It is a game-day experience – a full weekend experience, really – that is the most underrated in all of college football. That is how good a football weekend is at Tennessee. You hear forever about “Boomer Sooner,” about the band roaring onto the field pre-game in South Bend, about Bevo in Austin, about dotting the “I” in Columbus.
But it’s hard to beat a weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. This is probably the biggest upset on the list – I have Tennessee at No. 2 of best SEC game-weekend experiences. The reasons are many.
It starts with the river. Tennessee's is the only SEC venue on the water. The Tennessee River, long and narrow and running just below Neyland Stadium, is the home of the Volunteer Navy. Fans decorate their boats, taxi into town on the water and dock alongside the road, or at Calhoun's, the riverside eatery that packs them in for game weekends.
On Friday night, you head to the strip – Cumberland Avenue – the best bar strip in the SEC. A football-game eve on Cumberland is loud and long and fantastic.
And then there's game day. The "Vol Walk" may be the best of its kind, as players come down a hill outside the stadium and it seems as if the entire state lines the streets. Neyland is one of four stadiums in the SEC that holds more than 100,000 fans – and it was the first in the league that big. Tennessee started the trend.
The only thing missing are the championships. Tennessee has one national title in the past 25 years, which is fewer than Alabama (five), Florida (three) and LSU (two) in that stretch. And the Vols haven't won the SEC title since 1998. But the game-weekend experience is out of this world.
No. 3 on my list features great food and -- ahem -- highly passionate fans. No. 4 is all about the tailgate. No. 5 features a great music scene, a great stadium and ardent fans. No. 6 is a place where it's all football, all the time. No. 7 on my list has one of the best student sections in the nation. No. 8 features horses, golf and bourbon, as well as football. No. 9 has trees and a famous corner. No. 10 features "tailgate trains," and No. 11 on my list is a must-visit place if you like music. Here's No. 12 on my list, and two schools tied for 13th.
What I liked best: Friday night dinner at Calhoun’s as the Volunteer Navy rolls in.
Location: Knoxville, Tenn (population of about 183,000)
Stadium: Neyland Stadium (102,455)
(You can follow Frank Frangie on Twitter @Frank_Frangie)
© 2016, Frank Frangie. All rights reserved.
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