Now that the season has ended, it is time to rank the best game atmosphere of 2011.
Keep in mind a few things as you read this. 1) Unfortunately, I only made it to four different Big East sites. So I cannot really comment on atmospheres at Rutgers, UConn, Syracuse and Louisville. 2) Only one of the four Big East stadiums I attended was an on-campus stadium. I wish I had a chance to see a game at Nippert Stadium, but the only Cincinnati "home" game I went to was in Paul Brown Stadium against West Virginia -- and that simply did not have the same home-field vibe.
So it probably goes without saying that the No. 1 game atmosphere I attended was:
No. 2 LSU at No. 16 West Virginia, Sept. 24. I knew West Virginia fans would be up for this game back in July, when the most common question I got about the Mountaineers was whether they would beat the Tigers. Mountaineers fans did not disappoint. With the game set for a prime-time national audience, fans began arriving early in the day. When I drove into Morgantown about 2 1/2 hours before kickoff, I ran into virtually no traffic because folks were already in town. I saw a massive sea of gold shirts everywhere I looked. The view from the press box showed the parking lots filled with tents, grills and plenty of tailgaters. The roar from the crowd when West Virginia ran onto the field was loud and proud. Same when the game kicked off. Though everything quieted down when LSU jumped out to 27-7 halftime lead, the crowd came back to life after West Virginia cut the deficit to 27-21 in the third quarter. Fans waved their gold towels furiously, hoping to contribute to the rebound effort. LSU seized control with a kickoff return, but the atmosphere in Morgantown is one that was praised by both West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and LSU coach Les Miles. From my blog post off the game:
West Virginia and its fans came ready to play. Miles described the raucous scene in Morgantown this way, "They were having a football party and invited us. I knew our guys would show up."
Holgorsen said this during the Orange Bowl:
When they came to Morgantown, we had as good of an environment as I've ever seen, and the people were rowdy and our fans did an unbelievable job of getting there early. I think two hours before the game it was packed, and it was crazy. We had a tremendous amount of support.
LSU was the highest-ranked team to play in Morgantown since No. 3 Virginia Tech visited in 2005. The excitement showed, as West Virginia recorded an attendance of 62,056 -- the largest home crowd since the North end zone was completed in 2004. That was more than the 60,932 that attended what could very well be the final the Backyard Brawl against Pitt on Nov. 25. I was at that game as well, and I thought the atmosphere was great.
I just thought it was better and louder when LSU came to town.