Pack your bags: The SEC's best non-conference road trips for the 2017 season
Overall as a conference, the SEC has a history of staying close to home. Programs in the league rarely venture far to play non-conference opponents on the road and with the current trend of trading home-and-home series for neutral site one-offs, many fans are left with even fewer opportunities to make exciting road trips to new locales this season.
Be that as it may, there are still a few interesting road trips on the calendar this year that SEC fans can experience. Before getting to the list, here are four games that just missed the cut:
- Texas A&M at UCLA (Sept. 3) — There might not be a more picturesque scene in college football than the San Gabriel mountains wrapping around the Rose Bowl in the fall. And with so few SEC teams playing in the venue, this game is worth the trip to experience it.
- Tennessee in Atlanta vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 4) — The showcase game might be great for Vol fans that watch the Monday night event on television, but for fans attending the game, taking Monday and Tuesday off of work to travel to a football game makes this a less than ideal match. On the bright side, Tennessee fans have not experienced a game in Atlanta in a while.
- LSU in Houston vs. BYU (Sept. 2) — The Tigers have a growing fan base in Houston and have set up a growing pipeline to the rich talent base in the area. The 8:30 p.m. local time kickoff should allow LSU fans plenty of time to partake in pregame festivities.
- South Carolina in Charlotte vs N.C. State (Sept. 2)– The short trip north is ideal for convenience but the matchup might not be for the Gamecocks. How the South Carolina offensive line stacks up against the formidable Wolfpack defensive line will likely decide this game.
5. Florida trip to Arlington, Texas, to play Michigan — Sept. 2
For all the hype surrounding Georgia this offseason, Florida might be the best SEC East team this year. Starting the season with a big win over a nationally relevant Big Ten program inside AT&T Stadium would go a long way to reinforcing that belief. Traveling to Texas and watching Florida earn a big win in this game sure would make for a fun road trip for Gator Nation.
After being humbled by Michigan in the 2016 Citrus Bowl in a 41-7 loss, there might not be a better time to catch Jim Harbaugh’s program than the 2017 opener. With so many defensive players having exhausted their eligibility, the Wolverines likely won’t be functioning at full strength on that side of the ball. That could make for a smoother transition for a UF offense likely to be adjusting to a new starter under center.
There might be no better sign of progress from Jim McElwain’s program than to issue payback on the Wolverines in front of a nationally televised audience.
4. Alabama trip to Atlanta to play FSU — Sept. 2
Possibly the biggest opener in college football history, this game has it all. Two teams predicted to factor into the College Football Playoff all season will meet in the first college football game inside the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it’s a lock to be a Top-5 showdown. There’s little doubt the winner of this game will be the early favorite to win the national championship this season.
Acknowledging all those factors, one might wonder why this game doesn’t rank higher on the list. It’s because the Crimson Tide are likely to play in the venue a number of times as long as Nick Saban is coaching the team. Considering the SEC has signed to have its championship game in the stadium until 2027, Alabama could very well return to the venue as soon as early December.
3. Auburn trip to Clemson — Sept. 9
Auburn has been hyped by many this offseason as the main competition to Alabama inside the league. For all the speculation, the truth is we won’t know until the Tigers hit the field in the coming weeks. The first real measuring stick will come when the team travels to Clemson for its second game.
The defending national champions should be riding a six-game win streak heading into the game and the 81,500 fans inside the ACC’s version of Death Valley will be rocking that night to try to help extend that streak to seven. In a potential Top-10 showdown, Auburn stands to gain national respect with a win in this game. There won’t be a better opportunity this year for the school’s fans to hit the road to witness a statement victory like the one that could come at Clemson.
2. Georgia trip to Notre Dame — Sept. 9
These two storied programs have never met in the regular season, having only faced once one another in the 1981 Sugar Bowl — which, of course, resulted in Georgia’s last national championship. For Bulldog fans, this trip might be their only chance to watch their team play in South Bend, Ind., in front of Touchdown Jesus.
This game could serve as a national coming out party for both programs. Given the high expectations surrounding Kirby Smart’s program, a win here should provide plenty of momentum for the Bulldogs heading into SEC play. On the other hand, the Fighting Irish could quickly move on from last season’s 4-8 mark with a win over the media’s pick to win the SEC East. Don’t let that record fool you into thinking Notre Dame lacks the talent to test UGA, as the Irish have averaged a Top-11 recruiting class over the past four recruiting cycles, per 247Sports’ composite team rankings.
It should come as no surprise then that this game features the most expensive tickets on the secondary market heading into the 2017 regular season. As legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley indicated to Saturday Down South during his podcast interview, everyone in Athens is headed to Notre Dame for Week 2 — whether they plan on actually getting into the game or not. Nebraska “invaded” Notre Dame back in 2000; it will interesting to see if the Georgia fan base can accomplish the same task.
1. Ole Miss trip to Cal — Sept. 16
Rebel fans eager to make the trip to Cal for this showdown will log more than 2,000 miles of travel if they leave from Oxford. That’s a considerably long journey for a non-conference game just three weeks into the season but with no bowl game on the horizon for Ole Miss, the trip provides fans the chance to travel to an exotic locale to watch the Rebels play. Their fans might not get that opportunity again soon given the future non-conference slate.
With Napa Valley less than an hour drive from the Cal campus, the Ole Miss supporters that make the trip out will have endless opportunities to partake in some of the county’s finest vineyards. The Rebels should be 2-0 heading into this game and if that happens, a win in Berkeley would see them head into the Alabama game undefeated. At this point of the year, optimism for the Ole Miss season should be at an all-time high.
A bonus to this trip: Ole Miss fans will be removed from the never-ending saga of the NCAA case. With the hearing set to begin Sept. 11, it might be impossible for fans who have grown weary of updates from the case to find better refuge than a beautiful northern California vineyard during that region’s most scenic season.