Week 1: Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Florida State

A huge road trip through the Southeast!

Week 1 of the 2021 season just had to be a big one. It’s been so long without proper college football that I wanted to make it my biggest trip yet.

UAB 31, Jacksonville State 0

This game was held at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s not in the nicest Montgomery neighborhood, but the venue was suitable for this kind of game. Honestly, I went because it was on a Wednesday and along my route. Football is football.

Game Day Grade: D

Bowling Green 6, Tennessee 38

Good ole Rocky Top. Knoxville is all around one of the better places to experience college football at the highest level. Before the game, find your way to Market Square. There’s plenty of excellent local restaurants and bars (and you can park for free there!). It’s right next to downtown Knoxville.

There’s a plethora of tailgating options for all levels of partiers. Have the in on someone with a boat near the Tennessee River? “Sailgating” is a favorite practice among the Vol Navy. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other options to have a fun, standard tailgate.

Tailgate or no tailgate, get to Neyland early. The team walk happens first, about 90 minutes prior to kickoff. After that is the traditional marching band entrance, which is one of the best in the country. The Heart of the Southland Band is worth the watch and Rocky Top is one of the best fight songs in the country.

Neyland Stadium itself is a beautiful stadium. It’s enormous, historic, and iconic. Watch for fireworks around the entire roof and don’t miss the Vols running through the T.

Not much to report about the game. It was an SEC team outclassing a MAC team and actually made for a boring contest. But that didn’t affect anything– Tennessee is one of my favorite game days.

Game Day Grades

Stadium: B+. Maybe it’s controversial, but aside from the grand scope of this stadium, there’s not much going on. It’s very old and is relatively unrenovated. Once you enter the bowl, though, you get it. Neyland Stadium is iconic.

Tradition: A. The band, the orange, the SEC, running through the T, Rocky Top, just add it all up. Tennessee has some of the best history and tradition in college football.

Atmosphere: B-. The Vols hosting a low-level opponent like BGSU doesn’t help. The stadium wasn’t quite full, also due to it being on a Thursday. Vol fans are passionate, but this just wasn’t the game to show it off. The PA system was having issues during this game, something that should probably have been ironed out well beforehand.

Tailgating: A-. Sailgating is a cool concept found at Baylor, Washington, and Tennessee (as far as I know). Regular tailgating is everywhere. It’s the SEC for God’s sake.

Fans: A-. Very few places have fans as kind and accommodating as Tennessee. Random fans saw my BG logo and smiled with a hearty “Welcome to Rocky Top.” The post-game crowd is drunk folks from Appalachia. No harm in that.

Extracurriculars: B-. It’s a three hour drive from Charlotte and over four hours from Nashville. Knoxville is a great college town, but after game day, there’s not much left to do. Around the area is Smokey Mountain National Park.

#10 North Carolina 10, Virginia Tech 17

Talk about being spoiled with Week 1 of the college football season. There were so many great games from Thursday through Monday. This happened to be one of them my dad and I made sure was a staple in our scheudle.

Blacksburg is pretty well removed from major cities and highways but Virginia Tech faithful flock to town for Hokie game days. Downtown is actually attached to campus and offers a wide variety of awesome restaurants and bars. Check out the pulled pork at Sharkey’s and get the vinegar-based sauce.

Tailgating is grand at Virginia Tech. It’s widespread and upscale, stretching throughout the stadium grounds, surrounding campus, and even the neighborhoods. Folks are friendly here, too.

Students were on time for this nationally-televised contest. Over an hour before kickoff, the student section was starting to get full. By the time the bands did their pregame deal, there wasn’t an empty seat.

That’s, of course, when Enter Sandman happens. If heights make you uneasy, I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the upper decks for this. For those who like thrills and rollercoasters, the upper deck is your place for the Hokies’ famous entrance. The stands shake.

Hopefully you studied the lyrics to the song. It cuts after the first chorus and the crowd just carries it. Especially after a season with no fans, this tradition is chill-inducing.

Virginia Tech also played a heck of a game, upending top-10 North Carolina. It was exploding with energy and the fans came ready. To top it off, the Hokies rushed the field after their upset win.

Game Day Grades

Stadium: B. Lane Stadium isn’t the biggest ACC stadium, but it does match their campus which is cool. The hike up to the upper deck is tough– a long winding ramp and then a steep walk from there. It was very clean and well maintained, though.

Tradition: A. EXIT LIGHT! ENTER NIGHT! TAAAAKE MY HAND!

Atmosphere: A+. Circumstances help. It was a top 10 in-conference rival at night in the opening week with fans back for the first time in well over a year. National TV, the whole works. This place was about to bring down the stands. And I loved it.

Tailgating: B+. The tailgating presence is really good here. It’s not among the likes of top-level SEC, but it’s high brow and the partiers keep their composure. All good things.

Fans: A. Virginia Tech fans are passionate, plentiful, and kind. Every fan base has their exceptions, but Hokies fans are among some of the most pleasant to be around.

Extracurriculars: B. Downtown Blacksburg is a great college hangout spot with plenty of places to eat and drink at. The surrounding country is gorgeous. however, it’s well away from large cities or points to travel from.

#9 Notre Dame 41, Florida State 38 (OT)

Holy. Cow. This strategic play worked out as well as it possibly could. Before Florida State and/or Notre Dame had the chance to underwhelm as they usually do, they put on a show on national TV.

The pregame festivities are really great in Tallahassee, though parking is an absolute nightmare. The team walks were energetic and I even ran into ESPN’s Marty Smith (who, for the record, was impressed with this journey). Of course, you have to visit the Unconquered statue.

Chief Osceola’s spear plant is one of the most well-known traditions in college football and it’s every bit as cool as expected.

I’ve been to a lot of loud stadiums, including Lane Stadium just two days prior, but I’ve never been in an environment quite as loud as Doak Campbell Stadium. Circumstance, seating, it all lined up. (Note: My experiences at LSU Tiger Stadium and Kyle Field came much higher up and against lesser-stakes opponents. To accurately compare them, I’ll have to go back).

On top of all the pageantry and excitement, the game was a beauty. McKenzie Milton, UCF transfer playing his first game back since severely breaking his leg, led the Noles from behind and forced overtime. To avoid the traffic, I listened to OT from the radio, but this game was off the rails.

Halftime was a touching tribute to the late Bobby Bowden, something that brought tears to eyes and even got me choked up when the band played Amazing Grace. The entire season is paid in tribute to Coach Bowden, but this was the first Noles game since his death.

Yes, I even participated in the tomahawk chop from time to time.

Game Day Grades

Stadium: A-. It’s clear Florida State keeps up with Doak Campbell Stadium. It’s also the largest continuous brick structure in the world, for what that’s worth.

Tradition: A-. The tomahawk chop, Unconquered, Chief Osceola’s spear plant, it’s all iconic at Florida State. They may not go back as far as some programs, but the traditions run strong.

Atmosphere: A+. What’s there more to say? I couldn’t hear myself think, the game was exciting, halftime was touching, it had everything.

Tailgating: A-. Tailgating is widespread at Florida State unsurprisingly. It’s not as high brow as other ACC events and the Greek House parties (and their trash) bleed onto the street you walk to get to the game. In fact, the area around campus was exceptionally dirty. All for a good time, but still.

Fans: B-. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It’s the Florida panhandle (sorry). If nothing else, the fans are exceptionally dedicated to their team.

Extracurriculars: C+. If you’re into state government and capitol buildings, you may find Tallahassee more fun than I do. However, there’s not much to do outside of the game and it’s far enough away from beaches to where they can’t really claim that.

Other stadiums

Along the drive, I decided to stop at some new stadiums, including Stadium 100! The list of ones I stopped at is below:

  • Protective Stadium (UAB, not yet open at time of visit, open for the 2021 season)
  • ASU Stadium (Alabama State, FCS)
  • Sanford Stadium (Georgia, revisit)
  • Kidd Brewer Stadium (Appalachian State, stadium 100)
  • Jerry Richardson Stadium (Charlotte, smallest stadium in the FBS)
  • Williams Brice Stadium (South Carolina, revisit)

Stadium 100 didn’t go as expected, but at least it’s a funny story. Boone, North Carolina, is as removed as any college town in the nation. It’s 90 minutes off the nearest interstate and through hills and Appalachian towns. Finally, we got there after driving multiple hours out of the way.

I triple-checked that there was no App State game that day, because that would have restricted my access to a stadium that’s normally open to the public.

Nope, instead I went on the day of the Luke Combs concert.

Imagine traffic for a football game, but worse. And on top of that, security was tight. Luckily, one of the officers let me walk inside to take a single photo and leave. Also, shout out to the cops who let me park in a restricted lot and ensured I wasn’t going to get towed.

You helped make this college football traveler’s 100th stadium special.

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