You wish you were Fayetteville: A definitive and very scientific ranking of SEC cities
Knoxville and Fayetteville, have a bow.
The home of the University of Tennessee and the University of Arkansas were both ranked as one of the “Best Places to Live” by U.S. News and World Report on Tuesday.
Fayetteville, Arkansas, was No. 10 and topped the list when it came to the 14 SEC cities. For the record, the list appears to use general metro areas’ statistics overall, but interestingly labels only one particular town on the official list.
Knoxville was the only other SEC town on the list. It checked in at No. 21, a solid ranking.
But those such lists take into account living conditions. Who among us are moving to another SEC city soon? Probably none of us. So took up a more reasonable exercise.
Ranking SEC cities for a visit. These rankings are official*, objective* and scientific*. Take a look below.
And for the second time today: sorry, Florida.
(*not official, objective or scientific whatsoever)
13. Starkville (Mississippi State)
Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs players react after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
They call it Stark-Vegas ironically, guys. Apparently Starkville has some people to someone. Somewhere. Or did. Once upon a time. But most who visit are off-put by the ugliness of the campus and dullness of the city itself.
12. Gainesville (Florida)
Florida Gators fans cheer during a football game between the Florida Gators and the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. October 9, 2021.
Flagi 100921 Gatorsvandyfb 70
Florida Man is a thing. Florida Man is often from central (or nothern) Florida. Gainesville is in central Florida. Ta da!
11. Columbia (Missouri)
Mar 4, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; A Missouri Tigers fan holds a large sign against the Mississippi Rebels during the second half at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Columbia is a city this author visits more than any of the others. Unfortunately. It’s just…plain. Dull. Zero charm, but also zero to make it miserable, too.
10. Auburn (Auburn)
Auburn Tigers running back Tank Bigsby (4) celebrates his touchdown run with fans against Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.
Sure to be a hit with Tigers fans, this one! Look, I get that Auburn is an appealing place to lots of folks. I’m just not one of them. Even on the trips there in my 20s, I was left wanting more.
9. Oxford (Ole Miss)
Nov 13, 2021; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels fans cheer during the fourth quarter against the Texas A&M Aggies at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Going to be much lower on many lists than mine, but I legitimately like Oxford. It’s tiny. Nothing is really going on there outside of the university. But, hey, this whole list is just a choice, anyway.
8. College Station (Texas A&M)
Nov 26, 2022; College Station, Texas, USA; A view of the 12th man logo and Texas A&M Aggies fans and students during the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the LSU Tigers at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
In fairness to College Station, I haven’t been in almost 20 years. It’s probably changed a lot. Or maybe it hasn’t. I remember the time I had there was memorable. I should go back, really.
7. Lexington (Kentucky)
Nov 29, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats fans wave a flag above the student section before the game against the Bellarmine Knights at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
We’re now to the point of the list where every city rules. Lexington rules. It’s a perfect blend of large but with a small-town feel. Granted, its beaten by its fellow L-city just down the road, but nobody’s perfect.
6. Baton Rouge (LSU)
Mar 31, 2023; Dallas, TX, USA; A fan wears buttons and beads in support of the LSU Lady Tigers prior to game against the Virginia Tech Hokies in semifinals of the the women’s Final Four of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The key to enjoying lots of cities is food. Restaurants and hotels, specifically. Baton Rouge has the best combination of those two things in the entire SEC. The city is just so dadgum inviting culturally.
5. Tuscaloosa (Alabama)
Alabama players pray on the goal line before the game with Mercer Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]
Million Dollar Band
No city in the SEC has made a more significant jump for me in the last 10 years than Tuscaloosa. Honestly, I’m in love with Birmingham – arguably the most underrated city in the South – but I adore those sojourns to the southwest.
4. Columbia (South Carolina)
Oct 16, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks mascot Cocky announces the fourth quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
The two distinct Columbias. South Carolina’s is far better. Riverbank. Museums. Main Street neighborhood. Just so many things to do in the city. Yes, they’re small things, but there’s a lot of them.
3. Nashville (Vanderbilt)
Oct 2, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Ken Seals (8) celebrates after defeating the Connecticut Huskies at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Look, it’s the best metropolis in the South. Sorry Atlanta. Sorry New Orleans. Nashville is everything your heart desires and plenty of things you don’t realize your heart desires. Music and food and sports and art. All of it.
2. Knoxville (Tennessee)
Tennessee fans boo Mississippi Football Coach Lane Kiffin as he’s escorted off the field following Tennessee’s game against Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
Kns Tennessee Ole Miss Football Bp
Look, it’s gorgeous, OK. And it’s large. Plenty for the outdoor lover and plenty for those who couldn’t give two hoots about the outdoors. Almost the best.
1. Athens (Georgia)
Apr 15, 2023; Athens, GA, USA; The Georgia Bulldogs new mascot uga XI on the field for the first time during the Georgia Spring Game at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
My fondness for Athens is oddly placed considering I’m not a Georgian. But on my first visit, just before I went to college myself, no place had ever felt more like a “college town” than Athens. That colors my view, for sure. I don’t care.
N/A: Fayetteville (Arkansas)
Mar 15, 2015, Fayetteville, AR, USA; General view of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
We live here. It isn’t fair to include it one way or the other because you get into “Best Place To Visit” versus “Best Place To Live” and I don’t live in Fayetteville proper, anyway, so, yeah.