Can you separate atmosphere from the athletes?

That’s what we’re attempting to do.

Pick a timeframe — past 5 years, past 10 years, since Saban arrived — and Alabama has the best home record in the SEC. But Alabama also has had the most draft picks during that span, too. And the best road record.

Alabama has the advantage almost everywhere it plays, almost every time it plays.

But do the Tide truly have the best home-field advantage in the SEC? If not, then who? That’s something we’ve been debating for a while.

This was Michael Bratton’s suggestion, so we’ll let him lead off.

Michael Bratton, News editor

LSU is likely to be a popular answer here. While the Death Valley experience in Baton Rouge at night after a day of tailgating is the best in the SEC in my opinion, that’s not what we are talking about here.

Bryant-Denny will likely be another popular selection but I could just as easily argue that Alabama’s home-field advantage has just as much to do with having the better roster and coach than 99 percent of the opponents that enter the stadium since the 2008 season.

Neyland Stadium can provide a great atmosphere in the right setting and against elite competition, but the truth is the house that General Neyland built hasn’t proven to be much of an advantage to Tennessee in recent seasons. Even Georgia State managed to win inside the stadium just last year.

My answer can be described in one word: “clanga!”

Mississippi State’s record in Davis Wade may not blow you away but much of that has to do with fact the Bulldogs are often overmatched by the powerhouse programs in the SEC West more often than not. When the cowbells are ringing and Mississippi State fans show up in full force, for my money, there’s not a tougher place to play in the SEC than Davis Wade Stadium.

Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder

The obvious answer here is LSU. I love The Swamp — it’s the loudest stadium I’ve been to, but LSU’s home field advantage has to be the best in the SEC. LSU has some of the most passionate (and crazy!) fans in the nation. From tailgating to the final whistle of the game, Tigers fans give the team the best home-field advantage in the SEC.

Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist

After making my first trip to Death Valley last year, I can’t pick against that. And that’s not just because I’m a big “Callin’ Baton Rouge” fan. It’s the real deal. The atmosphere is second-to-none, and at night, there aren’t many (if any) more intimidating places to play in all of college football.

For anyone making the “but what about Troy” jokes, I’d counter that by saying that LSU is 16-1 at home since that night. That lone loss came against an Alabama team that lost in the College Football Playoff National Championship. But against top-10 foes at home post-Troy, LSU is 5-1. That place is still electric, day or night.

It’ll be interesting to see if LSU fans get a little bit of what I think Alabama fans have. I wouldn’t call it complacency, but when you’re used to winning at such a high level, it’s natural for a fan base to not get as fired up to beat Ole Miss 55-17. Then again, LSU had 2 national titles before last year and those fans were still as passionate as it gets.

Neil Blackmon, Florida columnist

The best way to resolve this debate is to ask the players.

When you do, there usually are two answers: Tiger Stadium or The Swamp.

Joe Burrow, who played in 2 conferences and saw some of the most storied venues in college football, offered this on The Swamp: “It’s loud, man. It’s stifling hot too. It’s just wall to wall noise and they are right on top of you. It got to us a little bit, no doubt. Incredible place to play.”

His head coach agreed.

“We’re LSU. We know about scary places to play. The Swamp is a fearsome place.”

Gus Malzahn offered this about The Swamp after Florida’s win over Auburn last season.

“We weren’t prepared for that type of environment. It was as loud a place as I’ve ever been. The crowd definitely impacts the football game.”

Still, there’s nothing like Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. Don’t believe me?

Take Nick Saban’s word for it.

“A special environment that is second to none in college football,” Saban said in 2001. In 2012, he hadn’t changed his view. “Incredible fan support. It’s loud, the fans stay and cheer from beginning to end. It’s an immense challenge.”

Florida running back Lamical Perine offered this after Florida’s 42-28 loss to LSU last autumn. “We knew it was a tough place to play. It lived up to the hype. It’s loud. You can’t hear anything. An incredible environment. Without a doubt my favorite road venue in the SEC.”

That type of praise from opponents tells you all you need to know about the challenges presented in Gainesville and Baton Rouge — and that’s why, for me, those are the 2 best home-field advantages in the SEC.

Chris Wright, Executive editor

These numbers in SEC games from the past 10 seasons are revealing:

Team
Home record
Away record
+/- Ws at home
Alabama
35-5
34-6
+1
Arkansas
14-23
11-25
+3
Auburn
26-14
19-21
+7
Florida
23-13
21-14
+2
Georgia
28-7
24-11
+4
Kentucky
17-23
7-33
+10
LSU
33-7
25-15
+8
Miss. State
22-18
15-25
+7
Missouri
16-16
14-18
+2
Ole Miss
15-25
10-29
+5
South Carolina
25-15
17-23
+8
Tennessee
16-24
10-30
+6
Texas A&M
12-16
16-14
-4
Vanderbilt
13-26
9-31
+4

Source: sports-reference.com/cfb’s popular play index

What do the numbers mean? Among other things, Alabama feels at home everywhere it goes. Texas A&M somehow is better on the road than at home, despite having the 12th man and 100,000+. And nobody struggles more on the road than Kentucky.

But focus on South Carolina. In the past 10 seasons of SEC play, the Gamecocks are 8 games better at home than on the road. That speaks to their home-field advantage.

For years, the Gamecocks’ fan base has fascinated me. I’ve never understood how a program that was below .500 before Steve Spurrier arrived manages to convince 80,000 people to show up for every home game. I’ve been to a few games at Williams-Brice and never had a bad time, even when the home team wasn’t having a very good time, like the afternoon I saw Peyton Manning go off against the Gamecocks in 1996.

They are devoted, loud and proud. Tailgating doesn’t impact the scoreboard, but South Carolina does that well, too. It’s a heck of a gameday experience.

It’s easy to be passionate, to show up week after week, when your program is nationally ranked, competing for league titles and turning out NFL stars of tomorrow. Other programs check a lot more of those boxes than South Carolina.

So I’m going to give it up to the Gamecocks. LSU’s Death Valley is no joke and I’m not going to disagree with anybody who thinks it’s the most difficult place to win. Night games there are on another level. A revved up Swamp is no picnic, either.

But Williams-Brice is sneaky tough. It’s not the first place you think of when asked about intimidating home fields, but it’s among the last you want to overlook.