Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:23 AM
OK, less than a week now until the first college football game, and not a minute too soon.
I don’t know about you, but I’m just about burned out by preseason All-Americans, conference predictions, Heisman watch lists, coaches’ this and writers’ that, and if one more talking head explains how his own ranking system works I’m going to kick an inanimate object.
So I’m not going to rank the SEC’s non-LSU game-day experiences in any particular order. Just rattle on about them. They are, in one way or another, all unique in their own way, in some cases thankfully so.
• South Carolina (Columbia): Kind of an odd pregame experience since Williams-Brice Stadium is not really located on campus, but at the state fairgrounds. And, if the state fair happens to be in session that day (as it often is), getting to the parking lot and then the stadium can be a real adventure. I always thought the team entrance to the theme from “2001 A Space Odyssey” was pretty lame. Friendly folk, though.
• Tennessee (Knoxville): Now this is the way you tailgate. With the Tennessee River butting up almost against Neyland Stadium, the yachts and houseboats float in from Wednesday on and by Saturday are parked 20 deep along the banks. A lot of boat-hopping goes on before the games. An LSU fan I know saw this and wanted the school to build a wide canal from the Mississippi River levees up to and around Tiger Stadium. It’s under consideration.
• Mississippi State (Starkville): Nothing much to see or experience, really, although I hear the town is all abuzz now that the Days Inn got a fresh, new coat of paint.
• Ole Miss (Oxford): You’re expecting to hear about The Grove, right? It’s OK, especially if you enjoy tailgating by candelabra on linen tablecloths in the middle of a fall fashion show. But it almost seems to be getting too “touristy.” Even cooler is going to The Square, just off campus, the center of quaint little Oxford, complete with the requisite county courthouse in the middle and lots of fine, non-chain restaurants surrounding it.
• Auburn (Auburn): It will be sad to see the famous Toomer’s Corner oaks gone. But Auburn, more than any other SEC school it seems, remembers and honors its history. Even without the famed oaks, Toomer’s Corner is a must-see before a game, strolling down the sidewalk with Hollywood-style stars in the pavement for Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, etc. Arrive early — Auburn might have the worst pregame traffic in the conference.
• Alabama (Tuscaloosa): Hurry to the Bear Bryant Museum (hard to miss, it’s on Bryant Drive, next to the Bryant Conference Center) before they gut it and replace it with the Nick Saban Museum. Just outside the stadium, Saban already has his twice-lifesize statue, of course, along with every other Bama coach who won a national championship (I lost count). By the way, don’t even think of doing anything silly, like a nutty photo-op, with these statues before a game. SWAT teams are standing by in the shadows. Dreamland BBQ is way down at the end of Jug Factory Road, surely the finest street name in the SEC.
• Arkansas (Fayetteville): Very pleasant if you catch it on one of the rare above-freezing, no-sleet days. Good luck on that. Hearing the Razorbacks “Call the Hogs” is harmless fun, but it’s almost offset by the most annoying, recurring public address sing-along on the planet: That’s an Ark-an-sas Razor-back … FIRST DOWN!”
• Vanderbilt (Nashville): There’s plenty to do in Nashville, just not much that would suggest there’s a big college football game on the horizon. Need to get back there since Vanderbilt has announced it expects to be taken seriously on the greensward. The alumni tailgating scene is really pretty amazing — sometime during a four-year stay at the school all students are evidently taught how to affect this benign yet somehow aloof facial expression that just screams: We are probably going to get our tails kicked in just a few minutes here, but it doesn’t really matter because we are just happy to be back on campus and keeping football in perspective and enjoying employing all the graduates from the jock factories.
• Florida (Gainesville): The strip of rickety, off-campus watering holes is conveniently located right across from The Swamp, and the whole scene takes on the aura of a midway carnival with a three-ring circus. There’s jugglers and mimes, painted dogs and re-painted girlfriends, hell-fire, soap-box preachers and political rallies, frat parties and burned-out hippies and everything in between. Warning: Don’t bark at the police dogs.
• Texas A&M (College Station): The place seems much more fan friendly now than back in the early 1990s when LSU was making regular trips. Back then, with all the saber rattling and boots high-stepping, I always got the creeps thinking the place was occupied by some foreign military. Seems more like a normal campus now. And, yes, the press box really does sway at the start of the fourth quarter from the fans swaying below.
• Georgia (Athens): Maybe the best pure college town in America and it butts right up against campus. For my money, the SEC’s most beautiful arena is Samford Stadium, although it was better before expansion blocked the view of students sitting on the railroad bridge outside. Me and a sportswriter buddy once spent three hours after a game and finally enlisted campus security in a desperate battle to remember where the rental car was parked.
• Kentucky (Lexington): Football tailgating is better than you would think for a fan base that is really just waiting on basketball season to start. They do come for football. They don’t really care who wins, but they swarm to the games.
• Missouri (Columbia): Never been near the joint. It is, after all, the world’s finest journalism school, sometimes known as Spellcheck U. Just ask any of its graduates.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org