The pomp and circumstance, parties and camaraderie, players and coaches all join forces on fall Saturdays to make college football a one-of-a-kind spectacle that captures the hearts and minds of fans across the country.
Each year, hearty souls embark on fun-filled trips to experience the best of what the sport has to offer. While some of the pilgrimages are well known – South Bend, Ind.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Columbus, Ohio; and Eugene, Ore., to name a few – others hold charms both on and off the gridiron that should be discovered.
These unique towns are the perfect place to discover and experience the true essence of college football, so hit the road and make some new friends – about 70,000 of them!
1. West Point, N.Y. (Army)
The home of the United States Military Academy combines patriotism and football to create a breathtaking experience for fans that honors the country's military tradition and love for college football in a stirring manner.
“It’s more than just the football game. It’s American history,” says Lt. Col Chadwick Davis, a former football player for the Cadets and now the program’s director of football operations. “It’s all here. You can walk around and see it, and step on the field and feel it.”
Army’s Michie Stadium rests on the banks of the Hudson River, and fans can arrive at the stadium via ferry boats from New York City just in time to watch the Cadet Review, where the regiments of cadets meet on a large grassy area near the barracks before the tailgate parties begin.
“Having been a player and now in the administration, I see what Army football means to so many people,” Davis says. “It makes it really special.”
2. Boise, Idaho (Boise State)
Before the Boise State football team became one of the country's best mid-major squads, the Broncos were primarily known for their stadium's vibrant blue turf.
It’s fitting, however, for Boise, a town that features a surprisingly robust art scene that provides plenty of distractions for fans leading into the game.
“It’s somewhat because Boise is a city by itself,” says John Curtis, spokesperson for the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. “If you wanted to have some arts or top-notch entertainment, you had to go far away. So Boise began to develop an arts scene. We have our own opera, our own philharmonic, Broadway tours. For a lot of people, this is the closest place to come to see that.”
Some of the town’s highlights include the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which runs through September, with the Bard’s best works being performed in a state-of-the-art, natural setting just outside the city, while the Egyptian Theatre is a restored 1927 movie house that hosts concerts and other special events.
3. Oxford, Miss. (University of Mississippi)
For an old-fashioned dose of Southern hospitality mixed with a dash of modern football, look no further than Oxford, where this genteel town of 15,000 explodes on Saturdays into a of sea fans dressed to the nines and ready to root on Ole Miss.
This literary town, home to William Faulkner, John Grisham and Wright Thompson, is filled with historical landmarks and quaint bed and breakfasts, but given its connection with the written word, one of the best representations of Oxford might be Square Books, an independent store that’s blossomed into a must-visit place for bibliophiles.
The center of the college football scene remains The Grove, a 10-acre section in the heart of Mississippi’s campus, where you’ll find majestic trees giving shade to a nest of tents featuring friendly revelers both young and old preparing for game day, starting at 9 p.m. on Fridays.
While Ole Miss is not a perennial powerhouse in the loaded Southeastern Conference (SEC), there’s no denying its place among the elite party schools in the South.
4. Fargo, N.D. (North Dakota State)
Not many Football Championship Subdivision schools play in a packed dome stadium. But then again, not many are back-to-back-to-back national champions like the North Dakota State Bison.
The Bison’s success have turned the FargoDome into a college football hotbed, with ESPN’s College Gameday making an appearance in Fargo last season during the school’s third straight national championship run.
“It did a whole lot to legitimize our program,” says Troy Goergen, NDSU's senior associate athletic director for marketing/media relations. “It gave us a sense of pride. In North Dakota, we have a certain level of modesty, and that let our fans puff out their chests a little bit.”
The Bison are making their presence known across the state by handing out 25,000 yard signs, and at the FargoDome by creating an app with a strobe light fans can use to create a green and gold effect to help introduce the team in the dark and loud (110 decibels!) stadium.
5. Blacksburg, Va. (Virginia Tech)
Prepare for an intense football experience at Virginia Tech by enjoying the scenic landscape of Blacksburg, which offers an array of outdoor adventures to get you primed before kickoff.
The New River Junction offers tubing, fishing and camping, while the Huckleberry Trail is a 5.7-mile course with several entry points on Tech’s campus, including behind the football stadium. Cascade Falls features a waterfall and wading pool at the end of the four-mile trail near campus.
Of course, that’s all prelude to the game, where Hokie fans have created several unique traditions, including jumping en masse to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” before games and the Hokie Pokie after the third quarter.
“There are all kinds of things for outdoorsy people,” says Virginia Tech alum and self-proclaimed super fan Steve Tibbs. “Everyone in Blacksburg is really proud of the school and the beauty of the town. It’s an atmosphere thing. When you’re pulling into town, you notice a different feeling in the air. It gives me goose bumps.”