Here are the top 10 college football towns:
1. Wisconsin (Madison)
While campaigning in 1978, Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Lee Sherman Dreyfus offered a brief assessment of his state's capital. Madison, he allegedly said, was "30 square miles surrounded by reality." The story sounds apocryphal, but it's not.
In the '90s, Capital Times columnist Doug Moe tracked down Dreyfus aid Bill Kraus, who remembered his boss making the snarky quip on the stump. Never mind that Madison is actually about 77 square miles. Over the last 36 years, the line has been repeated ad nauseum.
Why? Because Madison is kind of idyllic. And in the fall, the Badgers are at its heart. In 2012, Madison mayor Paul Soglin told USA TODAY that he "couldn't imagine a better place to go to a college football game."
"The People's Republic of Madison" — which depending on your point of view, is both a term of endearment and an insult — has long been considered one of America's best college sports towns. It recently ranked No. 1 on both Sports Illustrated's list and USA Today's list.
What makes it so great? Let's start with the fact that even when it's cold and covered with snow, the city is picturesque. Located between Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison has no shortage of great water views. There are also plenty of places to gorge. This is important for football fans. Naturally, beer, cheese curds, and sausages are the way to go. On its website, State Street Brats, a sports bar that specializes in encased meats, has a good primer on what to order:
Q: What is the difference between a White Brat and a Red Brat?
A: If you've ever had a delicious brat before, you've probably had a white brat. The WHITE BRAT is a traditional pork brat, soaked in beer and onions before being grilled to perfection. The RED BRAT is our specialty that you can only get here. It is a mixture of pork and beef that is smoked and then butterfly cut. It is particularly tasty with cheddar cheese melted on top!
And then there's the football. Going to a game at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers' 97-year-old home, is a unique experience. Every week, between the third and fourth quarter, the suds-fueled student section causes a ruckus during "Jump Around."
The school briefly nixed the earth-rattling tradition in 2003, when the stadium was being renovated. But after students vocally expressed their displeasure and Camp Randall was deemed safe, it returned. After games — win or lose — a big chunk of the crowd sticks around for the Fifth Quarter, during which the Badger Band puts on a show.
It's a giant party, one that every sports fan should experience at least once. One of my biggest regrets in college was not going to visit Madison when my cousin was a student at Wisconsin. Get there if you can.
Last year, Soglin offered a resolution to establish Madison's official motto as "77 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality" with, as the State Journal pointed out, "a provision to change the size as the city continues to grow." After all, Madison's geography may change, but the city's ethos never will.
2. Texas (Austin)
Comparing Austin to other places on this list is a little unfair. Without football, it's still an amazing place to visit. There's great live music, dozens of bars on 6th Street, and most importantly: barbecue. I'm not going to attempt to pick the best place for barbecue in Austin, because there are lots of opinions. But if you're planning a food pilgrimage, this should help.
3. Michigan (Ann Arbor)
The Big House is college football's biggest stadium — and the third biggest in the world — but that's far from Ann Arbor's only attraction. Make sure to go to Zingerman's Deli for sandwiches and Fraser's Pub for a few cold ones. On game days, the entire town seemingly turns into one massive tailgate.
4. LSU (Baton Rouge)
In Baton Rouge, tailgating is a gluttonous, boozy art. Saturdays pre-kickoff are filled with beer, cocktails, and a seemingly endless variety of foods. And fans get creative. When Florida's in town, people eat alligator. It's perfect.
5. Texas A&M (College Station)
In 2013, the Daily Beast called Texas A&M the happiest college in America. At least part of that happiness is derived from school spirit, of which there is a ton in College Station. The night before every home game, thousands of people pack Kyle Field for Midnight Yell Practice, which is basically the world's biggest pep rally. (Before away games, Midnight Yell Practice is held on campus.)
6. Georgia (Athens)
Athens, where R.E.M. got its start, is known for its music scene. The home of the University of Georgia is also home to an outpost of one of the best fast food restaurants in the country. The Varsity, an Atlanta institution that calls itself "The World's Largest Drive-In", opened a location in Athens in 1932. Go there on game day for a chili cheese dog and a Frosted Orange.
7. Auburn (Auburn)
The population of Auburn, Alabama, is only about 60,000, but man, do they support their football team. After big wins, fans flock to Toomer's Corner, which they cover in toilet paper. If you go to Toomer's Drugs, make sure to order a lemonade. In 2001, Esquire ranked it No. 1 on its list of "162 Reasons It's Good to Be an American Man." The blurb reads, "When God was a little boy and he needed money, he put up a card table outside His folks' house. This is what He sold."
8. Alabama (Tuscaloosa)
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama football is a religion. For example: Legendary former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant doesn't just have a statue built in his honor — he has a museum. The Paul W. Bryant Museum opened in 1988 and is dedicated to showcasing the history of Crimson Tide football. Also: In the early 2000s, a $28 million bridge was built in Tuscaloosa. Naturally, it was dubbed the Paul Bryant Black Warrior River Bridge.
9. Boise State (Boise)
The closest professional sports team is 345 miles away — and that's the Utah Jazz. The closest NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks, is 600 miles away. My point? In Boise, the Broncos are everything. How much does Boise love football? Despite the fact that it's not exactly a tropical paradise, the city has hosted a bowl game since 1997. It's now aptly called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
10. Tennessee (Knoxville)
The setting in Knoxville is unlike any other in the country. On Saturdays, the Tennessee River, which runs through downtown, is crawling with boats full of hardcore fans. (They call themselves the Vol Navy.) And if you're into nature and not just football, the picturesque Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a 45-minute drive away.
Colorado (Boulder); Florida (Gainesville); Missouri (Columbia); Notre Dame (South Bend); Ohio State (Columbus); Oklahoma (Norman); Penn State (State College); Virginia Tech (Blacksburg)