Nov. 9 at Georgia
Athens is a town of perplexities. There is literally something called “the tree that owns itself,” which is not Al Gore fan fiction but an actual tree that, well, owns itself. You’ll see otherwise genteel people in Vineyard Vines and boat shoes barking like dogs. You’ll hear the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” played in victory by the Union army as they swept through Georgia, belted out as the beloved fight song of the University of Georgia.
All that being said, Athens is a town worth visiting for a college football weekend. Sanford Stadium, affectionately known as “Between the Hedges,” is a huge and historic college football venue.
The town itself is a classic Southern college town, with the scenic campus running right up against a fun downtown area, similar to Columbia. There are lots of great restaurants and bars in downtown Athens. It’s a lively scene; the most recent time I was offered cocaine was outside of an Athens Waffle House about 2 a.m.
Beyond what you see on the surface, Athens just feels like a college football town. It’s energy you can feel on a fall Friday before a big game. It’s fried chicken and tailgates. It’s Georgia’s longtime announcer exclaiming after a touchdown to beat Tennessee, “We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!”
And, as Tiger fans know, it was the site of Missouri’s epic road win in 2013, on the way to the SEC East title. This year’s Mizzou-Georgia game could again be a huge game, and it could again help determine the East champion. For Tiger fans looking for an SEC road trip this season, the Georgia game is the top pick.
Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt
Maybe the Georgia trip isn’t for you. If so, could I interest you in a Mizzou road trip that’s much closer and has much cheaper game tickets? Oh, and did I mention it’s in a lively city with a vibrant music scene and happens to be one of the top bachelorette party destinations in America? Then Vandy is the trip for you.
Also, while Missouri will be an underdog at Georgia, the Tigers are likely to be a big favorite at Vanderbilt. And it’s fun to cheer huge Mizzou wins, and maybe late in the game, Commodore coach Derek Mason, taking a break from plotting how he’ll beat Tennessee yet again, could yell across the field at Barry Odom, “You sank my battleship!”
The actual gameday atmosphere here won’t be on par with some of the best the SEC has to offer, but there will be great pre- and post-game revelry potential, so this trip is still a good one.
Oct. 26 at Kentucky
Rupp Arena is a massive venue and a worthy destination for any college basketball fan, and the passion of the frenzied “Big Blue Nation” makes any game there… (Checks notes, shuffles papers) …Kroger Field is a football stadium named for a grocery store. It features a 100-yard field, two end zones and seats. There are SEC football games played there.
In all seriousness, Kentucky is not known for its football gamedays, but this is still a trip that can be fun. The rolling Bluegrass region is scenic in the fall, there are abundant bourbon distilleries to tour, and the pulled pork mac ’n cheese at the Village Idiot in downtown Lexington is spectacular. Plus, there is a shuttle that runs from points in town out to the Keeneland race track, if you’d like to get your wagering fix since the state of Missouri is moving glacially slow toward legalizing sports gambling.
It’s not a typical SEC college football experience, but Kentucky has a unique quality, and it’s just so darn beautiful when their band plays “My Old Kentucky Home.” And my goodness Mizzou needs a win against Kentucky, so cheer loud if you go.
Nov. 29 at Arkansas
Oh, Arkansas, what are you doing? The Razorbacks announced this year, and 2021 and 2023, the “Battle Line Rivalry” game will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock instead of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Just when it seemed like Arkansas was done with the outdated model of playing some games in Little Rock, with the Hogs only playing a single FCS game there in 2016 and 2017, the Razorbacks decided to move Mizzou games to the smaller stadium in the state’s big city. Lucky us.
Here is where I say some nice things about Arkansas. Razorback Stadium is cool, with views of the Ozarks. It’s on campus. If you’re going to spend time in Arkansas, northwest Arkansas is where it’s at, unless you’re a fugitive from the law in northeast Arkansas across the river from Memphis. Arkansas has poured money into improvements for their stadium on campus. So why on earth do they insist on playing a game in Little Rock, long after Alabama and Auburn quit playing in Birmingham, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State quit playing in Jackson, and so on? It’s like spending money on a great deck and backyard setup, then hosting a party in your garage.
I know the school has a lot of alumni and wealthy boosters in Little Rock, but it’s not like the highway from Little Rock to Fayetteville is the Oregon Trail.
But should you find yourself in Little Rock on Black Friday, you’ll at least get to watch the Tigers probably roll against the Hogs, so maybe it is worth the drive down after all.