The Toughest Places To Play Out West

Last week, Ted Miller ran a post ranking the toughest venues to play in the Pac-10, along with some brief exposition on why he rated the various stadiums where he did.  It's a good list, and while I don't know that I would have come up with the same order if I started with a blank piece of paper, I can't really quibble too much with his choices.  He certainly knows what he's talking about.

Rankings like this, however, are always rather subjective; a quality such as "toughest to play in" is a difficult thing to quantify.  There are certainly a number of factors that may come into play in devising such a ranking:  crowd noise level (both from the crowd's size/rowdiness and the inherent acoustics of the stadium), likelihood/severity of inclement weather, length/difficult of travel, and of course, the quality of the home team.  I ranked each category on a scale of 1-10, except travel, which seemed less important, so I only ranked it from 1-5.  Then I simply added up the points to see what I got.  Here's how it shook out:

Autzen Stadium (Oregon)
Noise Level : 10 - I can't honestly say if Autzen Stadium is the loudest place I've ever been, because Tennessee's Neyland Stadium was also pretty freaking loud.  It's certainly the loudest place on the West Coast, however.  Everyone says this, but you should go experience it for yourself.
Inclement Weather : 5 - They say that "It Never Rains In Autzen Stadium."  I don't know what they're talking about, but it sure can't be actual rain, which I've experienced the last two times I visited Eugene.  Not the most hideous of conditions, but cold and precipitation can often make for an uninviting visit for Pac-10 teams.
Travel : 3 - Although not an awful trek, it's a decent drive down from Portland, unless you feel like trying to fly into Eugene itself.
Quality of the Opponent : 8 - The Ducks have been very good for quite some time.
Overall : 26 - A heck of a homefield advantage for a heck of a team.  A tough, tough visit.

 

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (USC)
Noise Level : 8 - Bowls make for the loudest stadiums, as do huge crowds of fans with no NFL team to root for.  'SC has both of these.  However, the LA Coliseum does have a number of seats that can't really be filled in a football configuration, and this does have a dampening effect on the noise levels.
Inclement Weather : 1 - It can get pretty hot here in September, but it's a dry, Los Angeles heat.  Rather pleasant, really.
Travel : 2 - Fighting LA traffic to get to the stadium may not be fun, but otherwise, this is an easy place to get to.
Quality of the Opponent : 10 - The Trojans consistently field one of the Top 5 teams in the country.  There's no one tougher on the West Coast right now.
Overall : 21 - Does Sunny and 72° make up for getting 40 points scored on your defense?

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Oh, sure, the weather's nice.  Still a very intimidating place to play.

California Memorial Stadium (Cal)
Noise Level : 8 - A big bowl with lots of rowdy fans; this place can get pretty darn loud.
Inclement Weather : 3 - Outside of the occasional rainstorm, it's rarely too hot or too cold in Strawberry Canyon.  A couple of torrential downpours the last two years certainly keep this rating from getting too low, however.
Travel : 2 - Nowhere to park, but otherwise easy access from two major international airports.
Quality of the Opponent : 8 - Under Jeff Tedford, Cal is a virtual lock to at least flirt with the Top 25.
Overall : 21 - Although I've yet to see any of the opposing locker room at other stadiums, I can't imagine any that are worse that those at Memorial Stadium.  Most high schools would be ashamed of these facilities.

Reser Stadium (Oregon State)
Noise Level : 6 - Surprisingly loud, given the relatively small stadium - my guess is the artificial turf helps with this.
Inclement Weather : 5 - Like Autzen, there are nice days here.  There are also not-so-nice days.  On the not-so-nice days, you can still at least say, "At least I'm not in Pullman, WA."
Travel : 3 - Closer to Portland than Eugene, and not an awfully long drive from there.
Quality of the Opponent : 7 - Oregon State may not attract the highest-profile recruits, but Mike Riley can coach 'em up with the best of 'em.
Overall : 21 - This high of a rating will probably surprise people, which is what Oregon State has been doing for quite some time.

Husky Stadium (Washington)
Noise Level : 9 - Maybe it's the rabid crowds they used to draw, or maybe the opposing grandstands really served to amplify sound, but this place used to get LOUD!  Perhaps not Autzen loud, but still quite imposing for the visitors.
Inclement Weather : 5 - Sure, it rains all the time in Seattle, but it rarely rains too heavily.  Coastal waters keep the temperature relatively mild as well.  Still no fun in November/December.
Travel : 1 - Easy access from Sea/Tac.
Quality of the Opponent : 2 - Am I being generous here?  Jake Locker's gotta be worth at least a point, don't you think?  Is ditching Ty worth a second?
Overall : 17 - If the Huskies were to field a quality team again, this road trip would be well worth fearing.  Yeah, I'm giving the Huskies a bit of credit for the noise they used to generate, but that noise may certainly come back some day soon.

Martin Stadium (Washington State)
Noise Level : 4 - A small, open stadium, Martin Stadium kinda feels more like a mid-major field.
Inclement Weather : 7 - The Bears have been lucky to get this road trip out of the way early the last couple times; there's a reason that UW and WSU are the only Pac-10 schools not to push back their rivalry game to create more BYEs.  Probably the most frigid spot in the Pac-10.
Travel : 4 - A flight to Spokane followed by a lengthy bus ride does not exactly say 'refreshing', now does it?
Quality of the Opponent : 1 - This team almost HAS to get better, simply because there's nowhere to go but up.  For now, it's basically a gimmie win for most of the other Pac-10 teams.
Overall : 16 - Pullman will always be a rather tough place to play a football game, even if the victory is all but assured.

Sun Devil Stadium (Arizona State)
Noise Level : 7 - It can get loud in what was, until recently, an NFL stadium.  It sure helps if they can fill all of those seats, however.
Inclement Weather : 3 - Extreme desert temperatures are about all you'll encounter in Arizona; the heat might get to you during the day, and it can get cold at night.  Beyond that, though, there's nothing to worry about.
Travel : 1 - A short bus trip from the Phoenix airport gets you here.  No problem at all.
Quality of the Opponent : 5 - Given a few more years, Dennis Erickson could make the Sun Devils scary-good.  Not sure they're there yet, though.
Overall : 16 - If you can stand the heat, a trip to ASU isn't so bad at all -- and the student body sure is nice to look at.

Rose Bowl (UCLA)
Noise Level : 7 - Classic bowl stadiums are my favorite: nowhere for the sound to travel.  
Inclement Weather : 1 - Like the LA Coliseum, the weather is going to be an afterthought.  It will be a nice day for football; count on it.
Travel : 2 - A bit of a drive from the airport through LA traffic, but otherwise not a problem.
Quality of the Opponent : 5 - There are too many good football prospects in the Los Angeles area for UCLA to stay bad; even the dastardly Karl Dorrell couldn't ensure that.
Overall : 15 - Why hasn't Cal been able to win here since 1999?  I can't figure it out.

Arizona Stadium (Arizona)
Noise Level : 5 - A medium-size, open-end stadium.  Not exactly quiet, but not terribly loud either.
Inclement Weather : 3 - Like Tempe, the only thing to watch out for is the heat.
Travel : 2 - Tucson can be a long flight from some Pac-10 schools, and that's if you can get a direct flight, which you may not be able to.
Quality of the Opponent : 5 - The Wildcats can be a dangerous, if not yet consistently good, opponent.
Overall : 15 - There's really nothing remarkable about Arizona Stadium -- except that there are bats in residence.

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Warning signs of bats include guano, utility belts, and protruding plastic nipples.

Stanford Stadium (Stanford)
Noise Level : 3 - Perhaps shrinking the number of seats and enclosing the stadium will help Stanford down the road, but only if fans actually start showing up.
Inclement Weather : 3 - Sometimes rainy, sometimes cold, more often the warm and sunny California that we all know and love from TV.
Travel : 1 - A nice drive down 101 from SFO to The Farm.  Nothing to worry about.
Quality of the Opponent : 5 - The fightin' Harbaughs may not be the deepest, most talented bunch, but an enthusiasm unknown to mankind fuels a surprisingly tough out.
Overall : 12 - Better football (and better fans) could make this a more formidable place to play.  For now?  Not so much.

Overall, my rankings do look a lot like Ted Miller's.  It seems that I rank the Washington schools as tougher places to play, as I seem to put more weight on inclement weather than Ted does (admittedly, cruddy weather does affect the home team as well; the thought is that they've been practicing in that weather and are used to it), but I think we have more agreement than differences.  You can also see how the rankings might change should teams get better (or worse) in the future.

So what do you think?  Agree with me?  Am I totally off base on one of these stadiums?  Do I have the criteria all wrong?

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