Big Ten stadium rankings: Where USC, Oregon, UCLA, Washington stand as conference expands in 2024

Atmosphere is a word routinely heard when discussing college football, particularly when comparing the game to its professional counterpart, the NFL. The stadiums in which the games are played provide much of that atmosphere.

While many NFL stadiums, particularly the newer ones, look and feel the same every Sunday, college football stadiums have unique personalities. Some are gigantic, while others are a bit more intimate. All are special to those who call them home, but some are better than others.

With the Big Ten adding four new schools and stadiums, it felt like a good time to rank the buildings the 18 teams in the league call home. I’ve ranked them based on their atmosphere — the indefinable vibe you get from every place. Whether it’s awe-inspiring size, the fans who fill them, or the tailgate scene, it’s nearly impossible to objectively define the best of the best.

College football realignment 2024 links: SEC rivalry rankings | Big Ten rivalry rankings | SEC stadium rankings

Well, unless you’re me, it is. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you will all agree that my rankings are immaculate.

1. Penn State – Beaver Stadium

The sheer size of Beaver Stadium (106,572) is impressive enough, but the sound its occupants produce when the place is packed is eardrum-shattering, particularly if it’s a white-out game at night. Another factor that sometimes goes unconsidered but makes a big impact is that, for the most part, the stadium is in the middle of nowhere. That makes it the only show in town in a lot of ways, and that ensures the people who show up are excited to be there.

2. Washington – Husky Stadium

I can already see the angry messages from Big Ten fans outraged that I’d include this newcomer so highly, but trust me. Once you visit the place, you’ll get it. Husky Stadium’s overall capacity of 70,138 ranks ninth in the league, but few buildings are as loud. The stadium’s design keeps the sound from escaping, and the view of the bay and the sailgate scene are unmatched anywhere else in the league. It’s a welcome addition to the league.

3. Michigan – Michigan Stadium

The first time I saw Michigan Stadium from the outside, I was unimpressed. For a place called “The Big House,” it didn’t look too big. It wasn’t until entering that the size of the place slapped me in the face. Over 107,000 people fill the stands on Saturdays in the fall, and there is no escaping them. Opponents are completely surrounded, and the closest seats are practically on the sidelines with the players.

4. Oregon – Autzen Stadium

Like fellow newcomer Husky Stadium, Autzen is a more intimate venue compared to traditional Big Ten stadiums. With a capacity of 54,000, it’s one of the smallest stadiums in the league, but it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog — or, in this case, the duck. You’re surrounded, and the 54,000 people inside are as loud as anybody in the country, and they’re very close to the field.

5. Ohio State – Ohio Stadium

Buckeyes fans will be furious about this, but while Ohio Stadium is huge (capacity of 102,780), and Buckeyes fans are some of the most passionate (a nice way to call somebody insane) in the country, it’s always bothered me how far away the fans are from the field. There’s too much space on the sidelines. That may be best for the safety of visiting teams, but it’s not ideal for neutrals like myself.

6. Iowa – Kinnick Stadium

Kinnick Stadium gets plenty of deserved love for “The Wave” tradition of waving at the kids in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, but it’s also a great place to watch a football game. Even for a fan of a visiting team, I guarantee you that you’ll have a good time in Iowa City. Just don’t expect many points to be scored during the game.

7. Wisconsin – Camp Randall Stadium

There’s nothing quite like seeing the look in the eyes of somebody visiting the press box at Camp Randall for the first time at the start of the fourth quarter when the stadium begins to shake to the tune of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” It can be a bit scary but in a fun way. That said, the atmosphere outside the stadium is sometimes more enjoyable than the inside.

8. Nebraska – Memorial Stadium

There probably isn’t a nicer fan base in the Big Ten than Nebraska’s. Cornhuskers fans will make a visitor feel at home, and even though they want your team to lose, they want you to enjoy your visit and enjoy a runza. If the football team had better success in recent years, Memorial Stadium would be closer to the top five, if not in it. Maybe it’ll get back there soon?

9. USC – Los Angeles Coliseum

There are two different LA Coliseums. There’s the stadium that is rocking and full of celebrities when the Trojans are good, and it’s the cool place to be seen. Then there’s the version with too many empty seats when the Trojans aren’t at their best. Still, even when full, I can’t rank it higher than most of the stadiums above it because there’s too much space between the fans and the field.

10. Minnesota – Huntington Bank Stadium

It’s the second-smallest stadium in the league, only bigger than Northwestern’s old and soon-to-be-constructed new stadium, but it’s also the newest stadium in the league. I understand why some fans don’t like it much, but I find the place charming and comfortable. Of course, I haven’t been there when it’s extremely cold, and the way the stadium is constructed, the wind chill could be a serious problem at times.

11. Michigan State – Spartan Stadium

We’ve now reached the portion of the rankings where the quality of the program has a large impact on the stadium atmosphere. When Michigan State is at its best, Spartan Stadium can be as loud as any stadium in the league. But when the Spartans are struggling, it can be uninspiring.

12. Illinois – Memorial Stadium

Renovations in recent years have made Memorial Stadium a more pleasant place, and the tailgate scene outside is better than you think. The problem is the team can’t put together successful seasons consistently, which makes it difficult to generate an incredible gameday environment.

13. UCLA – The Rose Bowl

I feel the need to point out there’s a difference between The Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day when it’s the host of The Rose Bowl, and The Rose Bowl on a Saturday in September when UCLA is hosting somebody from the Mountain West. Yes, it’s a historic stadium in a beautiful setting, but it can feel like a mausoleum during the regular season when the Bruins are struggling. There are a lot of things to do in Los Angeles, and you need to be good to convince fans to pass up on other things to come to your games.

14. Rutgers – SHI Stadium

I’ve never been to a Rutgers game, but I remember how incredible the atmosphere felt on television nearly twenty years ago when the Knights began winning under Greg Schiano. Given the struggles since joining the Big Ten, there’s been an understandable apathy from fans in recent years, so I can’t rank it any higher than this, but the potential is there.

15. Purdue – Ross-Ade Stadium

It’s not one of my favorite places to watch a football game, sorry! The U-shaped design of the seats and lower profile don’t do much to create a raucous atmosphere, and like most places, the quality of the team playing there matters, too. It’s almost the antithesis of Mackey Arena, where the basketball team plays.

16. Maryland – SECU Stadium

Another Big Ten stadium I have yet to visit, so I’m forced to rank it based on how it comes across on television and from what those who have been there tell me. It’s smaller than Ross-Ade, and like Ross-Ade, it’s not built in a way that helps with the acoustics. Even when Maryland is winning the place feels quiet on television.

17. Indiana – Memorial Stadium

There are a host of factors that work against Indiana’s Memorial Stadium. Visually, it’s not much to look at, though recent renovations have been an improvement. It’s small and rarely filled with rabid fans. Typically, when the stands are packed, it’s thanks to visitors making the trip. Finally — while they’ve had some good seasons lately — by and large, Indiana’s football team hasn’t produced the kind of on-field success that draws fans to the games.

18. Northwestern – A practice field

The Wildcats will play on a practice field in 2024. It’s on the shore of Lake Michigan, so that’s cool. But again, it’s a practice field. There’s no way I can rank it higher than last, though we’ll see how things change when the Wildcats open their new stadium down the road.

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