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Ranking Syracuse football roadtrips for the 2021 season

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After a year off from football-related travel, where should you visit this year?

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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 five road trips this year.

Factors considered:

  • Fun Stuff/Food in surrounding area
  • Weather (will I 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 of 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)

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

Well after the flailing and failing of 2020, we are back better than ever. As Billy Bob said in Varsity Blues, “Puke and Rally!”

This year isn’t as good as the great 2017 season was for road trips, but 2021 is actually slightly above average. No over-confidence going into 2021 like 2019 (Maryland sez hello). However, this year offers a possibility of winning any game. If you have already seen the Butter Sculpture and enough of “Oswego County Man” at the NY State Fair Midway…then Athens, Ohio beckons. We end the season in Raleigh, in one of America’s fastest growing areas and mass collector of Wegmans stores.

This year, as it stands, ‘Cuse might not be a favorite in any road game. However, I expect most contests will be in the 3–14-point handicap point range. I expect Dino will get us a couple road wins this year (he better). Ever an optimist I predict a 6-to-7 win regular season and a happy-to-be-there bowl game this year.

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 (if time allows). All five locations have pros and cons and I rated Fun Stuff/Food as a “push” this year. For travel I look at: I don’t want to spend $300 a night for a $80 basic motel room (sorry FSU), and I want numerous and reasonable flights. Plus I don’t want to possibly freeze my butt off.

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. FSU (Tallahassee) does poorly here, but if you live in the FL/GA 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 (Louisville and Virginia Tech charge quite a bit). For me, the Virginia Tech and Ohio trips are my top trips this fall. However, I expect Virginia Tech will be the most popular trip among SU fans due to the old Big East rivalry and proximity of CNY, NYC and NoVA/NC based transplants/alumni.

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

According to the numbers, Virginia Tech tied Ohio as the top road trip this fall, with FSU right behind. Louisville and NC State pulled up the rear, but were not that far behind the leaders.

Quick aside from John:

If Ohio’s a good game, I doubt I’d be too thrilled about attending, so the pick for me is Virginia Tech. Syracuse hasn’t been to Blacksburg since 2003, and Lane Stadium is a great atmosphere. So whether the Orange are trending in the right or wrong direction by that point in the season, that just seems like the most fun and unique opportunity.

That’s not a knock on the other options either, of course. I’ve been to NC State a few times and would happily go back given how much I enjoy the Raleigh area (despite Syracuse’s results there). And I’ll eventually get to Louisville and FSU. But we make those trips every other year. There will be other chances as long as current divisions remain intact (and if they don’t, then we’re not waiting this long to travel to play the Hokies).

But onto Mark’s explanation for his choices:

(all times ET)

T-1. Ohio, Saturday, September 4, 7PM

What is annually heard around the 315 for opening weekend: “I’d go but for the State Fair and the last weekend of summer”? So this trip won’t be too popular. However you are missing out on a great road game. The game gets the highest marks for weather with it being a night game. If I had to guess I expect a small Cuse crowd of 500-750. This is actually the closest drivable trip for CNY’ers at 8.5 hours with limited stops. Athens, Ohio and Ohio U. are raved about for being a charming city and a beautiful campus.

This game makes a great 3-4 day weekend getaway over Labor Day weekend. Downtown Athens is filled with many restaurants (something about 25K students) and most are reasonably priced. In town, I hear Jackie O’s is the place to go. For our more energetic types this sounds fun. Ohio’s campus is actually in a hilly part of Ohio. Ohio U. is considered one of the prettiest settings in the USA. So if you want something different and unique try this game. Be aware that motels in Athens are pricey. You might have to look at nearby cities like Parkersburg, W.V., Marietta, Ohio and Zanesville, Ohio. Travel by air is through Columbus and is about 75 mins away. Travel by car is another story. It allows you many different opportunities to take side trips. I’m considering a stop at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Peden Stadium is on campus and large for a MAC school. However, it suffers from a hideous expansion around the end zone which gives it a high school look. The students come out support the team much better than some much larger programs. The marching band is large and one of the best in the country. I figure ‘Cuse will be a slight underdog for the game and the Bobcat fans will love nothing better than to beat a P5 team. Parking will be easy with numerous cash lots for $5 and $10 around the campus. The students party err tailgate hard but my impression is tailgating among the adults is not on the level of the B1G and ACC.

T-1. Virginia Tech, Saturday, October 23, TBA

This and Miami are the two games most Cuse fans wished were played annually. Some great Big East games were played with VTech before they left for the ACC. Blacksburg sits on a ridge above the Roanoke Valley. It is one of the coldest spots in Virginia. Despite that our game weather should be pretty good and expect a high in the low 60s. Snow in late October is rare but not unheard of. Many Tech fans drive in for games from NoVA and other points so motels are in short supply and pricey on football weekends. Added in the calculus is prime leaf peeping along the Shenandoah and the Blueridge Trail. The area lacks in big city attractions but there are things to do in Roanoke and Blacksburg. The nearby small city of Radford is a favorite stop for me. Book your motel now!

Lane Stadium is impressive and they have the iconic “Enter Sandman” entrance. Tailgating is considered among the top in the ACC. Parking is doable but you should try to arrive early (like 3+ hours) for the best options. If money is no object you can park close for $60 reserved or $40 Space Available on gameday with the Lion’s Club. Otherwise, expect a decently long walk or shuttle from your parking lot but parking is only $10-20. I’m thinking about parking at Margaret Beeks Elementary School or the Airport Runway West Lot this year. Since we only play VTech twice every twelve years this is a game most fans should try to attend. I’m hopeful we can represent well. I’m predicting about 3,000 ‘Cuse fans.

3. Florida State, Saturday, October 2, TBA

Tallahassee is a classic, smaller, Deep South metro area. Lots of Spanish Moss hanging from Live Oaks, but not a lot of in-town entertainment options. For fun I suggest a trip to the Gulf Coast. The water temperatures (low 80s) will still be warm enough to swim off the sugar white beaches and the summer crowds will be gone. Look around Panama City and Apalachicola for nearby beaches. Flying into Tallahassee (TLH) is difficult and expensive, but I know some fans instead will fly into ATL, JAX, MCO and TPA and drive in for the game. Many northern fans will fly into Orlando or Tampa and do the touristy stuff and take a side trip to the game.

If you look at nearby cities (about 20-60 mins away), you can find more reasonable lodging but most of these towns are not quaint tourist destinations. Tally is usually pricey on football weekends (we are their Parents Weekend opponent) for lodging. Panama City Beach is a great option to stay for lodging (if coming from ATL or points West) if you are staying a few extra days. If you are coming up from Tampa or Orlando: I suggest staying outside of Tally in Podunk towns like Monticello, Perry and Live Oak if you want to save some money. If you want something different and don’t mind a longer drive try Cedar Key.

If you are staying in Tallahassee I suggest you wander to Collegetown and take in the Friday Night Block Party. Another close by option is Wakulla Springs State Park for swimming, “jungle” boat tours and a 1930s Spanish style lodge. I expect about 1000 Orange fans at the game. Doak Campbell should be on every college football fans’ “bucket list”. Weather should be warm to hot (high in the mid 80’s). The visitors section is on the sunny side and you definitely want to prepare for that reality. I downgraded FSU for weather as it could be super-hot and also the specter of a hurricane is an early October factor. Close in parking is only for the connected. If you arrive super early you can find some cash lots pretty close.

The better option for most SU fans (including myself) to park at the Tucker Civic Center (Basketball Arena) about a mile away. Parking is reasonable there ($10) and a shuttle (for $5) is available. Indoor bathrooms are nearby too! The walk is flat and goes through the Greek and student housing areas. A gratuitous plug: you are invited to join my tailgate. Reach out to me here. I have a better deal than going through SU for your tickets. I do these tailgates for cost as a fan.

5. Louisville, November 13, TBD

Louisville is a really underrated fun trip. If you are lucky and have Veterans’ Day off you can easily make this a 4-5 day trip. I only expect about 3-400 Syracuse fans at the game. Weather will be a crapshoot (average highs near 60). Louisville fans are cautiously optimistic things will get better. As a top business center there is a lot of lodging, so that keeps the price of hotels on football weekends reasonable. Armory Square-like fun and accommodations are available downtown in the 4th Street Live area and a trip to Churchill Downs is a must.

If you have an extra day or two, Louisville and surrounding areas offer bourbon tours and many unique museums (Ed. note, because of course I have booze thoughts: Visit Bulleit, go to Haymarket Whiskey Bar). The food scene is excellent despite being the fast food and casual concept restaurant capital of the USA.

Game day parking can be a chore to find something close, but you have a fallback position at the KY Expo Center (parking is $10 ($20 for RVs). Look at parking at the lots near Gate 4. There is a huge Cattle show going on so definitely double check to see if game day parking will be available. The Louisville Airport (SDF) is large enough to offer decent options. It may be worth driving though for Upstate NYers.

If I was the ACC football scheduler, this game would be in early to mid-October annually and it would become a much better road trip.

5. NC State: Saturday, November 20, TBA

The game is drivable for many Cuse fans, so that might make this trip a must-do. Air travel is easy but might be pricier than expected as Thanksgiving is the following Thursday. CNY fans should expect about a 10-11 hour drive. Raleigh’s airport (RDU) is large and offers lots of flight options and Charlotte (CLT) is two hours away and offers more non-stops on American Airlines.

Raleigh and the Triangle offers some attractions if you want to stay a few days but you might find more if you are drive a few hours. If you stay longer with Thanksgiving week after the game, try a trip to the Outer Banks or consider Asheville, Wilmington or Myrtle Beach. For food: I say barbecue. NC is a very interesting barbecue region with two distinct styles. This is where I would explore for food. I expect 1-2000 Orange fans at the game. My personal observation is this time of year in N.C. weather can turn cold suddenly. So keep that in mind. Raleigh has a large airport (RDU) west of town and also has a large amount of business hotel rooms that keeps weekend lodging prices reasonable. Nearby UNC is hosting Wofford on the same day but I don’t think the motels will sell out. NC St’s stadium attendance is usually high. The stadium is decent but lacks a wow factor. Nothing wrong with it but not in the top half of ACC stadiums.

Game day cash parking is getting tougher so get there early for the best choices. Look along Trinity Ave (by Cardinal Gibbons HS), Blue Ridge Road and 4200 Hillsborough St. for several cash lot options. More ideas are here. Syracuse tailgating will be scattered but many Syracuse fans will be heading to the Backyard Bistro for a huge tailgate (it is owned by former CNY residents). The SU Alumni Office is planning an event there and is open to non-alumni. Additionally, ala carte options will be available outside the restaurant. If you arrive super early, the Backyard Bistro will sell you a parking spot too. They are literally across the street from the stadium.

Happy planning!