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Underdog Dynasty’s Group of Five Stadium Ratings

Our crack staff has traveled the country covering games — all in the name of Group of Five football

Over the last several seasons, Underdog Dynasty’s small (but mighty) staff of writers have traveled to Group of Five football stadiums across over 20 states to cover games. Along the way, we’ve encountered travel delays, countless Uber rides and an ungodly amount of Red Bull — all in the name of providing the best coverage of the G5’s possible.

So, we’ve decided to rate our visits to each Group of Five stadium (AAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Independent) over the past few years, purely in the name of riling up fanbases.

Okay, just kidding. In all seriousness, it’s primarily in an effort to showcase these venues and hopefully shed a little light on what may be your next destination to take in a college football game.

The following categories will be rated on a scale of 1-5 stars: Stadium, Press Box, Fan Atmosphere, Rideshare/Parking, Food Options

Without further ado, here are your raters.

  • Eric Henry — UDD Co-Managing Editor and FIU Beat Writer
  • Steve Helwick — UDD Staff Writer and Houston/Rice Beat Writer
  • Emily Van Buskirk — UDD Staff Writer
  • Kevin Fielder — UDD Staff Writer

Note: UCF, Houston and Cincinnati will be included as G5’s at the time of visit — same for each school’s respective conference. If a writer has an affiliation with a stadium being reviewed (primary beat/alma mater) the Date(s) visited section will be listed as “multiple.”

Conference USA

FAU Stadium — Boca Raton, FL (Eric Henry)

Buffalo v Florida Atlantic Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 11/9/19, 10/2/21, 12/18/21, 9/17/22, 12/20/22

Stadium: Opened in 2011, FAU Stadium is a hidden gem amongst the Group of Five ranks. Located in Boca Raton, the stadium (depending on who you ask) is 1.8 miles away from the beach — a fact that is sprawled throughout the interior signage of the facility. It seats just under 30,000 people, which is a good number for a G5 team and can create a nice homefield advantage when full. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and there are some pretty cool concessions/seating in the Delray Hyundai deck. — 4 stars

Press Box: The stadium’s press box and club seating are undoubtedly the crown jewel of the facility. Having a multi-level press box with a separate are for media meals and multiple bathrooms are far from a given at the G5 level, so this one is a really nice touch. — 5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: There’s a pretty solid tailgating environment around the stadium on gamedays. Between the student tailgate which can stretch from the parking area around Palm Beach State College to various tents in parking closer the stadium, it’s a more than respectable showing amongst the G5 ranks. — 3 stars

Rideshare/Parking: This is where things get a little tricky. I’ve attended four games here as a media member and one as a fan. In a working capacity, you’re given parking inside of the garage located right next to the Owls’ football facilities, which is a short walk to the stadium. As a fan, I’d recommend investing in a paid parking pass or getting there early. Additionally, if you enter campus from University drive — it’s borderline excruciating to get within striking distance of the stadium. The trick is enter off of Glades Road, however, non-locals wouldn’t have any reason to know this and GPS won’t help you get there. — 2 stars

Food Options: I’ll break this down into three different categories. As a media member, the food is usually on-point and I’ve had everything from Pizza to Chick-fil-a. As a fan, be prepared to pay — and wait. Last season’s contest against UCF saw ridiculously long lines for food and beer. What’s interesting about the area around FAU’s campus is there isn’t too much that’s open in the way of food, if it’s a night game. Visiting Irishmen pre or post-game is never a bad call and would be my local recommendation for an evening kickoff. — 3 stars

Review Two (Kevin Fielder)

Date(s) visited: Multiple

Stadium: The stadium is located in South Florida, and it’s near an ocean (I am obliged to mention that it is located 1.8 miles away from the beach). Need I say more? The stadium has an open concept, which allows people to take in views from various areas, including some that are right by the field. The Delray Hyundai Deck allows fans to have a common area to grab an adult beverage or some food, and the views on the deck are even good. However, the lack of coverage for the South Florida sun can create a challenge for afternoon games. — 4 stars

Press Box: As Eric mentioned, the press box is the best part of the stadium. There are multiple levels, elevators, and bathrooms, creating a dream for media members covering G5 football. Seating is divided into two tiers, which allows for plenty of space for each media member. There’s also a dining area, which means that media members can eat away from their technology and socialize with other members. — 5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: It’s not for a lack of trying, but there really isn’t a consistent fan atmosphere. There can definitely be an atmosphere for bigger games — like when FAU plays in-state opponents — but for the games, the lack of fans creates a disappointing atmosphere. There’s always a place to tailgate, though. I’ve seen fans tailgate in the parking garage, on the campus of Palm Beach State, and even on the grass right by the stadium. — 2.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: As Eric said, enter the campus from Glades Road. It’ll make your life a lot easier and there are more parking options along the way. However, some of the spots can create quite the walk, depending on where you park. If you use rideshare, they can normally drop you off right by the stadium, which will make your life a lot easier. Getting a ride share from the stadium can be a bit challenging, though. If you’re a media member, you can avoid all of this as the parking pass is in the garage that is connected to the football facility. — 3 stars

Food Options: If it’s an afternoon game, there are plenty of food options around FAU’s campus, provided you’re able to drive. Swifty’s Market has some terrific sandwiches (I recommend the steak sandwich), and Fran’s Chicken Haven is some of the best chicken I have ever had. In the stadium, there are a variety of options but they can be quite pricey. Although, I would recommend eating before you get to the stadium, there are certainly options in the stadium, if you’d like to try them. For media members, the food is always good, and the barbeque that is often provided is divine. — 4 stars

Review Three (Steve Helwick)

Date visited: 10/15/2022

Stadium: The first observation when arriving at FAU Stadium is the slogan “1.8 miles to the beach” emblazoned on the east sideline. The second observation is the plethora of palm trees located in the gap in the bleachers between the east sideline and south end zone. That gives the stadium a fun tropical vibe to it. I also enjoyed the stadium light show they performed after the third quarter, which was unique in-game entertainment. FAU Stadium holds 30,000, but the stadium honestly feels larger than 30,000 given its multiple decks, north end zone seating, and the high elevation of the pressbox. — 3.5 stars

Press Box: As soon as I was dropped off at the stadium, I lost internet reception which was not ideal for tracking the ongoing action in college football. Upon reaching the pressbox, I kept waiting for reception to return, but that never happened. My signal wasn’t even strong enough to connect to WiFi, and I had to leach off a very kind staffer’s WiFi in order to get my phone and laptop functioning, which was tedious. Moving on, the pressbox presents a quite distant view of the field for a 30,000-seat stadium. But the pressbox has its perks, as there is plenty of space reserved in the seating area for each media member, and there is also a large dining/work/hangout room near the bathrooms toward the back of the pressbox. — 2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: My first thought when pulling up to FAU Stadium — FAU is certainly a tailgate school. There were lots and lots full of students blasting loud music and enjoying a crisp October Saturday prior to a kickoff under the lights. The stadium atmosphere didn’t quite match the energy I felt from observing the tailgates, but the crowd still had its moments. There are a ton of field level suites and spectators who watch the action behind a field-level gate, so the crowd is quite spaced out. But the night I was in Boca Raton, Antonio Brown randomly appeared at the game and started playing a tuba from the band, and that provided ample excitement within the student section. — 2.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: My experience at FAU Stadium is limited to rideshare. There’s a clear pickup and drop-off area in the loop located at the northwest corner of the stadium. That spot comes in clutch. As far as parking, I’d defer to Eric and Kevin for that, but my review is solely off rideshare experience. — 4 stars

Food Options: The pregame media meal was a make-your-own meatball sub, which was decent and filling. As far as food spots near campus, I’m unfamiliar, but I discovered the perfect sports bar in Boca Raton to enjoy a college football Saturday slate. So before or after a visit to FAU Stadium, I highly recommend stopping at Miller’s Ale House, which is roughly a 5-minute drive from the stadium. — 4 stars

Houchens-Smith Stadium — Bowling Green, KY (Eric Henry)

Indiana v Western Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 9/24/22, 11/21/20

Stadium: From the outside looking in, Bowling Green, Kentucky’s Houchens-Smith Stadium looks every bit of it’s 55-years-old. Once inside, it’s clear that the 23,776-seat stadium, like most older facilities, has undergone additions and renovations to try and keep up with modern times. The Jack & Jackie Harbaugh Stadium Club sits on the home sidelines, which features premium seating. However, the visitors sidelines are primarily bleachers and rows of concrete. Additionally, despite being smaller in capacity, the layout of the second deck seating makes it feel a bit more cavernous than other stadiums of similar size. — 2.5 stars

Press Box: One of the unique aspects of Houchens-Smith Stadium is the fact that there isn’t an elevator that runs to the top level of the press and coaches boxes. Instead, you get off on the second level and walk up the second deck through the fans to enter. Inside, it’s on the smaller side but more than functional, outside of the narrow hallway that more or less forces people to walk one at a time to pass the coaches and radio boxes. Western Kentucky has announced plans to renovate this area and it should be ready in time for the 2023 season. — 2.5 stars.

Fan Atmosphere: Each time I’ve covered a game at Houchens-Smith, I’ve driven in from Nashville. Once you cross the Kentucky state lines and make your way into Bowling Green, it’s been easily discernable that it’s a gameday, especially once you’re on campus. It’s very common to see groups of families tailgating and fans decked out in Hilltopper colors, which may sound simple, but isn’t a given at the G5 level. — 4 stars

Rideshare/Parking: The folks at Western Kentucky are always more than helpful to visiting media with two of my trips to Bowling Green, I’ve parked in what I believe is a season-ticket holder garage that’s right next to Houchens-Smith Stadium. Coming in via rideshare, I’d recommend making a point to get dropped off in the parking lot in front of PS2, which sits in between the stadium and E.A. Diddle Arena. — 3.5 stars

Food Options: Interestingly, I’ve never had media meal at Houchens-Smith, which is served downstairs near the media entrance to the stadium. Instead, I’ve dined on Red Bull and multiple Diet Cokes — the latter of which I never have outside of a stadium. However, I’m very familiar with the food options for fans at the stadium, because the quickest route to the field is through the general concourse. What struck me weren’t the options, which are general ballpark fare, but the pricing seemed catered to families. So a family of four won’t have to reach into their Roth IRA in order to eat while watching the Tops. — 3.5 stars

Review Two (Emily Van Buskirk)

Date Visited: 10/10/2020

Stadium: Eric’s review of the stadium was thorough and beautiful. Mine will be a little different. Let me preface by saying, I adore Bowling Green – If you ever have the chance to check out a Hot Rods game, absolutely do so. I came to Western Kentucky for their game against Marshall during the Covid year, so my experience was not the true Hilltoppers game day vibe. The campus was gorgeous and easy to access. The weather was bad, so the stadium was wet and that kept a lot of fans away, but the aesthetic was nice and I loved the water tower looming in the distance boasting the school’s initials in red and black. I did not get a chance to get on the field but I did spend some time in the stands and while the stadium is simple, it held a lot of classic college football charm. — 3.0 stars

Press Box: It was small, as was to be expected. The surprise came when I was seated in front of a cement pole, obstructing my full view of the game. Gives new meaning to “worst seat in the house.” The Western Kentucky athletic staff was very welcoming and helpful and there were ample waters and sodas for media to consume. The game day materials were plentiful, the Wi-Fi was steady and the game notes were on point. —2.0 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Can’t speak too much to this as it was a Covid year game. The rainy weather didn’t help either. The Stadium was about half full, but the fans were extremely nice and welcoming, albeit not too enthusiastic about their team. I suppose we can attribute that to the 1-3 start. —2.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking was extremely easy and close to the stadium, which as a media member schlepping bags around, I appreciate. I can’t speak to the rideshare situation as I was chauffeured to and from the game by two other amazing women in sports but traffic didn’t seem to be an issue. —3.5 stars

Food Options: I honestly can’t remember the food situation in the press box – I want to say it was a box lunch, which is common for a lot of stadiums. Usually I venture out on to the concourse to try the food de jour but I did not for this game. Although, I have to imagine the food is fuego being the stadium is in the heart of foodland. With a Chick-fil-A, a Sonic and a cupcake stand all in close proximity, I need to make a return trip ASAP. —3.0 stars

FIU Stadium — Miami, FL (Kevin Fielder)

Date(s) visited: 11/2/19, 11/12/22

Stadium: I’ll admit, there is some charm to the stadium. The bleachers give a real local feel and it does have a unique design. However, it’s not always easy to get from one section to the other. The concourses aren’t very open, which can create some navigation challenges depending on how many people are at the game. Like FAU, there isn’t cover from the elements, which means it can be a miserable experience depending on the weather that day. — 1.5 stars

Press Box: I’ve seen high schools with better press boxes. There are three sections six seats total, and that includes employees from each time. As a result, a lot of media members are stuck sitting outside under a tent. This isn’t the best experience, especially if it rains. If you’re prepared to sit outside as fans walk around you, then you can make the most of it. — 1 star.

Fan Atmosphere: FIU’s struggles on the field mean that there isn’t much of an atmosphere for fans. Students don’t go to games, and they don’t get local attention either. While FIU’s fanbase does have devout fans who tailgate and make noise, those numbers are few and far between. In fact, the last game I went to, it was mostly away fans in the stadium, which is never a good sight. — 1 star.

Rideshare/Parking: I’ve taken ride share each time that I’ve been on FIU’s campus. That’s entirely my personal preference (I hate Miami traffic) but there seems to be parking around the stadium if you choose to drive. If you are taking rideshare, be aware that it can drop you off kind of far from the stadium. It’s still walkable, but it can be tedious depending on the weather. For media, the parking appears to be a hike from the stadium, which is not common from my experience. — 2 stars

Food Options: They had Cuban coffee at the last game, which RULED. There also appears to be plenty of options for food inside the stadium, though I’ve heard conflicting reports on the quality of it. For media members, the food is lackluster, but I always enjoy a nice Jersey Mike’s sub sandwich. Here is the saving grace for FIU: the food around the stadium rocks. There are plenty of options, including Hispanic food and burgers, and a lot of it is really good. There are also plenty of fast food options. — 4 stars.

Review Two (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: Multiple

Stadium: FIU Stadium has some positives for fans taking in a game. First, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, which is a must at the G5 level. Two, this may sound like a slight, but the bleacher seats make it easy for groups of fans to sit together. With that said, those bleachers get hot during day games and don’t have much of an appeal overall. Like Kevin mentioned, it’s not the easiest place to navigate, both in the concourses and around the upper deck. Lastly, having to brave the elements in South Florida isn’t easy. — 2 stars

Press Box: Deep sigh...the press box at FIU Stadium is infamous amongst C-USA writers. As UDD’s FIU beat writer I have a permanent seat inside, which helps opposed to being in the auxiliary tents, which are needed because the inside space is more or less the size of a large office. The facility was built as a multi-purpose stadium and as a result, the press box is at the far corner overlooking an endzone — not at the 50-yard-line like virtually every other press box. The same goes for the coaches boxes, which has sightlines that are routinely complained about by visiting coaching staffs. The visiting coaches box is closer to the 15-yard line on the other end of the club area. While there is an elevator that runs to the first floor, it’s not specifically held for coaches during halftime. Instead, coaches have to run down the stadium steps to get to their respective locker rooms. — 1 star

Fan Atmosphere: Yes, FIU has struggled with attendance in recent years. However, the new administration has done their part to try and boost those numbers, specifically by expanding the student section — likely a smart move to appeal to the population on-campus. I’ve actually attended two of the top-five highest attended games in FIU history (2011 & 2016 vs UCF) and when the stadium is near capacity, it gets loud because of said bleachers. Tailgating has also increased since the new administration has been in place and creates a lively atmosphere, but one that still has room to grow to catch up with other college towns/campuses. — 2 stars

After years of a lackluster tailgate crowd, FIU has begun to embrace students and fans alike — but it will take time for that to result in consistent near capacity crowds.
Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

Rideshare/Parking: Parking on gamedays for fans is pretty accessible, should you arrive in a reasonable amount of time before kickoff. There’s a VIP lot directly adjacent to the stadium that’s worth the investment and the paid lot nearest to the stadium is as close as you’ll find in the G5 ranks. To Kevin’s point, if you’re not in one of those two lots, it can be a bit of a hike and the media parking is a little over a half-mile walk. — 3 stars

Food Options: It’s Miami. There are an abundance of food options around FIU’s campus that are worth checking out pregame. Postgame, it may be a little harder to find somewhere that’s open, but still more than the average college town. There are many options inside the stadium with most ranging within the generic stadium fare. The Cuban coffee is a nice touch, though. In the press box, yes, it’s Jersey Mike’s. Can you find better at other G5 stadiums, absolutely. However, I’m fully conceding my bias here when I say that I’ve left the stadium with an extra sub or two and that’s always a plus. — 4 stars

Jerry Richardson Stadium — Charlotte, NC (Eric Henry)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 William & Mary at Charlotte Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 11/17/18, 10/22/22

Stadium: One of the newer stadiums among the Group of Five ranks, Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium is a blueprint for how a G5 stadium should look and feel. With a capacity of just over 15,000 that’s expandable to over 19,000, fans and media enter from the top of the facility and walk downwards to their seats, providing a great view of the playing surface on the way in. Like Houchens-Smith, the majority of the seating are bleachers, with premium seating being located on the home sidelines and there are excellent views throughout. — 4 stars

Press Box: JRS’s press and coaches boxes are located just above the stadium seats on the home sidelines, which sometimes makes for an interesting environment — more to come on that. However, the inside is very spacious and easily accessible once entering the stadium, which makes for a great working space. Because of the proximity to the fans, it’s not uncommon to see interaction directed at the boxes. In both of my trips there, fans have taken time to voice their displeasure, which is certainly unique. To be fair, my visit in 2019 was the final game of the Brad Lambert era — and last season’s visit would turn out to be the swan song for Will Healy in the Queen City. — 4 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Piggybacking off of the section prior, Charlotte’s fanbase may not be the largest, but there’s a good portion of diehards who have been with the program since it’s inception. The “Normbulance” is a really cool feature outside of Jerry Richardson Stadium and walking around the area, you know it’s gameday. As stated, both of my trips have come at points in which the Niners’ fanbase has been at their most disgruntled with the direction of the program, so that’s resulted crowds that were less than stellar and the fans attending to direct their ire at the coaches boxes. — 3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking can be a bit of a conundrum at JRS. Some fans park at a garage that’s in front of the team hotel on-campus, but that can be a bit of a hike. Rideshare drops off at an area that’s still a good walk to the stadium. — 2.5 stars

Food Options: For a smaller stadium, there are an abundance of concessions and food options in and around the stadium, primarily general stadium food. Inside the press box, the food doesn’t disappoint, ranging from Chick-fil-a to Carolina BBQ. — 3.5 stars

Apogee Stadium — Denton, TX (Eric Henry)

Houston Baptist v North Texas Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 11/5/22

Stadium: It’s not a secret that Texas is home to some of the finest (and most gaudy) high school stadiums in the nation. With that stated, my trip to the Dallas suburbs quickly showed me some the luxuries that are afforded. For the University of North Texas, the 12-year-old Apogee Stadium is certainly one of the biggest luxuries that the school can boast. It’s an impressive facility from the outside, featuring a statue of Mean Green legend and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Greene. Stadium seating are aluminum bleachers, with the home sidelines mostly covered by the press and club section. — 4 stars

Press Box: State-of-the-Art is used fairly commonly when describing amenities in newly built stadiums. However, the press and club seating at Apogee Stadium rivals any Power Five building in the nation. For readers who may wonder why this is an important feature, if you’ve ever wondered why your favorite G5 team has challenges getting a Power Five opponent to your city, having enough accommodations for visiting media, opposing communications’ staffs and work spaces for photographers does play a factor. Apogee’s media row seats 25, more than enough to handle whomever may visit. — 4.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Coming off of a resounding victory over C-USA heavyweight Western Kentucky, North Texas would eventually go on to play in the conference championship game. That made for a nice crowd which say somewhere around 80% capacity for the FIU game. Pregame, the tailgate was abundant and the atmosphere in and around campus made for a nice college football feel. — 3 stars

Rideshare/Parking: I didn’t see too many rideshares coming into Apogee during my visit, but the parking situation was interesting. Again, not a shortage of lots by any stretch. But due to the layout and location of the stadium, along with UNT’s indoor practice facility, the nearest parking lot was a reasonable distance away. — 2.5 stars

Food Options: FIU’s contest in Denton came in early November and the folks at UNT provided an early Thanksgiving spread that quite frankly, I would have gone back for second and thirds if I wasn’t working. With the stadium squarely on-campus, there weren’t any food options in the immediate vicinity, but my brief stop in the concourse saw plenty of food options to choose from. — 4 stars

Rice Stadium — Houston, TX (Steve Helwick)

UTEP v Rice Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Dates visited: 15 games, ranging from 9/6/2019 to 11/19/2022

Stadium: Fun fact, Rice Stadium hosted Super Bowl VIII, where the Miami Dolphins prevailed over the Minnesota Vikings to win back-to-back championships. It’s also the site of President John F. Kennedy’s iconic “We choose to go to the moon” speech in 1962. Rice Stadium is a charismatic old venue which holds 47,000, despite the typical attendance numbers floating around 18,000. There is no end zone seating, as the field house occupies space behind one goalpost and the other side is tarped off. There is also a large 2013 C-USA champions tarp which occupies considerable space above the visitor sideline — and I’m not sure why it’s located there. But recent renovations and new field paint designs have modernized the classic stadium to keep it fresh over the years. One feature which has yet to be updated is the scoreboard, which is of the classic digital nature rather than the modern videoboard style. — 3.5 stars.

Press Box: Rice is home to one of my favorite press boxes based on the interior. It’s gigantic, and there’s more than enough adequate space and charging stations for each media member. WiFi connection is top-tier. Accessing the press box can be confusing at first, as there’s an elevator and then a subsequent flight of stairs along the way, but it gets easier over time. Like most older stadiums, the press box view is super high up, so binoculars may come in handy in order to see jersey numbers. The main downside is the bathroom is quite small and gets crammed at times. — 3 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Rice really doesn’t have a defined student section. Most attendees are family members and friends affiliated with players, coaching staff, band, or cheerleaders. I’ve rewatched the 2013 C-USA Championship Game many times, and perhaps winning could generate some fan interest at Rice Stadium. There aren’t many crammed areas in the bleachers, and the spectators are typically spaced out. Tailgating is also a bit of a rarity, even though the parking lots are certainly tailgate material. However, given the affordability of games and the spacious nature of the stadium, Rice is the ideal setting for families with younger children developing an interest in football. — 1.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking is very reasonable at Rice. The Greenbriar Lot is very vast and borders the stadium, making for an easy walk from your car to the gate. Almost every available option is $10 or under. The stadium is within a 10-minute walking distance from nearby neighborhoods too. — 4.5 stars

Food Options: Despite covering Rice football for four seasons, I’m not extremely acquainted with the nearby food options and I’ve never tried a concession stand. The media meal is typically a box sandwich meal, complete with chips and a cookie — although I’ll never forget the time Buffalo Wild Wings boneless wings were catered with various dipping sauces. There is a nearby area called Rice Village which is a renowned shopping district with a litany of restaurants ranging from Shake Shack to Black Walnut Cafe to high-end Italian eateries. But if it’s late-night, just go to Whataburger like any normal Texan would do. — 3 stars

Floyd Stadium — Murfreesboro, TN (Eric Henry)

Vanderbilt v Middle Tennessee Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 10/26/19

Stadium: Okay, I don’t fawn over Murfreesboro like the way my friend Ms. Van Buskirk does. However, it’s a fine city roughly 30-45 minutes outside of Nashville, depending on traffic. Originally built in 1933, it’s undergone several renovations since that time and seats over 30,000 fans. Because it’s older, it does show one of my pet peeves of a smaller stadium — multiple decks. Again, there isn’t a “bad” seat in the house but it could be more intimate, given it’s not a massive facility. On the outside, it’s not much to look at, but the inside does feature wide concourses that are easy to navigate. Additionally, the beer garden section behind the end zones in a nice touch. — 2.5 stars

Press Box: Two elevators take club and box seat holders along with media and coaching staff to their respective levels, which can cause for a backup when one of the elevators is held for coaches only. That aside, the press seating at Floyd is more than expansive and to date, the folks at MTSU are the only non-NFL stadium to provide coffee to media. a Godsend! — 4 stars

Fan Atmosphere: 2019 was a down season for Rick Stockstill and the Blue Raiders, going 4-8. Overcast skies and Halloween weekend didn’t help factors when trying to convince fans to support the home team on homecoming, making for an announced crowd of 9,511 — which may have been accurate in the first half, but a torrential downpour at halftime left roughly 30% of that number. — 1.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking was extremely easy at Floyd Stadium. The media lot was a bit tricky to find, but once you do, it’s really close to the entrances. For the general public, there were plenty of lots that surround the stadium, so that’s a major plus. — 4 stars

Food Options: As mentioned, the coffee is a nice feature to have and the media meal was sufficient. Because of the rain, I didn’t get a chance to check out the concourses, but on the way in from Nashville, I passed a number of mom-and-pop restaurants within striking distance of the stadium. — 3 stars

Review Two (Emily Van Buskirk)

Dates visited: 9/2/2017, 11/16/2019

Stadium: God bless Murfreesboro, Tennessee – it gets none of the love being 30 minutes outside of the fan-favorite city of Nashville. But personally, I love Murfreesboro. The people are nice, the football culture is great and the stadium is perfectly fine. The first game I covered here was back in 2017 against Vanderbilt and it was lit. This was peak Richie James-era, so even though the Blue Raiders lost, the fans stayed in the game. Fun fact, there are gorgeous sunset views off the top of the press box looking back at the city. Shout out to my friend and mentor Tony Franklin for always rolling out the Blue Carpet for us. —3.0 stars

Press Box: Speaking of press seating, MTSU does a great job for media. The press box is nice with good views of the field. It’s not terribly big but doesn’t feel claustrophobic. My guy Mark Owens does a great job making sure the media has everything they need and it is relatively easy to get to the field, which is a super important quality for us. The visiting team press conference takes place outside their locker room which is both a blessing a curse – it’s intimate and you get a real feel for the players and coaches’ energy, but it can be noisy for interviews. —3.0 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Fans were great. I didn’t spend a ton of time outside the press box but was on the field for the pre-game and it was loud. The pyrotechnics and fanfare were great, and fans appeared friendly. We have all heard horror stories of unruly home team fans, but I have yet to encounter that at Floyd. —3.0 stars

Rideshare/Parking: We drove over to the game and parking was a breeze. The tailgate scene was cool, although we get to games so early we don’t always get to check out the full-fledged debauchery. Parking was close to the stadium which is the number one most important thing for me as I HATE walking. —3.5 stars

Food Options: My absolute favorite thing about Floyd Stadium is the beer garden. It didn’t exist during my first visit but it had just opened up when I saw the Blue Raiders play Rice the second time and it was glorious. The Blue Raider Beer Garden is located in the South endzone on the field level and features many different beers and seltzers as well as lawn games. They serve through the end of third quarter and anyone over 21 with a general admission ticket can check it out. —4.0 stars

Sun Bowl — El Paso, TX (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: 11/19/22

Stadium: Built in 1963, Sun Bowl Stadium is nestled away on UTEP’s campus and sits less a mile away from the United States/Mexico Border. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but once inside, you have the opportunity to take in one of the most scenic views in college football and the interior is rife with historic moments that have taken place at the venue. Most of the stadium’s 51,000 seats are bleachers, outside of a few chair backs on the home sideline’s 50-yard-line. To take a phrase from Kevin, the Sun Bowl has charm. — 3.5 stars

Press Box: Because the venue hosts the historic Sun Bowl Game each year, it’s expected that the amenities for media would be above average and this is the case here. An elevator takes fans, media and coaches directly to the press and club areas, with the media section being sizable. — 3.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: It’s been an up-and-down last decade for Miners’ fans. The Sean Kugler era didn’t go as planned, resulting in current head coach Dana Dimel having a sizable rebuild on his hands. 2021’s bowl berth generated some momentum amongst the El Paso faithful, but a disappointing five-win 2022 that began with a season-opening loss against UNT didn’t help things. The day of my visit was a chilly senior day and while there were plenty of families on hand, there wasn’t much in the way of tailgating or fans outside of diehards. — 2 stars

Rideshare/Parking: The Sun Bowl Parking Garage is the easiest and closest garage to the stadium. It can be a little tricky to navigate if you’re a first timer, so plan ahead to save yourself a few minutes walking around aimlessly to find the correct elevator that leads you to the walkway to the stadium. Outside of that garage, some of the parking is a bit further out and rideshare can only get you so close to the stadium, especially if the visiting team has already arrived. — 3 stars

Food Options: If you’re a fan of authentic Mexican food, come hungry. El Paso is one of my favorite stops on the Conference USA circuit for this exact reason. While there’s nothing directly around campus, a short drive will have you within a litany of food options and the media meal was authentic Mexican fare that certainly hit the spot. — 4 stars

Protective Stadium — Birmingham, AL (Emily Van Buskirk)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Liberty at UAB Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date visited: 4/17/2022

Stadium: Absolutely gorgeous. They layout is amazing, it’s close enough to walk from downtown hotels. The entrance procedures are easy and the stadium is spacious. Being brand-new obviously helps - Protective Stadium opened in 2021 and is home to the UAB Blazers, but also hosts high school football playoffs, USFL games and Garth Brooks concerts. I came to cover the inaugural USFL games and had an incredible experience. The suites were immaculate, the locker rooms were extremely nice, for both home and visiting teams. Highly recommend traveling to Birmingham for any type of football in this stadium.—4.5 stars

Press Box: One of the nicer press boxes I've been in. Not a bad seat on the row. Lots of power outlets, which is a bonus. Solid wifi, plentiful tv’s and modern amenities like women’s bathrooms. (You laugh but I have been in press boxes without them) My only negative is that I managed to cut my leg on the underside of the press row table, which probably has more to do with my clumsiness than anything else. But it was quite the quest to find band aids in the sold out stadium that night. —4.0 stars

Fan Atmosphere: The USFL fans showed out for the first games of the season, particularly the opener with hometown team the Birmingham Stallions. It was loud, it was crowded and the people were kind and welcoming. To be fair, no rivalries had been developed yet so the niceties were new. The USFL did a great job marketing and engaging with the city of Birmingham and the citizens embraced the Stallions with open arms.

Rideshare/Parking: I can’t speak to parking, but Ubers were plentiful and easy to order but the best thing about this stadium is its walkable from downtown.

Food Options: I think stadium ops were not prepared for the amount of fans that show up as one side of the concourse ran out of beer at one point during the game. The lines for food and drinks were also extremely long. I will say the concourse could have been built a bit wider to accommodate more people, as it was hard to navigate through the crowds at times. The food in the press box was fire, some Mac n cheese, some BBQ - delish.

Joan C. Edwards Stadium — Huntington, WV (Eric Henry)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 19 Appalachian State at Marshall Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 10/30/21

Stadium: The Joan sits on the campus of Marshall University and the 32-year-old facility looks a bit older than it’s age from the outside, but once you enter, you get the charm of a stadium that’s experienced some history. The numerous odes to legendary Marshall team’s and players alike throughout the interior of the stadium is fitting of a program that has such a storied history. The bulk of the stadium’s seating are bleachers with a chunk on the home sidelines being seats. — 3.5 stars

Press Box: Despite being a facility that was built for a then-FCS program, the 38,000-seat stadium has top-notch press, luxury and coaches boxes. The working space is among the best in the Group of Five ranks and is easily accessible via elevator. Additionally, having multiple restrooms, which isn’t always a foregone conclusion at the G5 level, is always appreciated. — 4.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Despite an overcast, chilly and somewhat rainy gameday in Huntington, there were an abundance of fans tailgating around the stadium before my visit. Marshall fans know and appreciate their football, something that’s very tangible even when walking through the stadium pre-and-post game. — 4 stars

Rideshare/Parking: While there appeared to be a fair amount of parking next to the stadium, taking an Uber to the stadium was made difficult by a number of road closures around the stadium. My Uber driver leaving the stadium was very knowledgeable about the area and all of the Uber drivers I had were extremely friendly.— 2 stars

Food Options: Standard stadium fare was abundant throughout the stadium and the media meal was more than sufficient. Around the stadium, there’s a McDonald’s and some options around campus. — 3 stars

Review Two (Emily Van Buskirk)

Dates visited: 11/15/2019, 9/19/2020, 11/14/2020

Stadium: The Joan is one of only two Division 1 football stadiums named after a woman (major points if you can guess the other without googling) and she takes that responsibility seriously. Named after philanthropist Joan C. Edwards for her loyalty and generosity, The Joan invites 38,000 fans every season to share the magic that is the Marshall football program. If you have never been to Huntington for the 75 Game, add it to your college football bucket list. The first time I travelled to Marshall was on a whim, but the magic felt on the field that night prompted me to come back the following year for two more games. The stadium feels intimate, and the fan base is passionate. Game presentation is on point. I can’t speak to the seating but the suites are super nice. Plus, the stadium is within walking distance of the hotels downtown, which we love. But parking for the media is also a breeze. —3.5 stars

Press Box: In Huntington, the press box isn’t about the amenities, it’s about the people. Jason Corriher (who is now with Tulane) and Chuck McGill (who is no longer with the program) were two of the best SID’s I have ever encountered. Being a woman in this industry is hard, travelling around the country by myself to cover games in unfamiliar places is even harder. The entire Marshall staff welcomed me readily and made me feel at home. Three very special women who I remain friends with to this day showed me the Marshall plane crash site, the memorial fountain and ceremony and even gave me a taste of Huntington night life. The press box itself is smallish, but cozy. The food was great, the local writers were prickly, and the sodas were plentiful. It felt like home. —3.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Marshall fans are awesome. To be fair, the first game I attended was a 75 Game, which brings out the entire town. And the next two were during Covid, so things were a little different. But each time was such an enjoyable game day experience. The tailgates are awesome and the student section was extremely lively. —4.0 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking for media was right in front of the stadium, which was awesome. Not sure about the Uber situation – I did take one from the airport to my hotel, but I can’t say whether it’s a good option for game day. — 3.5 stars

Food Options: Ya’ll are going to be disappointed in me, but I was so focused on content for these games that I didn’t get to try a single item of food outside the press box. But I hear the cheesesteaks and the hotdogs are bomb. —3.0 stars

(Note left by Eric — See the way Emily spells Y’all — it’s clear she’s a Californian)

M.M. Roberts Stadium — Hattiesburg, MS (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: 11/27/22

Stadium: Nicknamed “The Rock” M.M. Roberts Stadium is another older stadium, so it has many of the features that can be expected of a stadium built in a different generation. The most defining features a being a massive slab of concrete, that’s been renovated over the years. Additionally, the multi levels create a bit of a divide, especially with a second deck that is far from the playing surface. What is a nice touch is the club/box seats that sit over one of the endzones, which is a creative shift from having them in the press area. With that said, my only complaint is that a portion sits directly above the visitor’s locker, which an extremely small portion of Southern Miss fans took advantage of to heckle the visitors, borderline being abusive — emphasis on extremely small — see below for my full review of the fan atmosphere. — 2.5 stars

Press Box: Press area at M.M. Roberts isn’t massive and isn’t the easiest to get to. An elevator takes you from the top concourse to the lower bowl, which means you have to walk through the crowd to get to the field and back to the press area. That aside, it’s a functional press box which gets the job done. — 2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Southern Miss fans and UDD have tended to be like oil and water. Why, I can’t speak to in my time in managing the site. So let’s chalk it up to beef from the old country. That aside, the gameday atmosphere was impressive during my trip to Hattiesburg. While greatly appreciated, tailgating is only one aspect of the atmosphere. Golden Eagle fans clearly take a lot of pride in their program and being a knowledgeable fanbase. Additionally, maybe I’m getting old, but it was refreshing to see a tailgate that kids and adults alike could enjoy, which is a bit different from the drunken debauchery that you can encounter at different stops. Saturday afternoon in Hattiesburg was enjoyable and to be honest, I wish I could have taken it in a bit more. — 5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: So M.M. Roberts almost kind of pops up on you to an extent and where exactly you can park isn’t easily defined. I saw some folks parked much closer to where I parked, which looked to be a garage behind residence halls — a sizable walk through the area before encountering the tailgating activities. — 3 stars

Food Options: Hattiesburg, Mississippi is smack dab in the middle of the South. At the risk of drawing the ire of several fanbases, this Floridian hadn’t had collard greens until my trip to The Rock. Review — those damn greens were fire — so much so that I didn’t need much other than the greens, a coke and some cobbler. Outside of the press fare, I saw all of the necessities in the concourse and there were quite a few restaurants not too far off campus. — 4.5 stars.

Alamodome — San Antonio, TX (Steve Helwick)

Alamo Bowl: Texas v Iowa Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dates visited: 10/16/2021

Stadium: The Alamodome was built long before the existence of UTSA football. It was constructed in the early 1990s to attract an NFL franchise and served as the home of the San Antonio Spurs throughout the decade and the Alamo Bowl through present day. It even hosted the most attended game in NBA history back in January when the Spurs battled the Warriors in front of 68,323 spectators. As a football venue, everything about it is cool from the exterior design to the giant videoboards in the upper corners of the stadium. Rather than bleachers, fans are entitled to individual seats. Sometimes the upper decks are closed off, but given the recent attendance demands, UTSA is starting to utilize the entire 30-year old venue in all its glory. — 5 stars

Press Box: Out of every pressbox in college football, this is my absolute No. 1 favorite. It’s an open-air pressbox with a wall of plexiglass serving as the only barrier between the pressbox and the crowd. Basically, it’s like watching from the stands with a relatively close view, and the ability to soak in the crowd atmosphere makes for a tremendous experience. The pressbox is rather large with various rows for the media, a separate room to claim food, and clean facilities. — 5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: The Jeff Traylor era has completely redefined the tone of the Alamodome. As San Antonio’s primary football team, that place is a spectacle on Saturdays and there is constantly a raucous echo in the indoor atmosphere. UTSA football is barely over a decade old, but the football fanbase they’ve developed is nothing short of impressive. San Antonio is quietly the seventh largest city in the United States, and many inhabitants without ties to UTSA have adopted the Roadrunners, which is perfect for cultivating a fanbase. — 5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking in downtown San Antonio can be a bit complicated, so rideshare might be recommended. There are nearby parking lots underneath the main Alamodome plaza, but I’m not sure how accessible and affordable they are. Personally, I’d recommend (1) staying at a downtown hotel and taking a stroll through downtown San Antonio, or (2) parking in a downtown garage. Sites along the way include the Riverwalk and Alamo, so it’s a unique walk. — 3.5 stars

Food Options: There are plenty of concessions stands scattered throughout the Alamodome. I recall enjoying the barbecue options at the 2019 Alamo Bowl, and that’s always a commendable food option in the state of Texas. The media meal usually consists of tacos, which is the trademark of San Antonio. But the Riverwalk is within a 15-minute walking distance from the Alamodome and there’s plenty of fantastic restaurants and scenic views there. Lone Star Cafe, Republic of Texas, and any Mexican restaurant are all ideal pregame and postgame stops along the river. Oh, and this is the only FBS stadium within walking distance of a Rainforest Cafe. — 5 stars

American Athletic Conference

FBC Mortgage Stadium — Orlando, FL (Steve Helwick)

Furman v Central Florida Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Dates visited: 9/2/2021 and 10/13/2022

Stadium: Regardless of what sponsor name is on the stadium, this stadium will always be colloquially known as the Bounce House, and for good reason. Watching the entire student body jump up-and-down in unison during Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” makes for an elite college football atmosphere. You can feel the bouncing sensation in the locker rooms, tunnels, and if you have a glass of water in the pressbox, the water will start to dance around. Overall, it’s a solid stadium. I feel like it could use more than 45,000 seats, especially given the Knights’ upcoming move to the Big 12. — 4 stars

Press Box: Finding the pressbox elevator was a moderate challenge during my first visit, but the stadium staff was super helpful. Upon reaching the pressbox, I was a bit shocked by its size as I expected more seats. If the pressbox was filled to capacity for a Thursday night game against Temple last season, more seating seems like a necessity as UCF transitions to Big 12 status. There are TVs draped across the left side of the pressbox which is helpful for catching other action when the Knights are at halftime, but there’s not really another area to sit down, edit packages or videos, or eat other than press row. — 2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: UCF’s status as the second-most attended public university in America combined with their recent track record of success on the gridiron makes for a top-tier gameday environment. Rewatch the beginning of the 2018 Cincinnati game or the 4th quarter of the 2019 AAC Championship Game to see what a peak UCF crowd looks like, because it’s a site to behold. Tailgating is state-of-the-art, as campus consists of vast tailgate lawns with plenty of pregame festivities, accompanied by cover bands and things of that nature. Personally, I’ve only been to UCF for a pair of Thursday night games and I was still impressed with the turnout and overall vibe for a weeknight setting. — 5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: UCF’s parking easily warrants a 5-star rating for one reason only. Parking in Garage B is free — whether you’re a student, alum, or visitor. Parking anywhere on a college campus usually costs the same rate as accidentally hitting the internet button on a Motorola Razr back in the day. And the fact that they make this luxury of free parking available on gamedays is astounding. It’s a bit of a walk through campus to the stadium (maybe 10-15 minutes), but you also get the true gameday atmosphere by experiencing that walk. — 5 stars

Food Options: Other than Penn State, I think UCF offered the widest variety in media meal options I’ve ever seen — off the top of my head — different varieties of pizza, wings, a salad bar, vegetable platter, etc. Like most stadiums, I’m not familiar with the concession stands. However, Burger U right outside the Bounce House is the ultimate pregame meal atmosphere. It’s crowded but the line moves quick. There’s indoor and outdoor seating and a DJ (who mixes in the occasional “Kernkraft 400”) to get the fanbase hyped before the action. — 4.5 stars

Review Two (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: Multiple

Stadium: FBC Mortgage Stadium has somewhat of a reputation amongst visiting fans for the fact that before kickoffs, UCF fans bounce up-and-down to the sounds of “Kerkraft 400” by Zombie Nation and as a result, you can feel the stadium bouncing up and down — which is how the facility earned its nickname of the “Bounce House.” It’s positioned in UCF’s athletics village and both inside and outside of the stadium, provides a nice themed feel for the school’s nickname of the “Knights.” Stadium seating is a mix of bleachers and chairbacks with each section providing excellent sightlines of the action. A downside is lack of wi-fi inside the stadium, so be prepared to not have service if you visit. Also, concourses both inside and outside the stadium can be hectic when it’s a full house. — 4 stars

Press Box: Two elevators run to the press, coaches and suites area. Once inside, FBC Mortgage Stadium’s press area is on par with the higher third of Group of Five schools, but may need some expansion as a current member of the Big 12. — 3.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: As stated by the editor’s note at the top of this article, I have an affiliation with UCF, being my alma mater. Stating that up front, I challenge anyone visiting UCF on a gameday to be anything short of impressed with the atmosphere. Tailgating stretches from the student-heavy tailgate in Memory Mall, to various parking garages and the softball fields and grassy areas adjacent to the stadium. Inside the stadium, the venue can be beyond electric for a prime opponent, but when the Knights are not having a great year, the mood will be average, at best. — 5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: There’s no shortage of parking at UCF, but that doesn’t exactly mean it’s always convenient. The garage nearest to the stadium (Garage F) is typically reserved for media and stadium workers, which is a short walk over. The next closest public garages D and H are ones that you should prepare for a walk. Garage B provides arguably the easiest time finding a spot and provides a scenic route through campus that truly gives a feel for what a UCF gameday is. Rideshare coming off of McColloch Road can get you close enough to the stadium for a reasonable walk and depending on time of day, coming off of Alafaya Trail can get you within striking distance of the stadium. — 3 stars

Food Options: Let’s harken back to my days as a college student. I wasn’t doing much eating during games, primarily driven by the cost of food inside the stadium and the fact that I lived less than a mile from the stadium off-campus. The other reason is the sheer number of food options within a two-mile radius of the stadium. McDonalds, Taco Bell, Ale House, Tijuana Flats, Huey Magoo’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc. In the press box, the food has usually been some form of chicken and is always solid. Plus, they’ve never run out of refreshments in my experience. — 4 stars

Yulman Stadium — New Orleans, LA (Emily Van Buskirk)

Louisiana Lafayette v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 9/19/2019, 10/16/2020, 11/12/2022, 12/3/2022

Stadium: Tulane was one of college football’s best kept secrets this past season, but those of us in the know have been riding the Green Wave for years. Yulman Stadium is no different - it's absolute the thing in New Orleans you didn’t know you needed to visit. Sure it’s small, but that just means there isn’t a bad seat. The sunsets behind Yulman are not to be missed. The club seating is phenomenal from what I have heard. And the student section is one of the best I have come across in all my travels. —4.0 stars

Press Box: It’s nobody’s fault, but the press box at Yulman is not great. It’s small and cramped, but the views are good and the closeness just provides ample opportunity to make new friends. Plus it was always easy to find former SID extraordinaire Tom Symonds. I do enjoy how easy it is to get to the field from Yulman’s press box. And during the Covid year, the press box was actually outside in the corner of the end zone, which was amazing. —2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Tulane fans are awesome. And boy do they love Willie Fritz. I have to shout out the guy responsible for curating some immaculate vibes inside Yulman - DJ Shaad. His music sets the one and gets every single person hyped. I have always said a good stadium DJ can make or break a game for the home team. —3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking isn’t the easiest as the stadium is on the corner of campus. But it is easy to get dropped off by a rideshare and it is equally easy to walk from all corners of the campus and anywhere in Uptown. —3.0 stars

Food Options: The food for media is decent - usually a pasta dish as well as salad and unlimited sodas and water. I have never been able to try the food in the stadium because the lines are always so long. But the fans seem happy and satiated, so take that for what it is. —2.5 stars

Review Two (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: 8/31/19

Stadium: Yulman Stadium is an excellent Group of Five stadium that in many ways is a grown-up version of Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium. Opened in 2014, the 30,000-seat facility feels much smaller than similar sized stadiums such as Middle Tennessee State’s Floyd Stadium. It’s two-decks, but a compact design makes every seat feel like you’re right in the midst of the action. — 4 stars.

Press Box: With the compact design, the press box is rather small. I’d be curious to see what the feel is like when a premier opponent like UCF came to town. With my trip, I was one of two visiting media members, so there was enough room for us. It’s also a bit tricky to find, as the media entrance is adjacent to a baseball field, that you have to walk around and then once inside you navigate your way to the press elevator. Once there, the folks (as virtually all home SID staffs are) were more than hospitable. — 2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: This was New Orleans on a Friday night — which meant two things. One, a fun atmosphere outside the stadium pregame. Two, not all of those taking part in the festivities outside actually made it inside for the game. The crowd was announced as 16,361, but felt slightly less than that. However, with Tulane jumping out early and often, the home fans made sure to cheer throughout the game. — 3 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Ubers weren’t hard to come by in The Big Easy and making my way to the Uptown section of the city was pretty seamless. The stadium sits on a street, so that made it somewhat tricky to get out and find your way, so my recommendation would be getting there early and not relying on parking. — 3 stars

Food Options: New Orleans provided some of the best food that I’ve had during my college football travels. However, most of that was downtown or more in the city, over by Tulane’s campus, it very much resembles a campus and stadium that’s in a city neighborhood. — 3.5 stars

Review Three (Steve Helwick)

Date visited: 12/3/2022

Stadium: Yulman Stadium is one of two AAC venues on this list to open its doors in 2014. It’s not the largest venue with a capacity hovering around 30,000, but it’s a modern stadium with an intimate feel where every seat is close to the action. My favorite feature at Yulman is the giant statue of the Angry Wave logo above the north end zone videoboard. One sideline features a single deck, while the other is two-storied. The concourse underneath the bleachers is quite easy to walk through, and it is complemented with the strongest ceiling fans I’ve ever seen in a stadium. — 4 stars

Press Box: Although it’s a rare pressbox with a vantage point of an upside down midfield logo, Yulman Stadium offers one of the best pressbox views in the country, in terms of proximity. You won’t need binoculars to see jersey numbers or happenings on the sidelines. The pressbox itself is a bit crammed in terms of space for each media member, but that’s the only real downside. — 3 stars

Fan Atmosphere: This will be a biased take as my only visit to Yulman Stadium involved the greatest atmosphere in Yulman Stadium history — the 2022 AAC Championship Game. That is the most attended game in the venue’s nine years of existence, and the fanbase brought the energy to generate a palpable homefield advantage. Tulane’s student section is a vibe, and they’re super fun to interact with pregame and postgame. After the magical 2022 season the Green Wave experienced, complete with a Cotton Bowl victory, I believe the fanbase can replicate scenes like December 3, 2022 in the future. — 4 stars

Rideshare/Parking: I used rideshare apps for transportation to and from Yulman Stadium. Drop-off was right at the neighboring baseball field, which was where media credentials were distributed — convenient! Pickup wasn’t complicated at all either. While I haven’t experienced parking myself, gameday traffic wasn’t terrible and there appears to be a $5 garage on one side of Yulman Stadium and a vast parking lot near the baseball field. — 4 stars

Food Options: It’s Louisiana. They’ll throw all sorts of spices and whatnot in the food, and then it becomes magical. For the media meal, they provide a voucher to redeem at the baseball field. And I’m not sure what New Orleans-style kick they added to the pulled pork and mac-and-cheese they served to the media before the AAC Championship Game, but I was texting people about how delicious it was while eating. I didn’t test out any nearby restaurants, but Palms and The Boot are very iconic bars with great atmospheres which also happen to serve food before nightlife hours. If that doesn’t work, Bourbon Street is a short drive away, and you can fill up on beignets and fried gator po-boys before or after your Yulman Stadium experience. — 5 stars

Gerald J. Ford Stadium — Dallas, TX (Steve Helwick)

East Carolina v SMU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dates visited: 10/22/2022 and 11/5/2022

Stadium: I have nothing but good things to say about SMU’s stomping grounds. Roughly 270 degrees of Gerald J. Ford Stadium are occupied by bleachers — red bleachers for the lower level and blue bleachers for the upper level — but the other 90 degrees features the favorite part for many spectators. Behind the south end zone goalpost is a massive grassy hill, which is the perfect family-friendly area to watch Mustang football. Sometimes the population density on the hill outdoes the rest of the stadium, which is a testament to its popularity. And there is nothing networks like ESPN and CBS Sports Network love more than displaying footage of kids rolling down this hill when coming back from commercial. — 4 stars

Press Box: There is no greater obstacle course in college football than accessing the SMU press box. Upon passing through the media entrance, you first enter a room which contains interesting artifacts in SMU history, paying homage to greats like Doak Walker and Eric Dickerson. Then there’s a series of elevators and hallways to navigate through, and I probably could not successfully traverse the path if I tried right now. When going down to the field/press conference rooms pregame and postgame, you must exit the stadium completely after elevator usage and then walk down the bleachers onto the field. There’s a lot of complicated travel, but Gerald J. Ford Stadium is home to one of the nicer pressboxes I’ve seen. It’s very spacious, consists of several long rows for media seating, and there’s a separate area to sit down throughout the press box. — 3 stars

Fan Atmosphere: I already discussed the grassy hill area, which is certainly a vibe and makes a visit to Gerald J. Ford Stadium unique. But overall, the atmosphere varies quite a bit, depending on where SMU lies in the standings. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is the definition of a sports haven, as the fall months feature the wildly popular Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers, Stars, and TCU Horned Frogs — so there’s plenty of competition SMU is up against. But I’d say the Mustangs’ return to winning ways and their recent emphasis on branding themselves as Dallas’ team are helping cultivate a better atmosphere. SMU is certainly a tailgating school though, which is spearheaded by the campus’s significant Greek life population. The tailgating atmosphere is quite good, but sometimes the urgency to enter the stadium before kickoff is lacking. — 3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: You know in the movie Anchorman where Ron Burgundy will read anything the teleprompter says? I’m the same way with Google Maps, so maybe take this with a grain of salt. My first time finding the media garage was a 30+ minute journey, and I had doubts if I would make it to kickoff on time. But during that journey, I discovered how difficult navigating through campus on gameday can be. However, the Binkley Garage is quite nice and sets you up right next to the stadium. I’m assuming visitors typically park in the two other surrounding garages and various lots further from the stadium, so there are plenty of options. — 3 stars

Food Options: I usually come away very pleased with the media meals offered by SMU. The breakfast potatoes for last year’s 11 am kickoff vs. Cincinnati were scrumptious, and I applauded the Rudy’s BBQ sandwiches served during their record-breaking shootout vs. Houston. It’s become a theme in this piece, but I’m not familiar with concession options. In terms of nearby restaurants... it’s Dallas. There are plenty of viable options in that city. — 4.5 stars

Nippert Stadium — Cincinnati, OH (Steve Helwick)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Indiana at Cincinnati Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date visited: 12/4/2021

Stadium: Nippert Stadium is the third oldest active FBS stadium, only trailing Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium and Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. Thanks to a series of renovations, notably in the mid-2010s, the stadium is almost unrecognizable from its 1915 roots. Probably the most unique aspect about Nippert Stadium is the main concourse doubles as a walkway through campus. So students cut through the stadium when attending class, which I haven’t seen on another campus. The seating wraps 270 degrees around the stadium and there’s a separate grandstand behind the north end zone. But if Cincinnati’s on-field success continues, the 40,000-seat Nippert Stadium may be starved for capacity expansion during this Big 12 transition. — 4 stars

Press Box: There’s a correlation between the age of a stadium and the height of a pressbox. The century-plus old venue features a distant view of the field from the pressbox, and the vantage point stems from the bottom right corner of the south end zone. Thus, the action in the south end zone is significantly closer to the eye than the happenings in the north end zone. The elevator is located outside the stadium along the aforementioned walkway through campus, so there’s some tricky navigation involved. — 2.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: This take might be biased because my only Nippert Stadium experience involved the greatest atmosphere in Nippert Stadium history — the 2021 AAC Championship Game when Cincinnati clinched its first College Football Playoff berth. That day, a vociferous student section donning all black flocked to the stadium hours before kickoff. There wasn’t an empty seat in the crowd, and the atmosphere could accurately be described as “hostile” for the visiting opponent. There’s a reason Cincinnati won 32 consecutive home games from November 2018 until November 2022. The success of the Luke Fickell era elevated the fanbase to new heights, and even after Fickell’s departure, the interest should remain sky-high due to upcoming Big 12 membership. — 5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Rideshare works very well on Cincinnati’s campus. Ubers and Lyfts will drop you off right next to the stadium and traffic isn’t bad at all. I haven’t experienced parking, but it appears the main garages are a bit distant from the stadium. Nippert Stadium is in the middle of campus, so the venue’s far proximity from parking areas is no surprise. — 3.5 stars

Food Options: The media meal during my visit was taco bowls, and those were solid. I’m not well-versed in concession stands, but I navigated around campus pregame and postgame and found several suitable dining areas. Sidenote: Cincinnati’s campus might have the most pizza places per capita of any college in America. My top recommendation would be Mac’s Pizza Pub, which is a lively college bar with ample TV options and quality pizza. Adriatico’s is another strong option for game-watching and pizza eating. And no, I’ve never tried Skyline Chili. — 4.5 stars

TDECU Stadium — Houston, TX (Steve Helwick)

Temple v Houston Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Dates visited: 16 games, ranging from 10/12/2019 to 11/12/2022

Stadium: TDECU Stadium is essentially an infant in terms of its age relative to most college football stadiums, as it first opened its doors in 2014. Fittingly, everything about the stadium seems very modern, and the surrounding area is a nice walkable plaza featuring merchandise shops and dining options. I miss the late 2010s when the end zones were painted red with the city skyline as a backdrop. That design was cool and should be reinstated. — 4.5 stars

Press Box: The pressbox view is skewed heavily toward the West end zone, but it’s one of the clearer views in college football in terms of proximity. Access to the pressbox is quite easy through the elevator and a hallway. The media row can be a bit crammed (although the large rolling chairs are super comfortable), but there is a litany of roundtables in the dining area for ample working and eating space. — 4.5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Houston sports franchises receive incredible support when they’re succeeding, but the fanbase can be lacking when the teams’ records aren’t as friendly. This trend was visible in the Astros, which transformed an empty Minute Maid Park into the hottest ticket in town throughout the 2010s. Anyway, the Cougars follow this model as well. The atmospheres during the 12-2 campaign in 2021 were incredible, but the same vibe didn’t reiterate in 2022 after a 2-3 start. Perhaps there’s more fervency in the fanbase when the likes of Texas and Oklahoma State come to town next fall during the inaugural Big 12 season. But at full capacity in a winning season, TDECU Stadium is electric. And the tailgating atmosphere is pretty solid in the parking lots and grassy areas surrounding the stadium. — 3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: There’s a famous Reddit post about University of Houston parking, which gave rise to the slogan “Ya Woo Cougar Football.” But contrary to the post’s complaints, parking is very reasonable on campus. The media lot is very accessible, and right across from the lot on Scott St., there’s a parking garage which practically borders the stadium. Tailgaters typically prefer the parking lot in the West end zone and other grassy areas closer to the Fertitta Center, but there is a wide range of options for all visitors. — 4 stars

Food Options: The media meal at Houston almost always delivers. Whether it’s a lasagna and Caesar salad, a build-your-own-burger, or a burrito bar, the pressbox consistently serves top-of-the-line meals. I don’t have vast knowledge on the concessions at TDECU Stadium, but I know there is a Taco Cabana on the stadium plaza — unfortunately, it’s not a place to watch other games while eating. And although I’ve never been, Frenchy’s Chicken is a nearby iconic spot which I’ve been recommended many times. — 4 stars

Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, FL (Eric Henry)

Citadel v South Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 11/26/16, 11/23/18, 11/23/19, 11/23/21

Stadium: Home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium seats 65,000 and when full, it makes for an excellent football facility. More on that to come. Built in 1998, the stadium doesn’t look or feel like a 25-year-old facility and features every modern amenity that could be asked of a stadium. — 4 stars

Press Box: Picking up on the NFL stadium theme, the press box is arguably the best you’ll experience at the Group of Five level, because it’s a professional facility. The press elevator is easy to find and takes you directly upstairs. — 5 stars

Fan Atmosphere: This is where the review really begins. If this were a review for a Bucs game, a five-star rating would be fair. However, USF football has fallen on hard times over the last half-decade — which makes a quarter-full stadium feel beyond cavernous on gamedays. I’ve been to Ray-Jay several times and the atmosphere outside the stadium for a USF gameday is at its best when taking on rival UCF for the “War on I-4” — a game that will cease to exist following conference realignment. — 1 star

Rideshare/Parking: Whether as a fan or a working media member, parking is readily accessible at Raymond James. Rideshare can be tough when there’s a premier opponent, as Dale Mabry Highway, Martin Luther King and Himes Blvd become a bit of a traffic nightmare, so you may have to get out on the street and walk. Media parking is typically located in an adjacent lot directly behind Tampa Bay Blvd, which is a short walk to the stadium. — 4 stars

Food Options: Be prepared to pay, but with that disclaimer, there are no shortage of food options throughout the stadium. The media meal inside the press box is usually top-notch, even for USF and bowl games and surrounding the stadium are a litany of food choices, ranging from high end to sports bars. — 4.5 stars

Sun Belt

Bobcat Stadium — San Marcos, TX (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: 11/10/22

Stadium: Opened in 1981, Bobcat Stadium has undergone several facelifts and is one of the few two-deck stadiums that I’ve been to where the playing surface doesn’t feel extremely far from the upper level. Trying to find the media entrance was a bit tricky and from there, be prepared to take the scenic route to find the nearest elevator upstairs. Inside, the stadium is really well-done and was an enjoyable venue to take in a game. — 3.5 stars

Press Box: If you’re a first timer, the press elevator can be a bit tricky to find — and it doesn’t take you all the way up — but it does take you to a second elevator which does. Once inside, the press and coaches box is more than up to par with Texas State’s Sun Belt counterparts. — 3 stars

Fan Atmosphere: As with several of the places I’ve been, I’d be interested in a return visit to Bobcat Stadium. There was a solid tailgating and student atmosphere entering the stadium, but it also came on the tail end of the Jake Spavital era. Despite being the home-opener, it seemed as if fans were taking a wait and see approach on the season. Once inside, there was an abundance of pride in the home team and the level of enthusiasm counts for something at the G5 ranks. — 2.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking was a complete breeze in San Marcos. The VIP lot was easy to find and once you display your parking pass, you’re almost escorted to your parking space. The only tricky part was yours truly trying to navigate a Ford F-150 into a parking space — so apologies for taking up two parking spaces. Spoiler alert — I don’t drive a pickup truck in Florida. — 4.5 stars.

Food Options: As has been a theme for my trips to Texas, Mexican food was brought in for the media meal. My likings for Mexican aside, the food was abundant and really tasty. When I made my way down to the field, I heard several fans grumbling about concessions, so I decided to kill some time and take a visit to one. The pricing seemed reasonable, which earns a passing grade in my book. — 3 stars.

Hancock-Whitney Stadium — Mobile, AL (Emily Van Buskirk)

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 1/29/2021, 2/22/2022

Stadium: The South Alabama Jaguars stadiums is stunning - clean, crisp, state-of-art. Sadly, I have yet to witness a college football game in it. One day. But I have covered two Senior Bowls in this newly built football temple. I like that the end zones are open and the concourses are nice and roomy. I was told that the stadium was modeled after the Patriots home, with a couple less zeros on the price tag. The Daktronics high definition videoboard is on of the Top 40 in the country. It’s a phenomenal venue for a G5 team and I can’t wait to come out to a Jaguars game.— 4.0 stars

Press Box: Sadly, we did not get to be in the press box for this event. But I had heard it is very nice.

Fan Atmosphere: Fan atmosphere for the Senior Bowl is awesome. Jim Nagy and his staff do an incredible job engaging with the city of Mobile and it shows on game day. It helps that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. — 3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking is extremely easy, multiple lots within short walking distance. I am not sure about rideshares, but I know there are plenty of Ubers in Mobile and I'm betting they can get on South Alabama’s campus with ease. —4.0 stars

Food Options: Bomb. The usual stadium offerings but they throw in some swag with tantalizing BBQ. I still maintain that the best BBQ I have ever had is in Mobile at Dreamland. We weren’t provided food, but I didn’t even mind having to buy it from concessions because it was that tasty—4.0 stars


Aggie Memorial Stadium — Las Cruces, NM (Eric Henry)

Date(s) visited: 10/1/23

Stadium: Las Cruces’ Aggie Memorial Stadium isn’t anything wholly fascinating from the outside. For anyone who can recall the old Tampa Stadium, it’s shaped similarly to that, resembling sombrero. Inside, it’s an intimate stadium, which is an excellent feature for its 28,553 capacity. Sitting almost 4,000 feet above sea level and built on a hill, be prepared to get your steps in. The concourse area on the lower bowl is rather narrow, so that can cause a back up when trying to maneuver your way through. More to come on that in the press box review. — 2 stars

Press Box: Aggie Memorial features one of the most non-descript press boxes you’ll see, outside of FIU. Once you walk up a hill (a common theme) that will test your endurance, you arrive to a smaller sized area that has two doors, one which leads to the TV booth and another which leads inside the coaches and press boxes. The seating is small, but more or less expected from a facility that size. It’s worth mentioning that there is only one bathroom in the area, which as Emily mentions, can be a bit of a conundrum for a woman working in that space. To get to the field, you walk down the top level of fan seating, down to the lower level — where you’ll encounter another set of stairs. To be clear, if you’ve read me mention this more than once, it’s not the end of the world to have to walk through the crowd, it just means you have to account for it when timing your trips to the field. — 2 stars

Fan Atmosphere: When I arrived in Las Cruces, the Aggies were in the midst of a 1-4 start, which may have dulled fan enthusiasm for the contest. The locals are clearly prideful of their football team and desperately wanted a reason to cheer, but the home team didn’t give them one that evening. Tailgating wasn’t much to see, but there was a major camaraderie inside the stadium. — 2.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: There was more than enough parking extremely close to the stadium. Knowing where to park for media, that was a bit of an adventure. In the end, I parked at the bottom of the hill closest to what looked like the press area and walked through the only open entrance. — 2.5 stars

Food Options: If you’re in the area of the United States that Las Cruces is, you better expect Mexican food — which is never a problem by me. The press meal was catered from a local Mexican spot and was an appropriate level of spicy. I saw plenty of lines for food and drinks during my trips to the field and none were backed up too far. — 3 stars

Williams Stadium — Lynchburg, VA (Eric Henry)

Note: This visit took place amid COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, this fan atmosphere and food will not be rated.

Date(s) visited: 9/26/20

Stadium: Liberty’s Williams Stadium is among the top Group of Five stadiums in the nation, with the Flames joining Conference USA in 2023. At the time of this visit, the Flames were an independent, but with the abundance of funds at the university’s disposal, underwent several renovations following its 1989 debut. The outside facade is especially inviting and once inside, everything feels up to date. — 4 stars

Press Box: A short distance from the media entrance, the press elevator takes you to an spacious press box, even with temporary dividers in-place because of the COVID restrictions. 4 stars

Fan Atmosphere: N/A

Rideshare/Parking: I hesitated on giving this a grade because attendance was limited to 1,000 people, per Virginia’s COVID-19 public gathering rules at the time. So what I will say is this, there were a trio of hotels overlooking Williams Stadium during my visit and I walked the half-mile from my hotel to the stadium. How walkable that is on a standard gameday, I couldn’t tell you. But with the COVID restrictions in place, it was a peaceful 10-minute walk before arriving at the media entrance for bag check. — 3 stars

Food Options: N/A

Michie Stadium — West Point, New York (Emily Van Buskirk)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 UConn at Army Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date(s) visited: 9/14/2013, 9/5/2020, 10/15/2022

Stadium: Traveling to West Point in 2013 to cover Army’s game against Stanford was the biggest trip I had made as a then young reporter. But it was one of the best experiences of my career. And I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to Michie Stadium. In 2013, my family full of Stanford fans stayed in Manhattan and took the Stanford tailgate boat up the Hudson River to the game. It was absolutely incredible. This was back in the good old days for the Cardinal, when they were ranked fifth in the nation and had players like Kevin Hogan, Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery. But it wasn’t just about the football that day - the picturesque West Point grounds, the standing cadets, the flyover and the fanfare made it magical. It’s something special to see a game at West Point. The stadium is just a vessel, the true experience is in the air, in the voices that join together for the National Anthem, the eyes raised to watch the paratroopers as they leapfrog in to Michie. — 3.5 stars

Press Box: Spacious. So much room in this press box. And the view is one of the best in all of college football. It’s easy access to the stands and the main concourse. Walking to the field is fastest through the stands. Good wifi, excellent staff (shout out Eric). —3.0 stars

Fan Atmosphere: Even when the stadium isn’t full, like for the Colgate game I saw this past season, it still feels electric. The cadets are still stomping and the pageantry continues whether the stadium fill sup or not. It’s impossible not to think about the sacrifices the young men on the field are making, the battles they will fight that won’t be counted on a scoreboard. —3.5 stars

Rideshare/Parking: Parking is kind of tricky. The media lot was up a big hill behind the stadium, so traveling with all our equipment wasn’t super easy. But it is a beautiful walk. And you encounter some fun, tiered tailgate lots on the way down. I don’t believe rideshare is a thing on Army game day as West Point is an active military base, but the stadium is walkable (with comfy shoes) from the gates. —2.5 stars

Food Options: The food is straight-forward, no-nonsense game food. I had a slice of pizza in the stands with some friends and it was good. The press box meal was a box lunch which was fine. But the real food and drinks are down town. Head to Benny Havens, tell them Emily sent you. —3.0 stars