This past Saturday was the last one without college football for more than three months, and with the 2021 season finally upon us, fans are eager for a season that in many ways represents a return to normalcy in the sport.
Non-conference games are back and, most importantly, tailgating and fans in the stands make their long-awaited return. In this spirit, ESPN pieced together an ultimate road trip guide for the college football season. It outlined the best game to attend in-person every week of the season, and if someone with a bit of expendable income were to make that trek, they’d see the Gators play twice this fall.
Here are the two games ESPN mentions, and they shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Week 3 - Alabama at Florida
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When in Gainesville for a game, the first stop should always be The Swamp (and we don't mean the actual football stadium). But file that tidbit away for 2022, when the famous Swamp restaurant reopens in a new location. Instead, head over to another University Avenue institution -- The Salty Dog Saloon -- which has been serving drinks and food since 1962. There is no shortage of spots across campus to take in the tailgating scene -- from the O'Dome parking lot all the way to the farthest point on campus, Norman Hall, which is a good 15- to 20-minute walk from the stadium. Line up early for the Gator Walk as the team makes its way into the stadium. And don't forget to make time for a slice and homemade soda (or the beverage of your choice) from Satchel's Pizza, a short drive from campus. Ask to eat in the converted blue VW van.
Indeed, the matchup against the Crimson Tide on Sept. 18 is one that Gators fans have had circled for a while now. Due to quirks in the SEC's inter-divisional scheduling, Alabama hasn't made a trip to the Swamp since 2011. The teams have played just once in the regular season since, and that was back in 2014. UF has met 'Bama three times in the SEC Championship, however, most recently last season. Though it lost 52-46, it was the toughest challenge the undefeated eventual national champions faced in 2020. This Crimson Tide team has to replace a starting quarterback, running back and two receivers, and though retooling in Tuscaloosa is never much of a challenge, this team could be relatively vulnerable. The Gators will look to earn a statement win in front of the home crowd early in the season.
Week 9 - Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
There is a reason this series is still known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." Reason No. 1: The drinking starts early (in many cases, days early), and the drinks flow like the St. Johns River, which runs through Jacksonville. Reason No. 2: There are too many parties to count in the tailgate lots surrounding the stadium. The truth is, you don't even need an actual lot to party. People party on their boats along the river, too. In between the cars and RVs clad in orange and blue or red and black, alumni clubs from both schools hold their own tailgates, and there is live music everywhere you look. In the RV lots, the partying starts three days before kickoff. Though TIAA Bank Field holds about 67,000, most years twice as many people show up to take in the tailgate scene. And really, that is the best advice. Grab a drink, walk among all the lots, make some friends and soak it all in.
World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party Florida-Georgia game is one of college football's greatest spectacles and one of the few traditional neutral-site rivalry games. Apart from a two-year stretch in the 1990s where the games were played on campus due to the construction of TIAA Bank Field (as well as a war-time interruption in 1943), the game has been held in Jacksonville annually since 1933. The atmosphere at that game speaks for itself, and the passion is only increased by the fact that more often than not, the contest decides the winner of the SEC East. This appears to be another one of those years, as Georgia looks to avenge a 44-28 loss last season, coach Kirby Smart's first loss to Dan Mullen. This is a hyped Georgia team with a Heisman candidate at quarterback in J.T. Daniels, but after dropping three-straight to the 'Dawgs, Florida will look to start a streak of its own.