It’s football season and the phenomenon of tailgating has already begun. Tailgating has continued to grow in popularity to where over 30 million fans take part each fall. A University of Minnesota study found that in 2016, 18% of fans tailgated before the game.
Princeton University claims to have held the first tailgate in 1869 when Princeton played Rutgers. Yale University also lays claim to being first to set up food and refreshments at a game in 1904.
How Do Big Ten Schools Stack Up
When some less than scientific lists came out ranking the top college tailgating sites, the Big Ten was well represented. Schools were evaluated on the number and enthusiasm of the fans taking part, their tailgating venue, the range of food items served, and unique qualities of the tailgate experience. They also gave out bonus points to those fans that persevered through cold and inclement weather to keep their traditions going.
Alas, Indiana’s two Big Ten schools were not on the list, but these schools made the cut. Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin were cited for having huge fan bases that congregated outside their stadiums prior to each home game to take in all aspects of the game day experience.
College Tailgating’s Top 25 Poll
In a 2016 Bleacher Report article that compiled a list of the Top 25 College Tailgates, this is how the Big 10 ranked.
Iowa got extra points for the extent of its postgame tailgating following most Saturdays with early kickoffs. They also got high marks for their great Midwestern food and drink which is a mix of wholesome dishes and county-fair food.
#16 Ohio State
Ohio State tailgates for its spring game, which drew more than 100,000 people in April. This is a good indication of their support during the regular season. “The sheer scope is almost like a village in and of itself,” SB Nation’s Luke Zimmermann wrote. “Columbus is a Mecca for tailgaters.”
“Wolverines fans are awfully welcoming, sharing whatever food and drinks are under the tent,” Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon wrote. The Wolverines know how to make a crowd of over 100,000 feel like a cozy gathering of friends. Michigan’s stadium capacity (107,601) makes it unofficially the seventh-largest city in the state, just slightly behind Ann Arbor itself.
#10 Penn State
University Park is in the middle of nowhere in north central Pennsylvania, yet tens of thousands flock to that little town for PSU games to create “Nittanyville”. They get there early with the partying starting Thursday and it continues long after the final whistle.
Nebraska’s tailgate scene is different in that it revolves around Lincoln’s downtown rather than on campus. When it comes to college football it seems that Lincoln’s entire population of 250,000 (plus all those coming in from out of town) becomes part of the tailgate on Saturdays in the fall. With plenty of options in the downtown area, no fan misses out on the chance to enjoy themselves before games.
Beer, brats and various types of cheese are in ample supply on game days in Madison, considered one of the best college towns in America. Camp Randall is a downtown stadium, which allows tailgaters to expand their pre-game activities to include numerous local watering holes that fully embrace Wisconsin football.
If you’re curious what school is considered to have the best college day tailgate experience, Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) garnered top honors. Ole Miss has an area on campus, known as The Grove, specifically reserved for tailgating.
This 10-acre expanse of giant oaks turns into a giant venue of spirited, and some of the most well-dressed fans you’ll find. When the Ole Miss team makes the “Walk of Champions” through the grove on the way to their stadium, players and fans share in the excitement of the upcoming game.
Don’t Lose Heart Boilermaker Fans
Although not recognized nationally for hosting tailgate parties on the scale of these other schools, we take heart in that we are recognized for some of the best tailgate food.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes with a Boilermaker flair.
Award Winning Boilermaker Tailgate Chili