see the Gamecocks play each week or go on the road to support their team. They come to the Fairgrounds and Farmers Market to tip a few, grill a few and eat some boiled peanuts. There are hundreds of stories like the Ultimate Tailgaters. Football is simply the mechanism that brings them all together.
Florida was in town, so fried Gator was on several tailgating menus (it's like chicken and calamari were cross-bred in a vat of boiling oil). "Sandstorm" cranked throughout the stadium. The Gamecocks won, though all of college football was still buzzing about the Miracle at Jordan-Hare – which was shown numerous times on the $7.5 million video board.
Congressman Joe Wilson even swung by the Ultimate Tailgaters tent to stump a little and share some passionate stories about the Gamecocks.
"Some of us have been fans for 50 years," he said. "48 of those have been waiting for the next year. What's happening here is special."
And he wasn't just talking about what happens on the field.
"If we win, we're excited," said Schooler, 54. "If we don't, we don't. But you can't ever take away what we have here."
Visitors beware upon entering Blacksburg
By: Brandon Chatmon
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Taking a sharp left turn off Washington Street onto Spring Road, the Highty-Tighties get closer and closer to their destination. As Virginia Tech's military band continues its journey, their march toward Lane Stadium sends a clear message to everyone around them without the use of words.
Tailgating is over; it's time to get to business.
Dressed in orange and maroon, many lingering fans quickly file into Lane Stadium with the knowledge that kickoff is nearing. The normal pregame excitement and anticipation that precedes any college football game fills the air as students and alumni alike prepare for three hours of Hokies football.
It's just another Saturday in the fall, with little sign of the pandemonium that is on the horizon.
Within minutes, the chant "Let's go! Hokies!" begins to reverberate back and forth within the venue, as one of college football's most unique traditions unfolds. VT cheerleaders lead the pregame chant, alternating turns to unite the crowd as one. On the north side of the field, members of the Highty-Tighties form a human tunnel that will provide the pathway for the home team as it enters the 66,632-seat stadium. Standing in the middle of the human tunnel, the Hokie mascot tries to pump up Hokie nation as it awaits the critical moment that has come to define a home game at Virginia Tech.
Seconds later, organized chaos erupts in the student section as the metal stands in the north end zone section begin to rattle, groaning under the weight of thousands of Hokies' students jumping up and down with glee.
"Enter Sandman" has begun.
The classic Metallica song blares throughout the venue, taking the excitement and anticipation in the stands to a level that is light years away from just another Saturday in the fall. The rattling metal bleachers in the student section make the song sound like a remix, with an added beat joining the normal pulse of the Hokies' entrance track.
Tail feathers bouncing up and down, the Hokie mascot joins members of the spirit squad, who spell out "H-O-K-I-E-S" with individual flags, as the first group to run through the human tunnel as the song continues and the chaos in the student section rises. On their heels is the Virginia Tech football team, who tap the Hokie Stone on their way out of the main tunnel of the stadium and burst onto the playing field as the noise level reaches its pinnacle.
As the bulk of the football team hits the field, "Enter Sandman" comes to an abrupt end and the chaos in the student section subsides while the Marching Virginians, VT's civilian band, begin to play the "Blacksburg Bounce" and the home team finally hits its sideline, ready to fight for its place among college football's elite.
It's time to play football in Blacksburg, Va.