Best ND game atmospheres of 2011

As you may have noticed this week, my blogging colleagues have been re-visiting the best game atmospheres of this past season. We will do the same here, though the list will be a bit shorter since we're dealing with one team.

Everything is taken into account here -- the tailgating scene, the build-up to kickoff, the fans, etc. As with the other lists, this is limited to games I attended this season. And it is entirely open for debate.

1. Notre Dame vs. Michigan at Michigan Stadium. The first night game in the history of the Big House. Two of the three winningest programs in college football history. The most fans at a game in college football history. Oh yeah, an amazing finish, too. This game had it all, from beautiful tailgating weather for the fans to the almost year-long build-up. Irish fans undoubtedly had sour tastes in their mouths given the way this one finished, but the atmosphere was unlike any other this season. Most of the Michigan fans stayed in their seats long after the final horn sounded, trying to soak it all in.

2. Notre Dame vs. USC at Notre Dame Stadium. Speaking of night games, the Irish's first one at home in 21 years was a success everywhere but the scoreboard. The tailgating scene was vibrant, and, more importantly, without much incident. In-game music choice and blue towels amidst the night sky raised a few questions, but that's to be expected when an institution tries something it hasn't done in more than two decades. In all, it was a successful night for the Irish athletic department, and it may just lead to more night games in the future.

3. Notre Dame vs. South Florida at Notre Dame Stadium. I'm a sucker for new beginnings. Nearly three hours of rain delays, a quarterback switch and sloppy play sucked a lot of the fun out of this one, but the scene of a campus filled with tailgates and optimism amidst a new year is enough to get me going and stands out more than everything that happened after the first half.