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Ranking Syracuse football roadtrips for the 2018 season

Syracusefan’s TexanMark guides you through this season’s games.

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

So what makes a great road trip for a Syracuse Orange football fan? Syracuse tailgating expert TexanMark gives us his rankings of the six road trips this year.

Factors considered:

  • Fun Stuff/Food in surrounding area
  • Weather (will I sweat/freeze my ass off for the date scheduled?)
  • Ease and cost of travel, lodging (varied choices and reasonable costs)
  • Parking ease and tailgate atmosphere (game day cash lots that have tailgating)
  • Desirability of rival (excitement for a win over them)
  • ”Winnability” of game (Chance of a win this season)
  • Stadium amenities and atmosphere (On-campus is a huge plus)
  • Uniqueness (That once-in-a-generation trip location is a plus)*

*a new category added after comments from last year about LSU

What’s your top road trip pick? Read what TexanMark has to say and compare it to your rankings.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This year isn’t as good as 2017 for road trips, but last year was one of the best I’ve seen in 25+ years. There are several great road trips along with a few trusty old rivals from the Big East days this time around.

Western Michigan starts off the fun, and while they might bring up the rear “power”-wise, we have a few great storylines with that game. We end the season at BC in (near) one of America’s great cities. This year, we have a couple road games where we’ll be the favorite or at least within a 3-5 point dog. I expect Dino will get us two (maybe three) road wins this year. If Syracuse can upset at least one team and beat the team we should (WMU) on the road this fall we should have a great chance to bowl. (Ed. note: Which one? St. Petersburg err Tampa? Birmingham? Detroit? Or something better? Let’s find out!)

Putting that optimism aside, these trips can be expensive and time consuming. I want a memorable trip with a win, but the key is to work in other activities around the game. A few things I look at: I don’t want to spend $300 a night for a $70 basic motel room (sorry, Clemson), and I want numerous and reasonable flights. Plus I don’t want to freeze my butt off (sorry, BC and Notre Dame).

I rated items that I think are important to most ‘Cuse fans. Travel ease and cost is the big “X Factor” here as everyone has a different city origination and price-point. Notre Dame (NYC) did poorly here, but if you live in the Tri-State area it should easily be the No. 1 trip for you. I looked at it primarily from an air travel perspective. Finally, I didn’t rate cost of football tickets. For me, the Clemson trip is my top trip this fall (but barely). However, Notre Dame will be the most popular trip among SU fans due to the unique chance to play Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium and see two basketball games on the Thursday/Friday prior at Madison Square Garden.

Putting eight items into my top-secret “gonculator” we get the results (lower is better):

According to the numbers, Clemson edged out Notre Dame and Pitt as the top road trip this fall and BC pulled up the rear.

Quick aside from John:

No road game for me this year given the arrival of the #disloyalinfant. But admittedly this may have been a smart season to sit out. At one point, I’d been anxious to head to South Bend, though was much less excited for the Notre Dame game once it was moved to the Bronx (as was probably the case for other non-NYC area folks). WMU’s not a destination, and the rest we’ll see again in two years.

With all of that in mind, give me Clemson for the atmosphere -- though you’ll certainly run into quite a few bitter Tigers fans no matter the result in the “other” Death Valley this season. After that, it’s probably pick the Broncos, if only because it’s the most likely win on the list and I’d assume Labor Day pricing isn’t all that extreme for travel to Kalamazoo, Mich.

But onto Mark’s explanation for his choices:

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

1. Clemson Tigers: Saturday, September 29, TBD

If you have never traveled to Clemson, S.C. you need to at least once. Clemson has been a weird series. We have had blow-outs, close games and an epic upset. The biggest (fun) upside is we get to interact with the famously insecure Clemson fan base. The Tigers and their fans will be spoiling to send a message to the Cuse this year. Clemson is a somewhat typical Southern college town. It is quaint and picturesque, and the school and football game day dominates the area. If you don’t have lodging yet you most likely won’t find anything reasonable (if even available). You might do better to stay 30-60 miles out of town and drive in and out. I would arrive at least 4-5 hours prior to game time and avoid US-76 especially after the game. In 2016 I had great success using my GPS and escaping town after the game on backroads. Of course, I left a little early as the game was a blowout loss.

If you are flying in for the game I suggest looking at Atlanta (ATL) and Charlotte (CLT) first. Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) has an airport too. Parking is somewhat of a bitch and it caters mostly to the donors…arrive early and expect to park ½ to 1 mile from the stadium. This link talks of a cash lot at Lot C-1 and the snow outdoor fitness center (he locals also refer to this as the University Beach or “Y” Beach. I recommend a few weeks out to do your homework and have a plan and prepay if you can. Clemson has a great tailgate culture. If you walk through the “donor” lots with Cuse gear on expect to be invited over. If you hear “Bless Your Heart” too many times take that as a cue to leave and head over to the Esso Club. It is one of those bucket list places that Tiger fans love to brag about. Food options are good in town as they have both Denny’s (Thanks Jim for the recommendation) and Waffle House. Other restaurants mostly revolve around Southern comfort food and college palates. Finally this is one of the better guides out there.

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (at Yankee Stadium): Saturday, November 17, 2:30 p.m.

This game is why the “Uniqueness” Category was added. NYC is the greatest city in the world (prove me wrong -- Ed. Note: It’s not as hard as some would have you believe) and Notre Dame is arguably the most storied college football team in America. The game is also being played in the most famous stadium in sports.

Though it’s a Notre Dame home game, Syracuse has about 3-4,000 seats allotted to them. In my mind the downsides are: mid-November (weather could be crummy), expensive, normal tailgating is not practical and the football sightlines are not ideal in baseball stadiums. There are a few surface lots around the stadium for those that want to tailgate but I’m going to either pregame at the Yankee Bars near the stadium or possibly in Manhattan. The game is easy to get too from Manhattan or north of the city as the Metro North has a train stop at the stadium.

The “uniqueness” goes off the charts with the ability to the see the basketball team play on Thursday and Friday night at MSG in the 2K Tournament. Even if your significant other doesn’t like sports you can probably convince him/her to visit NYC. The city is served by three large airports (JFK, LGA and EWR) all offering numerous nonstop options. Travel into Manhattan offers many options (subway, bus, shuttle, etc…). Lodging will be very expensive in Manhattan but remember you can get by without a rental car. Generally hotel rooms are tiny and a free breakfast is rare. SU is selling tickets to both events right now…do not delay as both events will sell out. This is the #2 trip but in reality it is #1 but got downgraded for the likelihood to have cold and/or wet weather.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

3. Pittsburgh Panthers: Saturday, October 6, TBD

This road trip is my “sneaky good” game. Honestly, playing Pitt for Cuse fans is has never bloomed into a heated rivalry. Pitt vaulted to near the top due to a perfect date when weather should be glorious and offering a lot of fun activities in the city. For most CNY’ers it is a fairly easy 5 ½ hr drive. The game is played at the home of the Steelers and the tailgate scene is good but the vast majority of parking around the stadium is by permit. There is cash game day lots around but you might be stuck in a garage or park in a small private northshore lot. A few neat options: park downtown and walk across the bridge (for those that are in shape for a decently long walk) or park at Station Square and take a ferry to the game. The city is loaded with well-regarded museums to visit. If you are bringing kids they might love the Duquesne Incline.

When in Pittsburgh you have to try a Primanti Bros Sammich. I recommend the Strip District and North Shore for your restaurant/pub crawl. Pittsburgh is a fairly difficult city to drive in for visitors so I recommend finding a hotel downtown or in the North Shore area and leaving your car in the garage/lot. For those driving back to CNY after the game I recommend the slightly longer drive back through Central Pennsylvania to capture some of the changing colors of fall.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

4. Western Michigan Broncos: Friday, August 31, 6 p.m.

It is rare for Syracuse to travel to a MAC school for a game. So there is a certain uniqueness to the game and SW Michigan is a much underrated cool area. Waldo Stadium is cozy (30k seats) and tickets are cheap. What makes this game special is the Syracuse connections to the staff and several players. Ironically former SU AD hired away “Row the Boat” Dude, PJ Fleck to Minnesota and WMU backfilled with former SU OC Tim Lester who then proceeded to bring lots of coaches, staff and players with Cuse connections. WMU is one of the best G5 programs out there of late, and they will be motivated to hand SU a loss (remember MTSU?). I expect Cuse will win but WMU will keep it within 3-7 pts. Kalamazoo is a cool medium-sized city and has a great craft beer and food scene. A side trip to Chicago (2.5hrs) could be a nice diversion. A few suggestions from WMU fans are here. I’m setting up a road trip tailgate there and expect to post-game at a brew pub before heading back to NY.

The trip from CNY is about 9 hours by car and will probably require you to drive halfway on Thursday night (I’m staying on the NE side of Cleveland) and finish it up on Friday if you want to tailgate a bit. Remember passports for everyone if you are shortcutting through Canada) Tailgating is super easy like Wake Forest. They have cash lots at $10 and open 4 hours prior to the 6pm kickoff. Motels are filling up so you might have to look outside town. Flying into Kalamazoo (AZO) is possible but the airport is rather small. You might do better flying into a nearby larger city (Chicago, Detroit or Grand Rapids).

5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Saturday, November 3, TBD

This road trip is actually one of the easier ones to plan. Parking is a cinch and motels are pretty easy to find and mostly reasonable in cost. Winston-Salem is a bit underwhelming in things to do. If you plan to stay in W-S, I recommend looking around the Hanes Mall Blvd corridor. I have flown into Raleigh (RDU) or Charlotte (CLT) and driven over on game day in the past. I found it was much easier/cheaper to fly nonstop to RDU/CLT and drive over than flying into Piedmont Triad (GSO). GSO does offer about 15 nonstop destinations so it is definitely worth checking out and could work well for you. Like Syracuse they now have Frontier and Allegiant and additionally Spirit (starting in September) so you might be able to find a cheap flight if you are flexible.

My favorite thing about seeing a game at Wake Forest is the stadium is super easy to navigate and parking is a breeze. Wake Forest fans are generally low key but they are not especially welcoming either. I recommend going to the lot across the street (south) from the stadium and park on the east side of basketball coliseum. You will find Syracuse fans there tailgating. My group will be setting up there. Weather for early November should be mild (avg 66/44) and delightful as long as it isn’t raining. Fall Foliage should be nearing peak around the Triad so this might be a nice trip for CNY’ers to drive to and head down I-81. Wake Forest is the easiest/fastest southern school car trip for those in the “315” to take as you avoid the DC chaos. Budget 10-11 hours if you make minimal stops.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

6. Boston College Eagles, October 24, TBD

BC brings up the rear in my opinion. It is primarily for two reasons: weather (late Nov) and lack of tailgating for visitors. In reality if it might be easiest to cozy up to a Boston College fan and join their tailgate. If you are bringing a group of Cuse fans another option is to pre-game at a restaurant or sports bar. Much like NYC you might be best to find a hotel near a train line, the Green Line will take you to BC. You have several station stop choices on three different Green lines all dropping you off from ¼ to 1 mile from the stadium. The Boston College B line stop appears closest to the stadium. Shea Field is the area where the “old money” parks and tailgates. Another area to check is the Brighton Campus, north side of Commonwealth Ave, and you are more likely to find a younger crowd there. As I said, it might be easier to show up at a restaurant/bar pregame.

Flying in is fairly easy at Boston Logan (BOS). It is close to downtown and offers numerous nonstop flights to many locations. The drive from CNY is about 4-5 hours. If you want a unique experience try heading to Faneunil Hall after the game. The Boston area is loaded with history and if you have time walk The Freedom Trail. If I was the ACC Football Scheduler this game would be in mid-October annually and it would become a much better road trip.

Happy planning!