The 2022 Road to CFB campaign is in the rearview mirror. Every game day was new and incredible, helped along by some amazing people. As I do every year in the wake of my college football road trip, I like to lay out by “Best Of” list.
Who had the best tailgating? The loudest stadium? Read on to find out.
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2022 Best Of College Football: The Cities
I could just leave you with an overarching “best city” award and call it a day. But that wouldn’t provide much insight into what aspects of each city were great. So, to begin I’ll look at:
The Best Food
This 100% isn’t a Best Food City award, but rather the best food experience I had this year. The best food I had this season hands down came from the 409 Tailgate Club and Andrew’s signature chicken wings with homemade sauce. He’s a true grill master and be sure to read up on his story here.
The Best Downtown
Madison, Wisconsin, is one of America’s great cities– college or otherwise. It’s got the large-city feel and size, but also a distinct college feel with its boutique shops and local eateries. It almost feels like Ann Arbor just with an iconic state capitol building in the backdrop. The entire city is walkable, the folks are friendly, and at the heart of it all is Camp Randall Stadium.
Arrive early to check out the farmer’s market surrounding the state capitol building.
2022 Best Of College Football: The Pregame
I count everything from the moment you step on campus to kickoff the “pregame.” Probably not shocking or controversial, just wanted to get that cleared up.
The Best Tailgating
This season, Penn State takes home the tailgating award. From the scale to the passion and the friendliness at each spot, no one in the Big Ten quite stands up to Penn State. In fact, I’ve now put it alongside LSU for what I perceive to be the best tailgating I’ve ever seen. (Note: I haven’t visited you yet, Ole Miss.)
Blue and white tents stretch the entire span of Happy Valley with the stadium right in the center. Entering from higher elevation west of town gives you a sweeping view that a photo just doesn’t do justice. This is the most fun I’ve had tailgating.
The Best Band
The Pride ofWest Virginia is notoriously terrific. This wasn’t an easy decision to make– WVU was challenged heavily by Iowa and Penn State. But what sets this group aside for me was the halftime show. They featured classics from John Williams on his birthday (Oct. 15) and had in-motion dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, a bicycling ET, and a whip-cracking Indiana Jones.
West Virginia further separates themselves with their iconic helmeted look– a nod to the mining history of their state– capes, and blue feathers.
The Best Pregame Tradition
This one is kind of cheating, but it’s all about the pregame aspects of the Penn State Whiteout. I know that’s a full-game thing, but the pregame festivities for this game in particular are special. First, their drum major does a full-on front flip in their big hat, an electric entrance itself. But the 110,000+ whited out in the stands coupled with the fireworks and team entrance puts Penn State right up there with Virginia Tech and South Carolina.
I mean, come on:
Fireworks in Happy Valley! 109,813 fans packed Beaver Stadium for the annual Penn State Whiteout. No hope in posting anything yesterday, but just look at this visual pic.twitter.com/HC9B7bMpEy
— Brett Gibbons (@roadtocfb) October 23, 2022
2022 Best Of College Football: The Environment
This one’s not much of a contest considering the circumstances around Penn State’s Whiteout. Famous for doing so, the incredible Penn State crowd forced a false start on the first snap of the game. Opposing QBs don’t stand a chance.
Best In-Game Atmosphere
To deviate a bit from Penn State-this and Penn State-that, Cincinnati’s in-game environment was my hands-down favorite from this season. From their catchy chants to their disruptive student section and packed house, Nippert Stadium is an upper-tier in-stadium environment. I said prior that some stadiums claim sellouts, but Cincinnati means it.
There’s not many more fun sporting events to go to than Cincinnati.
This one is TOUGH. From Penn State’s hospitality to Iowa’s Midwestern charm, West Virginia’s warm welcome to the social openness at Pitt and Cincinnati, there were more amazing fanbases than I can count this season.
That said, Wisconsinites are the friendliest and kindest folks out there. Despite an extremely disappointing loss, Badger fans warmly welcomed Washington State fans and shared a drink with them after the game. Everywhere you go in the state of Wisconsin, people are happy and friendly. Cars let you over on the road.
Nice is a way of life in Wisconsin.
But, seriously, special shoutout to the aforementioned fanbases. Y’all are all the best.
This one may never be beat. The Iowa Wave is the best tradition in college football.
At the end of the first quarter, everybody– and I mean everybody– in Kinnick Stadium turns to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital that overlooks the stadium. There, dozens of kids wave back. It’s a moment of hope, emotion, and solidarity. The Wave alone makes the trek out to Iowa City and a game with highs in the 20s absolutely worth it.
2022 Best Of College Football: The Game
The Best Game
Holy smokes were there a lot of great games. But the Backyard Brawl takes the cake here. 69 combined points, a back-and-forth effort, a revived rivalry, the Backyard Brawl kicked off the Road to CFB season in the best possible way.
Pitt-West Virginia beats out a major upset of Virginia Tech by Old Dominion, a missed walk-off field goal by East Carolina over ranked NC State, a furious comeback by WVU to beat Baylor, and a last-second TD by Northern Illinois to beat Western Michigan. This was the year of incredible football games.
The Best Seats
It’s good to know people sometimes. Thanks to a dear friend at East Carolina, I was plopped right at the 50-yard line and given access to the new luxury seats at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
And to finish the game on the field, well, it doesn’t get better than that.
As far as the stadium with zero bad seats in the house, that award goes to Kinnick Stadium.
The Best Play
I like to differentiate loudest stadium from loudest moment. Penn State was the loudest stadium (mentioned above), but this pick-six from Pitt was the loudest moment of the season. Acrisure Stadium went downright ballistic. A game-winning pick-six? Are you kidding me?
The Best Stadium
Camp Randall Stadium is the best football stadium I saw a game in this season. Its historical significance pushes it over the top for me, sitting on an actual Civil War site, Camp Randall. It’s a living museum around the outside, much like how Oklahoma surrounds their stadium with history.
The secluded feel buried inside the field house and suites directs everyone’s undivided attention to the game. Camp Randall is one of those venues that sits highly on every sports fan’s bucket list.
The Top Four All-Around Game Day Experiences
Tying EVERYTHING together, I couldn’t just pick one, so I picked four in chronological order:
- Wisconsin – I called Wisconsin “America’s Best Game Day” and I mean that. Starting the day at the state capitol, down State Street to Badger Bash, the game, and then postgame at Regent Street. Wisconsin offers an engaging and memorable game day for everyone. The tradition, amazing fans, eateries, and beer package together to pure college football euphoria.
- Cincinnati – Cincy has one of the more underrated tailgating scenes in the country. Starting at the Grid and moving to an amazing in-stadium experience, Cincinnati is a pristine game day experience.
- Penn State – Penn State is on another level. In fact, it falls into my Tier 1A of Road to CFB game days alongside LSU. The expansive tailgating, the friendliness of the fans, and of course the Whiteout puts Penn State on its own level. There’s almost nowhere else in the country I’d rather be than Happy Valley on Saturday. Signed, an Ohio State fan.
- Iowa – I’m likely on my own here, but needing to bundle up with snowflakes flying is the way to experience Kinnick Stadium. Iowa fans are passionate, even when their team scores 14 points a game and falls short of expectations. But in a rivalry against Wisconsin, this is a terrific in-stadium environment, too. And of course The Wave.
Thank you for a great 2022 Road to CFB campaign! Check out my 2021 Best Of for more.