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The Best College Football Tailgate Countdown: 25-21

Sooners Tailgate
© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As the crisp autumn air fills with the unmistakable sounds of college fight songs and the smell of grilling meats, college football fans gather for one of the sport’s most cherished rituals: the tailgate. From coast to coast, these pregame festivities showcase a rich tapestry of traditions, culinary delights and spirited beverages that unite fans in celebration of their teams.

In this series, we are ranking the top 25 college football tailgates, evaluating them based on three key categories: traditions that define their unique game-day culture, signature foods that tantalize the taste buds, and signature drinks that keep the festivities flowing.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a curious newcomer, these tailgates offer an unforgettable blend of camaraderie and revelry. Here are the first five of our countdown.

25. Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma tailgates are a vibrant celebration of Sooner spirit, with the Sooner Schooner leading the charge. This replica of a Conestoga wagon, pulled by ponies "Boomer" and "Sooner," is a beloved sight as it circles the parking lots before each home game. Piloted by a member of the Ruf/Neks spirit group and accompanied by the Ruf/Neks queen, the Sooner Schooner sets the tone for a day filled with tradition and excitement.

Before each game, the Sooners hold a pep rally featuring cheerleaders, OU football alumni and the Sooner Schooner. This rally is a fantastic way to get pumped up for the game and a fun event for families to enjoy together. The Greek community at OU is also highly active in tailgating, with many fraternities and sororities hosting lively events near Asp Street. Open to all fans, these tailgates offer plenty of food, drinks and good company, adding to the communal spirit of game day.

Sooner Fan Fest, held in the Legends Lobby, is a family-friendly event that features food vendors, games, music and cheerleaders. It's an excellent place to bring the kids and soak in the game day atmosphere. The Legends Lobby itself is a must-visit for any Sooners fan, showcasing incredible displays of murals, trophies and jerseys that celebrate the rich history of OU football. Visitors can also tour the museum to learn more about the program’s storied past.

Tailgate Favorites

Signature Food:

  • Frito Pie: Fritos corn chips with chili, cheese and onions

  • Chicken Fried Steak: Served with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy

  • Okie Dog: Topped with chili, cheese and onions

  • Boomer Burger: Piled high with cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce

  • Iconic Schooner: Large container with Oklahoma-themed treats (peanuts, popcorn, candy)

Signature Drinks:

  • Schooner Drink: Mix of Kool-Aid and vodka, served in a souvenir cup

  • Boomer Sooner Cocktail: Bourbon, orange juice, grenadine, topped with soda water

  • Schooner All-American Ale

Oklahoma Tailgate
© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

24. ECU Pirates

Tailgating at East Carolina University (ECU) is a lively celebration filled with pirate-themed fun and delicious food. One must-do pregame tradition is The Pirate Walk, where the team walks through the tailgating lots, high-fiving fans and getting pumped up for the game. This interaction creates a close-knit, enthusiastic atmosphere that sets the tone for the day's festivities.

The tailgating lots around Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium are packed with smokers, full pig roast and a variety of barbecue options, making it a paradise for meat lovers. However, ECU's proximity to the ocean means there's also plenty of seafood available, ensuring every fan can find something to enjoy. As fans prepare for the game, they gather in the lots to chant the famous Purple-Gold chant, which reverberates through the area and unites everyone in their support for the Pirates.

Pirate pride is palpable at ECU tailgates, with fans decked out in pirate-themed decorations, costumes and accessories. This strong sense of school spirit makes every tailgate a vibrant and memorable experience. Whether you're savoring top-notch barbecue, joining in the Purple-Gold chant or enjoying the camaraderie of The Pirate Walk, tailgating at ECU is a true celebration of Pirate pride and football excitement.

Tailgate Favorites

Signature Food:

  • Pirate-themed Grilled Cheese: Often paired with tomato soup

  • Shrimp and Grits: Succulent shrimp, creamy grits and spicy seasonings

  • Pirate’s Gold: Caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon on a toasted baguette

  • ECU-themed Cookies: Decorated with the team's logo and colors

Signature Drinks:

  • Pirate’s Punch: Pineapple, orange and cranberry juices with grenadine syrup

  • ECU’s Black and Gold: Vodka, ginger beer, lime juice and blackberry puree

  • Greenville Glamour: Vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and lemon-lime soda, garnished with a peach slice and rosemary sprig

  • Pirate’s Grog: Dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine syrup, served in a hurricane glass

23. Iowa Hawkeyes

The University of Iowa Hawkeyes boast a rich tailgating tradition, creating a unique and festive atmosphere that sets them apart from other Big Ten Conference schools. On game day, the excitement begins two hours before kickoff as the Hawkeye players and coaches walk from their buses to the stadium, greeted by cheering fans lining the path. This spirited ritual is a cherished prelude to the main event, setting the tone for the day’s festivities.

Ninety minutes before the game, the Hawkeye marching band performs at the Recreation Building, filling the air with the vibrant sounds of fight songs and energizing the crowd. Tailgaters can be found all around Kinnick Stadium, with popular spots including Melrose Avenue, where the beloved “Fry Bread” food stand serves up this iconic Iowa staple. The aroma of delicious food, the sound of lively conversations, and the sight of black and gold everywhere contribute to the electrifying tailgate scene.

Iowa Hawkeye Fans
© Grace Smith/For the Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

For those looking to explore more of what Iowa City has to offer, a stroll across the Iowa River leads to the bustling downtown area. Here, fans can enjoy a variety of bars and restaurants, adding another layer of excitement to the game day experience. The combination of time-honored traditions, mouth-watering food, and the vibrant local scene makes tailgating at Iowa a memorable and quintessentially Hawkeye experience.

Tailgate Highlights

Signature Food:

  • Sloppy Joes: Ground beef, onions and tomato sauce, served on a bun

  • Breakfast Nachos: Scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, chorizo or bacon with tortilla chips

  • Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches: Marinated in a sweet and tangy sauce, grilled and served on a bun with all the fixin’s

Signature Drinks:

  • Black and Gold Punch: Lemon-lime soda, pineapple juice and grenadine

  • Iowa Mule: Vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, garnished with lime wedge and rosemary

  • Hawkeye Honey: Honey, lemon-lime soda and orange juice (optionally with bourbon)

  • Kinnick Kolsch: Kolsch beer, lemon-lime soda and orange juice, served over ice with a slice of orange

Hawkeye Fans
© Grace Smith/For the Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

22. TCU Horned Frogs

Before each home game, fans gather in the parking lots surrounding Amon G. Carter Stadium to tailgate, creating an electric atmosphere filled with the smell of grilled burgers and hot dogs, music, and laughter. Tailgating at Texas Christian University (TCU) is a vibrant tradition where fans of all ages come together to socialize, enjoy good food and drinks and get pumped up for the game.

Among the most popular tailgating traditions is the TCU March. Before each home game, the TCU Marching Band performs a rousing rendition of the TCU fight song, "The TCU March," which energizes the crowd and sets the tone for the game. Fans also gather around the Horned Frog Statue, a popular spot for photos and selfies, dressed in their best purple and white attire to show their school spirit.

LaDanian Tomlinson at TCU Tailgate
© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Prime tailgating locations include The Frog Lot, near the stadium's main entrance, offering plenty of parking and amenities close to the action. The Purple Lot, located near the stadium's north entrance, provides a more laid-back atmosphere while still offering ample parking and tailgating space. For those seeking a scenic view, The Hill offers stunning overlooks of the field, making the hike well worth it. Tailgating at TCU is not just about the game—it's about the community, tradition and pride that fans bring to every home game.

Tailgate Favorites

Signature Food:

  • Slow-cooked Brisket: Offered with BBQ sauce and crusty buns

  • Baked Beans: Topped with crispy bacon and brown sugar

  • Smoked Sausages: Served with peppers, onions and crusty buns

  • Froggy Fritters: Flavored with cinnamon and sugar

  • Frog Legs: Playful snack served with tangy dipping sauce

Signature Drinks:

  • Frog Froth: German-style ale with edible glitter and purple dye

  • Purple Reign: Lemon-lime soda, grenadine and blue curaçao

  • Froggy’s Fizz: Ginger ale, pineapple juice and grenadine, served over ice with a rosemary sprig

  • Horned Frog Honey: Honey, lemon-lime soda and iced tea, garnished with a lemon slice

  • TCU Tailgater: Beer, lemon-lime soda and orange juice, served over ice with an orange slice

21. Oregon Ducks

The University of Oregon is famous for its vibrant colors, unique traditions and an electric tailgating scene. Duck fans gather around Autzen Stadium, proudly showcasing their green and yellow pride. The tailgate experience is elevated with food trucks offering diverse cuisines, local craft beer, and live music, creating a festive and energetic atmosphere. The iconic “O” symbol, painted on faces and bodies, adds to the passionate ambiance of this West Coast tailgating tradition.

A central part of the pregame excitement is The Mo (Moshofsky Center), a popular tailgating spot near the stadium where fans converge to enjoy food, drinks and pregame festivities. The lively atmosphere is enhanced by music, cheerleaders and the marching band, making it a hub of excitement. Donors to the Ducks Athletic Fund enjoy priority parking close to the stadium, which includes exclusive tailgating privileges, allowing them to set up their own tailgating parties and fully partake in the pregame celebrations.

Oregon Ducks tailgate
© Abigail Dollins/Statesman Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Adding to the festivities, Sam’s Place Tavern, known as “the best sports bar in town…period,” offers an inviting bar, delicious food and friendly staff. With TVs in every booth, patrons can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner while keeping up with the latest sports action. The menu features enticing options like burgers and fish and chips, along with a wide selection of cocktails, beer and wine. It’s the perfect spot to indulge before heading to watch the Ducks play.

Tailgate Favorites

Signature Food:

  • Ducks-themed Burgers: Topped with green chilies and golden cheese

  • Quack-tastic Quesadillas: Filled with shredded chicken and fiery green chilies

  • Flockin’ Fries: Served with emerald green ketchup

  • Duck’s House Dogs: Garnished with vibrant green relish

  • Green and Yellow Fruit Kabobs

Signature Drinks:

Steve Patterson slinging his phillys
© Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

As we wrap up our countdown of the first five college football tailgates, it’s clear that each school brings its own unique flavor and fervor to game day. From the rich traditions that bind generations of fans, to the mouthwatering signature foods that tantalize taste buds, and the iconic drinks that keep the spirit alive, these tailgates are a testament to the passion and pride that define college football. Stay tuned as we unveil the next five, celebrating even more of the best tailgating experiences across the nation.

1 Comment

Jul 06

Great article — well-written and fun.👍🏼

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