Game Day in the South's College Football Towns
This time of year, football fans across the South are cheering on their favorite team. As the loyalest of fans travel from university to university, we tell you the best places to watch the game and grab a bite outside the stadium and what to see and do before and after the big game.
University of Florida: Gainesville
Just off I-75 in central Florida sits Gainesville, home to the University of Florida and its 2,000-acre campus built out of brick and Southern tradition. More commonly referred to as the Swamp (after enduring a Saturday morning football game you’ll understand why), Gainesville is a vibrant city despite its isolation, tucked away in a blend of Florida pine and swampland. UF hosts a nearly 50,000 students, accounting for more than a third of Gainesville’s entire population.
If you’re in town on game day, be sure to check out The Swamp Restaurant. Just across the street from campus, The Swamp serves up a wide array of bar and grill-styled dishes, including Cajun Gator Tail Taco Sliders, a local favorite. Be sure to wear your blue and orange, too. The Swamp is a favorite for students and locals alike with one shared purpose: to cheer on the Gators.
The past season has made it much easier to do so. The Gators improved to 11-2 last season during head Coach Will Muschamp’s second go-around. Returning quarterback Jeff Driskel hopes to lead the Gators even further. In the Swamp, there’s no such thing as an average season. Either you win the SEC or you’re gator bait.
Louisiana State University: Baton Rouge
Geaux Tigers! That’s not a misspelling; it’s a Louisiana war cry. Welcome to Baton Rouge, home of Louisiana State University and the Bayou Bengals. Down in Cajun country, they love football, food and frenzied fans of both. One visit to this capital city, and you’ll find this Southern icon does not disappoint. LSU’s scenic, Italian Renaissance-inspired campus sprawls along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, offering breathtaking views of the mighty waterway.
For excellent food and drinks during or following the game, head to The Chimes, just outside the campus gates. Stocked with a full bar and grill, the local favorite is known for its oysters on the half shell, seafood platters, poboys and burgers. And for the thirsty ones in your group, attempt the “Travel the World” challenge of drinking 60 beers (not all in one night, of course) from 20 countries.
As always, the LSU Tigers expect nothing less than a winning season in Tiger Stadium, their 92,000-seat palace, known for its rabid fans and live, Bengal tiger mascot named Mike. While losing loads of talent to the NFL draft, a handicap LSU is long accustomed to, the Tigers still bring back impressive talent on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Zach Mettenberger and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.
University of Georgia: Athens
Come visit the loudest doghouse in the South. On game days, the streets in Athens fill with red and black, supporting the Bulldogs who call the University of Georgia home. Located just 70 miles east of Atlanta, Athens is everything you’d expect from a college town in the South. With Civil War cannons, the State Botanical Garden and a thriving art scene, Athens truly mixes old with new.
When in town, satisfy that Bulldog appetite by visiting The Volstead, a fan-favorite bar and grill located in the heart of downtown Athens. With an eclectic menu that includes everything from fried pickles to a signature Burger topped with pimento cheese and Surf ‘n Turg Dawg with fried shrimp, the Volstead promises something for everyone. It also features one of only two ice rails in the southeast, running the length of the entire bar to keep your drinks cold until the last drop. After a three-hour game in the Georgia heat, the ice rail only becomes more appealing.
Hopes are high in Athens this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray returns for his senior year in hopes of winning the SEC, a goal the Bulldogs came within a few feet of last season, only to lose out to Alabama. But with star running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the Bulldogs might just have enough bite this year to finish the job.
University of Alabama: Tuscaloosa
The pride of Alabama can be found in Tuscaloosa, home to the Crimson Tide. Founded in 1831, UA is known for its history of excellence, both on and off the football field. With the most National Merit scholars of any state university and having won three of the last four NCAA college football championships, UA has certainly helped Tuscaloosa earn its moniker as “The City of Champions.” Yet Tuscaloosa is not simply a college town. Beyond campus, you’ll find a thriving nightlife, the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra and the Alabama Museum of Natural History.
In the heart of the Deep South, you can be sure to find two things: Crimson Tide fans and good barbeque. In Alabama, the two are usually found together, especially at Dreamland. This Southern staple has restaurants throughout the state, but its original location calls Tuscaloosa home. Just across the Black Warrior River from UA campus, Dreamland has been a fan favorite for over 50 years. Enjoy their classic barbeque, featuring a 10 dollar rib plate and every other cut a hungry Crimson Tide fan could imagine.
In the college football world, there’s Alabama and then there’s everyone else. Coach Nick Saban looks to lead the Tide to their third consecutive national championship. With a dynamic offense led by senior quarterback A.J. McCarron and running back T.J. Yeldon, there’s definitely enough firepower on the field. Having the nation’s top defense sure doesn’t hurt either. By all counts, Saban should free up another spot on the trophy shelf.
University of South Carolina: Columbia
Columbia is known as many things: the state capital, South Carolina’s largest city and home to the University of South Carolina. Every Saturday during college football season, the entire city is reminded of that last title. Set on the eastern bank of Congaree River, USC is known for its beautiful and historic campus, which spreads over 359 acres near downtown Columbia. With the largest Ernest Hemingway collection in the world and ranked as a Top 10 university by the Carnegie Foundation, USC is also home to one impressive college football team.
And Columbia is home to a rich and diverse restaurant scene. You don’t even need to travel far from campus for a taste. Just a few blocks east of USC, check out Yesterday’s Restaurant. Opened in 1976, this Columbia classic features game day specials of Chicken Gumbo, Roberto’s Lasagna and Mahi Mahi and Grits. Yesterday’s also houses the perfect place to watch the game down in their tavern, with an extensive beer selection and cocktails like the Key Lime Pie Martini.
If you’re talking about football in South Carolina, there’s a good chance you’re talking about Jadeveon Clowney, the monstrous defensive end who leads the Gamecocks into battle this year. Following his tackle, now known simply as “The Hit,” in last year’s Outback Bowl, the entire country has Clowney on their radar. Pressure and hopes are high in Columbia, but with head Coach Steve Spurrier in charge, an SEC championship is well within reach.
Photo Credits: Mike the Tiger and oysters courtesy of Visit Baton Rouge, Steve Spurrier statue courtesy of Visit Gainesville and Bryant Denny Stadium by Jeff Hanson, University Relations, The University of Alabama.