Amusement before the away games

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Neyland Stadium is seen during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Tennessee and Florida Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

So, you’ve decided to leave the comfort and familiarity of your home and attend a Florida football away game? Well you might as well get the best of your decision and indulge in all your destination has to offer.

Florida has four trips on its schedule in the 2018 season, Dan Mullen’s first as UF’s latest head coach. While the following list of suggested and recommended activities is far from complete, I hope it at least serves to provide you with inspiration on your upcoming journey.

Knoxville – Sept. 22 vs. Tennessee

After opening the season with three consecutive home contests, Florida’s first road bout comes Sept. 22 at Tennessee — a familiar opponent for sure, and one that resides in the state’s third largest city. With nearly 200,000 residents, Knoxville is well-known for maintaining its Appalachian culture while expanding into the downtown area in recent history.

Looking to do some shopping before the game? The Foothills Mall in Maryville features nearly 70 stores, while the primary retail corner is centered around West Knoxville. With its deep history of bluegrass and country music, Knoxville is known for welcoming famous acts from around the country, but maybe none are more renowned in the area than the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest continuing orchestras in the U.S.

But no trip would be complete without diving into the traditional cuisine the city has to offer. Head for the Market Square area, where Knoxville staples such as The Tomato Head and OliBea consistently draw visitors and residents alike. There’s also Knox Mason, known for its faithful recreations of Southern food, and Sweet P’s, regarded as arguably the prime destination in Knoxville for those seeking smoked meats and savory barbecue.

But if you ask those indulging frequently, it’s certainly a debate worth having: “If you like barbecue and want the best in Knoxville, you have to check out Dead End BBQ. Best in town by far,” according to Nathanael Rutherford, managing editor for Rocky Top Insider.

Starkville – Sept. 29 vs. Mississippi State

Florida fans are likely familiar with the Tennessee region, but Mississippi State is an atypical destination for the Gators and their fans alike. A town of just less than 30,000 residents, Starkville has slowly developed into a college town in recent years, bringing a thriving art and entertainment scene with it. The Cotton District, one of America’s oldest “new urbanist” communities, is centered between the Mississippi State campus and downtown Starkville, and features traditional architecture. There also is the MSU Bulldog Bash, held annually each year on a Friday before an MSU home game. It’s considered the largest outdoor concert each year in the state of Mississippi, and it’s more than a realistic possibility the 2018 Bash will be held the day before UF arrives in Starkville.

When it comes to culinary options, Starkville is all about barbecue. For me, your barbecue fix should be at Two Brothers Smoked Meats, located in the Cotton District. Hopefully they’re smoking a delicacy on the day you arrive — and make sure you wash it down with one of the many craft brews available.

“Starkville is the perfect small college town in that all of its charms are concentrated to a couple of areas that are close to campus,” said Brett Hudson, a reporter covering Mississippi State for The Commercial Dispatch. “The Cotton District has the bars, the excellent Bulldog Burger Co. and my favorite barbecue in town, Two Brothers. The downtown area has the shops and even more restaurants. Your stomach will enjoy the trip.”

Nashville – Oct. 13 vs. Vanderbilt

Ah, Nashville. If this is your first trip to Music City, you’re in for a treat at worst, and a life-changing experience at best. Nashville features one of the best roads many have had the pleasure of traveling down, and I am no exception. Nashville’s Broadway might feature more barbecue, live music and storied venues than any other city in the southeast, leading to its regard as the Sin City of the South. Start at Bridgestone Arena and make your way down to the Cumberland River, where there almost surely will be something that will catch your eye. Jack’s BBQ remains a prime locale for tourists, and the typical 45-minute wait is part of the experience. But barbecue is far from the only savory meat you’ll find upon arriving in the city.

“Nashville is the hot-chicken capital of the world — ‘hot’ as in spicy, not abnormally high temperature — and the hype is well-earned,” said Alex Martin Smith, a reporter covering Vanderbilt football for SEC Country. “Unless you prefer waiting hours in line, you should skip the most common location — Hattie B’s on 19th — and instead try a more authentic experience at Prince’s or Bolton’s, both of which are north of the Cumberland River.”

The music scene is nearly incomparable, with live music and dancing on nearly every corner. Each has enough diverse qualities to maintain the culture while staying unique, too.

“The honky tonks on or near the Broadway strip are another defining feature of Music City. If you’re drinking to excess, these places are all going to look and sound the same,” Smith said. “But if you have classier goals, try Robert’s Western World for outstanding old-school country performances and the ever-popular “Recession Special,” or Acme Feed & Seed for an all-encompassing four-floor experience that features plenty of square footage and an excellent rooftop view.”

Tallahassee – Nov. 24 vs. Florida State

Alright, alright, hear me out: There are plenty of things worth doing that won’t involve you feeling miserable around Florida State fans. Tallahassee, the state’s capital, features cuisine choices from all over the world, as well as a very modern music scene and nightlife. But make no mistake about it: Tallahassee is a typical college town, and that’s a good thing for many of us looking to experience a fun night or two in an unfamiliar place.

Check out Bannerman Crossing for all of your shopping needs, as well as concerts nearly every Friday night. There also are numerous museums around the area; Florida A&M is absolutely worth checking out, and the Railroad Square Art Park features more galleries in one spot than you’ve likely ever seen.

As for food, “a few places to look for: Uptown Cafe for breakfast, Bird’s Oyster Shack for a great burger, and Madison Social for a late-night bar spot that will be flooded with FSU fans,” said Safid Deen, a reporter covering the Seminoles football team for the Orlando Sentinel.

8 COMMENTS

  1. since games like vandy, both columbias, and Arkansas have only downside (who can be proud of beating their teams), the entertainment is really a big part of the SEC, but these days some of the games are a thousand miles away, and its all about TV, I prefer the old way, oh well.

  2. Not bad suggestions for visitors to Knoxville. I graduated UF in 1982 and have lived in Knoxville since. It’s a great place with an incredibly vibrant downtown, lots of live music and amazing local restaurants. The Market Square Farmers’ Market is a sight to see and should be just past its peak at that point. It is also walkable to and from the stadium. Please spend your time in Knoxville in the downtown area. I have written a blog about it for the last eight years and I’d encourage you to check that out for insights into the city and what’s happening. More to the point of the article, every Sunday I publish a “10 Day Planner” and the one preceding your visit will tell you everything happening downtown. We’ll look for you and Go Gators! http://www.insideofknoxville.com

  3. Why not? It’s a relatively short drive, if you time it right you can get thru Atlanta relatively hassle free, and save for the hostile environment, you’re still south of the Mason-Dixon line and the hospitality is still first class if you behave yourself.

  4. ”And when Florida does play L.S.U. again in Baton Rogue next year, (‘Joe Alleva continues to bring unprecedented national recognition to LSU…’, Yea, like coming to THE SWAMP 2 years IN A ROW!), but anyway, please be sure to check out the new VOODOO-DOLL ‘Tiger collection. As you don’t have to be a Tiger for it to work, just ask FORMER U.F. player, Justin Watkins.’ ”

  5. Martin’s BBQ in Nashville is better than Jack’s. Puckett’s has a great breakfast. San Antonio Taco Company across from Vanderbilt is a nice way to kill time post game (if it is an early game) while traffic clears and Uber surcharges decrease.

  6. Spot on in your Nashville review…except for the BBQ. Jack’s is horrible. It’s a tourist destination only. If you want BBQ in Nashville, pull out your phone and google it. Close your eyes and point to a spot on the map. Guaranteed there will be better BBQ there than at Jack’s.

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