The most wonderful time of the year is finally here. Christmas? Close. College football season.

We’ve got the countdown clock in motion here at Star Tribune World Headquarters. To celebrate the new season, Joe Christensen and myself will have a daily look at the Gophers and national college football scene on our blogs with a series of Top 5 lists. Everyone loves a good list, right?

Joe will post his inside look at the Gophers team on his blog that can be found right here.

My installment today focuses on my favorite college football venues that I’ve visited and those that I have on my bucket list. Here are my previous installments.

Must-see stadiums

  1. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee

Duh. Did you expect anything different?

Yes, I bleed orange so I’m a little biased. OK, a lot biased.

I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Neyland as a kid after seeing it so many times on TV. I couldn’t get over its massive size and the waves and waves of fans.

Looking for a fun football weekend? Buy a bright orange shirt, learn the words to Rocky Top and join the 100,000-plus fans that cram into Neyland on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon in the fall.

By the way, I’ll be there in Week 2 when the Vols host Oklahoma. Not that I’m counting down the days or anything.

  1. Rose Bowl.

Nothing beats this setting in college football, especially as the sun sets over the San Gabriel Mountains in the background, creating a beautiful color that’s almost breathtaking.

I had the good fortune to cover one Rose Bowl, the Vince Young game in 2006, when the Texas quarterback put on a dazzling performance to knock off a great USC team that featured Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.

The setting, the game, the weather, the emotion … everything about it was perfect. It ranks as a Top 5 experience for me in 20 years of sportswriting.

  1. Ohio Stadium

I’ve only been once, but I loved everything about Ohio State’s home. It just screams “big time college football.”

Huge stadium, passionate fans, lots of pregame buzz, elite program.

Ohio State’s band is worth the price of admission, too.

On my lone visit, Jack Nicklaus was given the opportunity to “dot the i” in the band’s signature formation Script Ohio during the Buckeyes game against the Gophers in 2006.

The place went nuts.

  1. Notre Dame Stadium

OK, I’m a sucker for history and charm and the aura of college football.

Love or hate ‘em, Notre Dame is a bucket list destination.

The school’s football history, its beautiful campus, Touchdown Jesus and so much more make Saturdays in the fall a memorable experience.

  1. Sanford Stadium, Georgia

Georgia’s stadium is best known for its hedges that surround the field. Instead of using the name of the stadium, people simply say the game is being played “between the hedges.”

Georgia fans are a loyal bunch. Their stadium is a sea of red and loud on game days. Fans love to bark as part of their celebration.

And, of course, they have a cool mascot too – Uga.

I’m partial to Smokey, the Vols famous mascot, but Georgia’s Bulldog that roams the sideline is hard to top.

Honorable mention

Memorial Stadium, Nebraska – Two words: Pure class

Beaver Stadium, Penn State – Love Happy Valley. Cool town, stadium is massive, awesome student section. Rows and rows of RVs parked day before game is something to see.

Camp Randall, Wisconsin – Lively party scene. Jump Around never disappoints.

Michigan Stadium – A trip to the Big House is always fun. Fans tailgate on university golf course right next to stadium.

My bucket list

  1. Tiger Stadium, LSU. They say nothing in college football compares to a night game at LSU. That’s at the top of my list.
  2.   Memorial Stadium, Clemson. I’d love to take in the scene at Death Valley when the players touch Howard’s Rock and roar down The Hill onto the field.
  3. Kyle Field, Texas A&M. The 12th Man gives Aggies a passionate and loud home-field advantage. Would love to sit in the student section for a game.
  4.  Autzen Stadium, Oregon. Seats only 54,000 but is known as being one of the loudest stadiums in college football.
  5. Army-Navy game. The tradition and pageantry makes this an annual must-watch game for me. Hopefully, I can witness one in person someday.

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