What makes a college football fan base great and not just good? Passion is at the top of the list. Loyalty is right there, too. Throw in an unofficial master’s degree in knowledge of the game and history of the game, and all of it blends into a perfect concoction of fanatical fervor.
Oh, and making your stadium a living hell to play in every Saturday, every fall, that always helps, too.
It’s the quality that stamps a fan base with the reputation that it’s not to be messed with, and most of the time that trickles down to the place where games are really won and lost.
So here is our updated, annual edition of the Top 25 fan bases in college football, an inexact science of a countdown admittedly subject to plenty of arguments, questions and criticism. It’s one person’s eye test that comes from roughly 35 years of following the sport.
25. North Dakota State Bison
Home record past 10 years: 63-10
Skinny: A little curveball here is well-deserved for the five-time defending FCS champion Bison, which has turned the Fargodome into one of the best home-field advantages in college football. The Bison has gone a combined 42-3 at its cozy, rabid football barn since 2011, including playoff games, helping it get to all those title games.
24. South Carolina Gamecocks
Home record: 50-19
Skinny: From those brilliant-red tailgating Cockaboose cars off in the distance to the diehards inside Williams-Brice, South Carolina’s fans get major points and a spot in the Top 25 for their fierce loyalty to a program that hasn’t had great success throughout the decades.
23. USC Trojans
Home record: 49-14
Skinny: If celebrity fans counted extra, USC would be way higher on our list, but they don’t. Still, the atmosphere of a night game at the Coliseum takes a backseat to very few in the country, and “Fight On” will be ringing in your ears through at least the next day.
22. Michigan State Spartans
Home record: 53-17
Skinny: Often lost in the shuffle among their noisy in-state neighbors in Ann Arbor and Big Ten rivals in Columbus, Ohio, Spartans fans wear the inferiority thing well and annually make Spartan Stadium one of the toughest places to win in, especially recently.
21. Washington Huskies
Home record: 38-29
Skinny: On the banks of beautiful Lake Washington, the high-decibel roars for “U-Dub” cascade downward and around an odd-looking stadium that opened in 1920 with “cantilevered” metal roofs that trap noise and more often than not trap opponents, too.
20. West Virginia Mountaineers
Home record: 51-16
Skinny: The Morgantown Crazies need to be tucked in the top 20 on passion alone, as they are rabid and sometimes rough, and the Mountaineers’ fortunes on a fall Saturday affect the collective feelings of an entire state like few other programs can.
19. Florida State Seminoles
Home record: 52-15
Skinny: That darn War Chant. It’s so well-structured and loud and, well, iconic. It echoes around and above Doak Campbell Stadium, making it a recurring Saturday dream for these very SEC-like fans and a nightmare for foes.
18. Arkansas Razorbacks
Home record: 38-17
Skinny: This is a fan base that swings above where it is in the history of college football, which is the best compliment you can give. The tradition of Calling the Hogs by itself puts Arkansas fans in the top 20.
17. Clemson Tigers
Home record: 59-11
Skinny: Non-SEC fans with the passion of an SEC fan base, Tigers fanatics always seem to make “the other Death Valley” live up to its nickname, just not quite as much as LSU’s fans do.
16. Oklahoma Sooners
Home record: 55-6
Skinny: You could easily flip-flop Oklahoma with its rivals from Austin, as fans in Norman are as passionate as they get, with just the right amount of past glory to make them properly arrogant and filled with the highest of expectations.
15. Georgia Bulldogs
Home record: 53-12
Skinny: Loyalty is all over this pick, as Georgia fans have lived in a frustrating world where rivals Alabama and Florida have won a combined seven national titles since 1996 while their program has had good but never great results since the early 1980s. Yet Sanford Stadium overflows every fall Saturday with those gorgeous hedges and iconic Uga patrolling the sideline.
14. Texas Longhorns
Home record: 43-19
Skinny: Hook ’em horns is the not-so-secret call sign of a wonderfully demanding fan base that makes Austin a brutal place to coach in but an amazing place to win at.
13. Auburn Tigers
Home record: 56-19
Skinny: The Tiger Walk has been often imitated but never duplicated. It’s Auburn’s treasure, and the raw passion of the Auburn fan can never afford to take a day off while it shares a state and a bitter rivalry with those ultra-successful neighbors in Tuscaloosa.
12. Tennessee Volunteers
Home record: 48-23
Skinny: Neyland Stadium is the most perfect plot of orange you can imagine, for there is never a seat not filled at Neyland amid the sometimes alternating orange-and-white-checkered sections that look down on those famous checkered end zones. Simply put: There is nothing like Neyland at night, and it’s pretty cool in the day, too.
11. Michigan Wolverines
Home record: 50-21
Skinny: The Big House is stately and beautiful, but it’s also loud and proud and brutal to get a road win in, and you know the passion runs deep when a fan base takes serious pride in a “Michigan Man” like Bo Schembechler or Jim Harbaugh being the coach.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Home record: 54-17
Skinny: The White Out is a new-age twist that the proud fanatics of State College have added to a decades-long tradition of fervor that rips through the entire state of Pennsylvania as strong as ever despite the recent child sex abuse scandal.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Home record: 55-19
Skinny: Yes, Memorial Stadium isn’t quite the intimidating place it was during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but that doesn’t mean the “Sea of Red” still doesn’t sparkle on Saturdays in Lincoln with the breathless roar of an entire state.
8. Florida Gators
Home record: 54-14
Skinny: The Swamp has been swallowing up opponents since the early 1990s, and in the past quarter-century Gators fans have brought deafening noise and that famous chomp to boost their talent-laden teams to three national titles and countless victories.
7. Wisconsin Badgers
Home record: 62-8
Skinny: Camp Randall Stadium always looks so dank on those dreary fall Saturday nights, which is just how the Madison Maniacs like it as they take party atmosphere to another level while lifting up their Badgers.
6. Oregon Ducks
Home record: 59-9
Skinny: Some 15 years ago, Ducks fans wouldn’t have cracked this list, let alone made the top 10, but it’s 2016 and raucous Autzen Stadium has turned into the most-feared place to get a victory in west of Texas.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
Home record: 45-24
Skinny: The Aggies don’t always have great teams, but they do have great fans, led by the 12th Man tradition that gives Kyle Field a brotherhood-type feel that no other stadium in the country can approach.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Home record: 62-9
Skinny: The Bear Bryant hats spread throughout the crowd, part of the “Alabama Gameday Dress Up,” the iconic “Roll Tide” chants, the crimson-colored royalty the fans bestow on their team …. Nobody comes dressed for success quite like Bama fans at Bryant-Denny, whether during a dynasty period like now or not.
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Home record: 44-20
Skinny: Yes, there is a sense of entitlement that permeates South Bend at each home game, but there is also an undeniable magic that does, too, and that comes from the traditional “Notre Dame Gameday Experience” that is over a century old and can’t be duplicated anywhere.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Home record: 65-7
Skinny: Ohio has, in effect, three pro football teams: the Browns, the Bengals and, yes, the Buckeyes, who are the toast of Columbus in the form of gritty, SEC-like passion but in a city big enough to treat its heroes like a professional brand. That’s a powerful combination.
1. LSU Tigers
Home record: 63-9
Skinny: Ranked No. 1 in this countdown last year, there’s no reason to move the diehards of Baton Rouge off their pedestal, as they check off every fictional box on those sultry Louisiana Saturday nights of what it means to be the best fans in the business.
Source: Saturday Down South