Countdown to Kickoff: The Top 5 Colleges for Tailgating

Obviously, with experience comes know-how, and these schools have been studying the art of tailgating for as long as teams have been lacing up their cleats.
Obviously, with experience comes know-how, and these schools have been studying the art of tailgating for as long as teams have been lacing up their cleats.

Summer's wrapping up, and we're (begrudgingly) putting the bikinis in the back of our drawers and digging out our second most favorite attire: football jerseys. Time to dust off the body paint, the team sweatshirts, party beads, face tattoos, baby cheerleader outfits, and doggy costumes, and fire up the grill: it's tailgating season.

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While some of us prefer to watch the games in the cool shelter of a bar with a hi-def TV, there's nothing quite like a college tailgate. Because, let's be real, once the hot dogs and burgers are polished off, the keg is tapped, and you've long lost the ping-pong balls for beer pong, you may not even find it in you to drag your feet into the stadium. (We personally know we haven't made it to a few college football games or two after some heavy tailgating - go Buffs.) When you find a tailgate as legendary as you do at these 5 schools, we think you're not missing too much if you decide to camp out for awhile - after all, you've more than likely got your big-screen TV right at the truck with you.

Obviously, with experience comes know-how, and these schools have been studying the art of tailgating for as long as teams have been lacing up their cleats. In many cases, these colleges have time-honored traditions that make Game Day up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. When picking our schools, we considered the following factors: crowd size (in one city, the population practically doubles during its biggest rivalry game), food and drink, dress, and traditions. These schools' tailgates range from rowdy to downright raucous, but that doesn't mean you won't be ready for some good fun no matter where you are.

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We've got the full scoop on the schools that have tailgating down to a science - and may just convince your high-school-age kids where they may want to look at schools come spring.

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5. University of Mississippi

Ole Miss is home to what's known as the most famous tailgating spot in the world, the Grove. An estimated 25,000 begin the party the Friday night before Saturday games, with fans decked in their Sunday best (and zero body paint in sight). Really, only The New York Times could describe it so vividly: "It is every kind of party you can describe, at once: cocktail party, dinner party, tailgate picnic party, fraternity and sorority rush, family reunion, political handgrab, gala and networking party-hearty - what might have inspired Willie Morris, one of Mississippi's favorite sons, to declare Mississippi not a state, but a club." The Grove is the opening act to a true Ole Miss tradition, the Walk of Champions.

4. Louisiana State University

LSU doesn't just take the cake for being one of the most fervent tailgates; it's also one of the most sophisticated tailgates - well, culinary-wise, anyways - in the country. After all, where else can you get a true Cajun cookout while decked out in your Tiger gear? Jambalaya, Cajun sausage, and alligator stew are as common as a burger and brat anywhere else. (As ESPN once put it, Food Network should get on getting broadcast rights just for LSU game day). Baton Rouge instantly becomes the fifth-largest city in the state on game day, while the team and fans suit up for some killer football.

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3. University of Alabama

It should be no surprise that 'Bama consistently ranks as one of the best schools for tailgating, from Bleacher Report to Southern Living. Heck, there's even the Tailgate Beer and the Alabama Tailgate Cookbook - does that solidify its ranking near the top? Crowds on the quad on Game Day are estimated to top 100,000 fans for the bigger rivalries, like LSU or Texas A&M. Before you start singing "Roll Tide," slam down a Yellowhammer (yep, it's a drink that really does exist) and get ready to root for the number-one seeded college team this year.

2. University of Southern California (pictured above)

At this football powerhouse, fans get to campus hours before kickoff to park their behinds along Trousdale, and set up elaborate tailgating contraptions (think chandeliers and flat-screen TVs). You'll hear plenty of the So-Call spell-out cheer while grilling, boozing, and generally partying it up on game day before making the short walk to the Coliseum. Be sure to follow the band as it plays around campus and partake in the game-day tradition of kicking the flagpole at the edge of campus for good luck (just be forewarned: don't attempt this too aggressively in a pair of flip-flops). The true craziness of a USC tailgate is only amped up for UCLA games, where you'll find plenty of UCLA teddy bears dragged around campus or hung up in trees. (Yeah, it gets weird.)

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1. Auburn University

Tailgating at Auburn just got a little easier, thanks to the university's brand-new plan to open an extra 2,000 parking spots around campus just for game day. After all, this is one university that takes its tailgates very seriously; fans start lining up in their campers days before game day, decked out in their Tiger-inspired gear. What's more, Auburn University cemented the school tradition of the pregame walk with the players to the stadium, called the Tiger Walk. And then you know, bring some extra rolls of toilet paper so you can TP the crap out of Toomer's Corner should the Tigers win. Let's just say, game day in Auburn is a spectacle unlike any other.

Click here to see more of the best colleges for tailgating and find out if your alma mater made the list!

-Marcy Franklin, The Daily Meal