Kentucky only has four away games on the schedule this season; which has the best road trip potential? As someone who loves football road trips and this great region we call the South, I’m here to help. I ranked the four away games based on five factors on a scale of 1-5 (1 being worst, 5 being best):
- Proximity to Lexington
- Stadium/tailgating scene
- Food/drink scene
- Intangibles (the one thing that makes that place unique to any other)
Here are the candidates:
- Mississippi State (September 21, Starkville, MS)
- South Carolina (September 28, Columbia, SC)
- Georgia (October 19, Athens, GA)
- Vanderbilt (November 16, Nashville, TN)
Let’s break them down one by one, starting with…
Mississippi State (September 21, Starkville, Mississippi)
Proximity to Lexington: 2
Starkville is 492 miles, or 7 hours 49 minutes from Lexington. Trust me when I say there’s middle of nowhere, and then there’s middle of nowhere Mississippi.
Last year, Mississippi State went 8-5 under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, formerly the offensive coordinator at Penn State. This year, the Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and eight starters on defense. That being said, this is Kentucky’s first road game of the season, those cowbells are loud, and Benny Snell won’t be around to score four touchdowns.
Stadium/tailgating scene: 3
There’s nothing to do in Starkville other than go to the game, therefore Davis Wade Stadium is always rocking. The 61,000-seat stadium underwent a $75 million expansion/renovation in 2014 and is by far the nicest thing in Starkville. It’ll be CLANGA CLANGA with cowbells, so bring your earplugs.
Food/drink scene: 1
By now, you should know how KSR feels about Starkville. It sucks. I really tried to give it a fair shake back in 2015, but it lived up to low expectations. If you do make the trip, there are some okay bars in the Cotton District and Little Dooey has good BBQ.
You can stay on I-40 and go to Tunica instead? Nashville is in the middle? I got nothing.
Total score for Starkville: 9.5/25
South Carolina (September 28, Columbia, South Carolina)
Proximity to Lexington: 3
Columbia is 431 miles from Lexington, or a 6 hour 39 minute drive via Google Maps. That’s not bad, especially since that route takes you through Asheville, one of the coolest towns in the Southeast. I highly recommend splitting the drive up on the way down or back to spend some time exploring Asheville, specifically it’s enviable beer scene.
This one’s going to be tough. After losing to Kentucky five years in a row, the Gamecocks are beyond ready to beat the Cats, and they’re led by senior quarterback Jake Bentley (although he had a rocky junior season). I think Kentucky’s a better team than South Carolina, but knowing how badly they want this win and how crazy Williams-Brice Stadium will be, I’m calling it a toss up.
Stadium/tailgating scene: 4
I’ve yet to experience it for myself, but I hear Williams-Brice Stadium is one of the best environments in the SEC, which is saying something. Even though South Carolina announced earlier this week they’re not allowing alcohol sales outside of premium areas yet, I guarantee you Gamecock fans will prepare in the parking lot and have that place rocking at kickoff.
Food/drink scene: 4
I’ve only been for basketball games, but Columbia’s a fun town with plenty of good restaurants, bars, and palmettos. Like all South Carolinians, people in Columbia love to eat and drink to excess, so if you go, good times will be had.
Really want to make a long weekend out of it? Stop in Asheville on the way down, and after watching the Cats extend the winning streak to six in Columbia, continue on to Charleston for Sunday and Monday. The Holy City is only two hours away from Columbia and well worth the extra miles. Gospel brunch at Hall’s Chophouse is a must.
Total score for Columbia: 17.5/25
Georgia (October 19, Athens, Georgia)
Proximity to Lexington: 3
There are two routes to Athens from Lexington; I suggest taking the one that goes through the western tip of North Carolina so you can avoid Atlanta traffic. Thank me later.
As much as I love Kentucky Football, there’s no denying that Georgia’s on another level right now. The Bulldogs are the clear favorites for the SEC East and legitimate national title contenders. They return 13 starters from last year’s team, including Jake Fromm, who’s got a heck of an offensive line protecting him. Kentucky’s coaching staff has made it clear that beating Georgia is the next step for the program to take, but I just don’t see it happening in Athens.
Stadium/tailgating scene: 5
I love everything about Athens, Georgia. It is the perfect college town, with wonderful bars and restaurants, and tailgates rolling across the city from dawn ’til dusk. Sanford Stadium is big and beautiful, with a capacity of 92,746. From start to finish, Georgia does game days right, making a game between the hedges a must on any SEC bucket list.
Food/drink scene: 5
If you couldn’t tell, Athens is right up there with Oxford in my pantheon of favorite college towns. If you go, take a walk around town in the morning to see it come alive for game day and grab a Tropicália IPA at Trappeze Pub, one of my routine stops whenever I’m lucky enough to visit.
Atlanta is an hour and a half away (although on game day, double that), but Athens is so cool I wouldn’t bother.
Total score for Athens: 18/25
Vanderbilt (November 16, Nashville, Tennessee)
Proximity to Lexington: 5
Nashville is an easy three-hour drive (215 miles) from Lexington, just enough time to catch up on the radio show and one of KSR’s many fine podcasts.
The ‘Dores lost quarterback Kyle Shurmur but return running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb. Vandy has slowly and steadily improved under Derek Mason, but Kentucky’s won the last three. I don’t see that changing this year.
Stadium/tailgating scene: 1
There is nothing special about Vanderbilt Stadium; in fact, according to a study by The Tennessean, Vanderbilt fans are embarrassed by it. Vandy’s making some minor renovations this year, replacing the scoreboard and improving the restrooms, but that’s putting lipstick on a pig — a crumbling pig, at that. The debate rages on over whether to do major renovations or just build a new stadium (where?), but one thing is for certain: Kentucky fans will fill the empty seats.
Food/drink scene: 5
You don’t come to Nashville to watch the Vandy game, you come to Nashville to watch the Vandy game and party (for more, consult my flowcharts from March). That being said, I consider Nashville a party town, not a college town, so if you’re looking for a true college town experience, I’d go with Athens here.
The Titans are on bye that week, but the Predators play the Blackhawks Saturday night, which could make for a fun double header if the game’s early. Or, you can go to Top Golf, do a brewery tour, or just get drunk on Broadway.
Total score for Nashville: 20/25
The best UK Football road trip to make this fall, per my calculations…
1. Vanderbilt (November 16, Nashville, TN): 20/25
2. Georgia (October 19, Athens, GA): 18/25
3. South Carolina (September 28, Columbia, SC): 17.5/25
4. Mississippi State (September 21, Starkville, MS): 9.5/25
Basically, anywhere other than Starkville!