The Tar Heel State is littered with colleges that make it ripe for college towns to thrive. Anyone that knows about college towns, knows about Chapel Hill, but there are plenty of college towns you don’t hear as much about. Way up in the Blue Ridge Mountains lies one of the most underrated college towns in America, Boone. Home of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the entirety of this town revolves around the school, consisting mostly of bars, restaurants, and fan shops, all centered around the campus and isolated by the mountains. It doesn’t hurt that they’re about 30 minutes in between two of the largest ski resorts in the south either. Completely on the other side of the state resides another over-looked college town, Greenville, home of the East Carolina Pirates. Of course, a state with four ACC and two national brand programs will account for a majority of the fan base but once you’re east of Raleigh, you’d be surprised how much purple and gold you see. Greenville is the heart of eastern North Carolina which means plenty of bars, thick accents, and tailgates that can rival most P5 school. Regardless of if the Pirates are winning or losing, ECU always seems to be considered the state party school. At the camp grounds in Talladega the night before the race, I had the pleasure of being part of a debate discussing whether App State or ECU was the real NC party school. This took place by maturely discussing whether hillbillies or coastal rednecks could drink more. That might have been the best debate I have ever personally witnessed and a topic that should be discussed more. Although the state has a few larger universities that reside in cities, like NC State in Raleigh and Duke in Durham, there are so many small schools throughout North Carolina that are in awesome towns. It also doesn’t hurt that Chapel Hill might be the best college town in America.
What makes the Magnolia State so perfect for a college town is simple, there aren’t enough cities for their colleges to be in. The population in Mississippi is so limited and rural in fact, that a college town usually sustains an entire community’s economy, which results in a lot of school pride. If someone claims to be a football tailgating fan and hasn’t been to the grove, you should automatically dismiss any further opinions they might have. Tailgating for the Rebels in Oxford is, without a doubt, an experience. The grove isn’t about the actual football game, it’s about women dressing up like they’re going to church on Sunday, men delusionally talking about if the Rebs will make an SEC run, and everyone drinking plenty of liquor. That’s not to say football is the only thing Mississippians support. Oxford and Starkville, home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, both host schools in the top 5 nationally for average attendance in baseball and hold the record for largest on-campus attendance with 15,586 spectators. Those aren’t the only college towns in Mississippi however. Hattiesburg is home to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and there is about as much to do there as you would expect in southern Mississippi. With not much going on other than a successful G5 football program that is overlooked by two mediocre SEC teams, Southern Miss fans don’t have much else to do than drink and party. If you can’t get into one of the completely over-the-top fraternity parties, have no fear, each of these college towns have great bar scenes filled with cheap drinks and great people. Just remember, bars close at midnight on Saturday as to not serve on Sunday, Mississippi law.
With how many universities Texas has, it’s no surprise there are some great college towns. Although the Lone Star State is flooded with large colleges, about half of them are in cities such as UT, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, and even UTSA and UTEP. That being said, there are still a few standout college towns. The most notorious being College Station, home of the Texas A&M Aggies. CStat, as the youngsters call it, is on the verge of being considered a city with how large it is, yet completely consumes itself in Aggie culture. On game days, practically the entire 237,000 metro population shows up to Kyle Field, essentially turning all of College Station into one giant tailgate. At night, the bar district of North Gate is completely swarmed with fake IDs, showcasing a Texas college student drunken nirvana. Another notoriously drunken college town that is somewhat over-looked by outsiders is San Marcos, home of the Texas State Bobcats, or San Marvelous as it’s so delightfully called. This central Texas town, just south of Austin, has been a haven for college kids that didn’t go to UT but want to party like they did. Their tailgates are surprisingly wild when compared to their actual football attendance and the Square is a poor man’s North Gate with just as much fun. If you travel about 400 miles north west to the middle of nowhere in the panhandle of Texas you’ll arrive at the only piece of civilization around call Lubbock, home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Notorious for their “Raider Rash”, Tech students have essentially nothing to do but party and hope they can beat another Big 12 Texas school, which leaves partying as pretty much their only option. Even the smaller schools like SFA, Angelo State, Sam Houston in “Huntsvegas”, and UNT’s Denton are great places for college students to party and alumni to enjoy a weekend pretending their still in college.
It’s hard not to put a state on this list with the two largest colleges residing in college towns. Tuscaloosa is one of the best college football experiences in the known universe, not only because Nick Saban sold his sole to the devil to be the greatest college football coach of all time, but also because it is like having an NFL team in a city with less than 100,000 people (I know what you’re thinking, but technically Green Bay’s population is just over 100k so shut up). If there was a Boston of college football (because no one there even cares about BC when it’s Patriots season), it would be Tuscaloosa. Anyone can see how far the Tide rolls throughout, not only the state of Alabama, but the entire nation, and all of that fandom stems from one place. Game days in Tuscaloosa consist of about half of Alabama’s population getting SEC drunk in a town less than 60 miles west of the State’s largest city, making travel plans for their next National Championship game. Less than three hours to the east is the rival college town of Auburn. Football love runs deep in Alabama so while the Tide may boast their championships, the Tiger fan base shows up and has as good a time as anyone in the SEC. Just off campus, College Street is flooded with bars and hotels that get swarmed on game days. While America makes jokes of how redneck the Bama fan base is, Auburn is the state’s agricultural school. So those jokes Ohio State fans have about Bama are the same jokes Bama has about Auburn, if you can believe that. Traditions like rolling Toomer’s Corner may be one of the weirdest and greatest football fan acts that make Auburn a worthy foe for the Crimson Tide in Alabama fandom. While Troy may be the little brother to its SEC counterparts, it is definitely still a college town. With a population of 19,000, Troy University nearly matches that with their student body. For any Alabama kids that didn’t attend Bama or Auburn for whatever reason, Troy offers a tradition southern college experience with greek-pillard fraternity houses, drunken debauchery, and football tailgates, even if you still cheer for the Tide or Tigers on Saturday. Unfortunately, I’m not even able to list UA Huntsville because it is technically considered a city by Alabama standers but as an individual who has experienced a UAH party, it is about as classy as you would expect and twice as fun. With no professional sports and a relentless love for them, Alabama college towns are the place to be on the weekends. Also, the University of North Alabama in Florence has a castle, so that’s pretty cool.
Like North Carolina, Virginia is filled with an abundance of old colleges in old college towns. Charlottesville, home of the UVA Cavaliers, is loaded with rich northerners that crossed the Mason-Dixon line to have a good time, despite what has been all over the news lately. Regardless of if they ever compete much in football, their ultra-preppy student body utilizes their old money with some spectacular fraternity houses and get to enjoy great ACC baseball every year. If you get tired of the preppy scene in Charlottesville, head about 150 miles south through the mountains to get to Blacksburg, home of the Virginia Tech Hokies. Although they may receive a bit of a hillbilly stereotype from their wealthy neighbors, Virginia Tech knows how to have a good time. Unlike some other ACC teams, football game days in Blacksburg are a big deal. The restaurants and bars are right off campus on Main Street and get wild. Their pregame ritual, Enter Sandman, is truly one of the best fan hype sceneries you can experience. Although UVA and Virginia Tech are the two most know universities in Virginia, there are several other great colleges that are located in awesome college towns. James Madison in Harrisonburg for instance, is a very over-looked town for a great college experience. They may not compete in the ACC, or even FBS for that matter, but they are FCS national champions and people love the Dukes. Not to mention they have one of the coolest mascots ever. How could you not love a bulldog dressed like a king? George Mason in Fairfax is actually the largest university in the state and with its exciting basketball program and close proximity to DC, is a great town for students to find things to do and alumni to visit. If tailgating isn’t really your scene, historic towns like Williamsburg with William and Mary and Lexington with Washington and Lee, offer some of the most beautiful communities and campuses in America. While the college towns in Virginia may not be as nationally known as those in Alabama or Texas, they have more than most states.
Among the SEC, Baton Rouge is one of the best or worst places for a football game depending on who you are cheering for. The LSU fan base is notoriously ruthless when it comes to supporting their Tigers and the town is a constant tornado of purple and gold. Even when it’s not a game day, Baton Rouge is constantly alive with a perfectly-Louisiana atmosphere of late-night bars, live music, and great food. When it comes to the ideal college environment, LSU has the privilege of residing in a great southern town that truly bleeds Tiger blood (which is purple apparently). If you ever somehow find yourself bored of Baton Rough, its only 80 miles away from New Orleans. About an hour drive the opposite direction on I-10 and you’ll find yourself in Lafayette where the largest campus of the University of Louisiana sits. Although the Ragin Cajuns may not compete in the SEC like their Tiger counter parts, they are notorious for their dedicated baseball fan base. They’re currently ranked as the 11 best baseball attendance in the nation, lightyears ahead of the next G5 school. The Ragin Cajuns are so Cajun in fact, that they have an alligator habitat on campus. Although it may not be as known as Baton Rouge, Lafayette was ranked in the top 20 best college towns in America by USA Today. On the very west side of the state, near the Texas border, resides McNeese State University in Lake Charles. Although it may not be known as a college town, Lake Charles is famous for is surprisingly extravagant casinos. If McNeese students ever get board of their fraternity parties or their FCS Cowboys football games, they can blow that tuition money on the slots. Louisiana offers plenty of smaller schools throughout the state that are located in great college towns such as Hammond with Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech in Ruston, and the University of Louisiana in Monroe. Although the state only has one P5 school, Louisiana is over-looked for their numerous pockets of colleges throughout the Cajun empire.
Why they missed the boat
Florida – I know Floridians are going to be irrationally pissed but the fact of the matter is, all of their largest schools are in cities with populations over 100,000. Even if the community LOVES the Gators or the Seminoles, I have a hard time considering those college towns.
Georgia – Obviously, Athens is one of the best college towns in America and if this was a list for just that, they would be on it for sure. Inevitably, Georgia Tech and Georgia State are both in Atlanta. Also, I have a hard time ranking the Georgia Southern experience above some SEC and ACC schools.
South Carolina – Clemson is awesome and perfectly represents the South Carolina population but USC is in the state’s largest city so, ya out SC.
Tennessee – Knoxville is an awesome college town and I don’t care how much everyone else hates it, I love Rocky Top. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt and Memphis are both in big cities.
Kentucky – UK and Louisville are both great colleges with awesome fan bases but are in the state’s two largest cities. As much as I love the Hill Toppers, Bowling Green just isn’t going to cut it.
Arkansas – Like most other SEC schools, the University of Arkansas has a great fan base and unlike other SEC schools, Fayetteville is truly beautiful. Although Conway and Jonesboro are pretty cool, from what I hear at least, I’m not quite sure if there is such a thing as a UCA or Arkansas State fan.
West Virginia – Everyone knows Morgantown is a great college town and Marshall seems to love their school but there aren’t really any other college towns left.