Wanna get away?
To put it bluntly, Illinois had a much better road schedule in 2018 than it does looking ahead to this coming season. Some of those trips in 2018 were either to new places (Maryland) or to places that historically put on a great game day atmosphere (Wisconsin, Nebraska). This season’s a bit different.
Let’s rank ‘em.
5. East Hartford, Connecticut to face the Connecticut Huskies; Sept. 7
Rentschler Field is relatively new, and newer than just about any stadium the Illini play in (except for this beauty, more on that later). That’s about the only good thing going for it. UCONN football consistently puts on a disappointing, not-worth-watching show — and the fact that this stadium is not close to UCONN’s undergraduate campus in Storrs makes going to the game unappealing for both students and visitors alike.
The trek from Champaign to East Hartford is tough. East Hartford is located about halfway between two major cities with big airports in New York City and Boston, so flying out is not easy. This is not Syracuse, which is similarly far away and hard to get to, but at least ‘Cuse has a booming campus and everything is tight-knit and close by once there.
4. West Lafayette to face the Purdue Boilermakers; Oct. 26
The two main things going for this game and potential road trip are:
1. Revenge game for the Illini after last season’s 46-7 performance, and;
2. Close proximity to Champaign. It’s a shorter drive from Champaign to West Lafayette than it is from Champaign to Chicago — but don’t forget to tack on an hour to your clocks and watches as you do enter EST once you cross the border into Indiana.
Ross-Ade Stadium is a dump, although renovations are under way to make the stadium nicer and more visually appealing. There’s the Battle for the Cannon, and Purdue road games always tend to have a large traveling Illini contingent, so you won’t be alone.
3. East Lansing to face the MSU Spartans; Nov. 9
I debated flip-flopping Purdue and Michigan State on this list, but East Lansing gets the nod primarily because the Illini don’t play the Spartans every year. Illinois has not won a game in East Lansing since 2006, the year prior to the Rose Bowl season and when John L. Smith was still the head coach of MSU Football. Lovie Smith is 1-0 against the Spartans since taking over in 2016.
For fun’s sake, let’s all take a moment to remember this (excuse the poor quality):
As far as college towns go, East Lansing is similar in size and feel to Champaign, and their fans are almost (but not quite) as bonkers about their football program as they are about their basketball program. The tailgating scene stretches for miles and miles. There’s nothing really flashy about it, just some good, old-fashioned Big Ten Football.
2. Minneapolis to face the Golden Gophers; Oct. 5
It’s cold. It’s snowy. It’s not exactly close to Champaign or Chicago, but Minneapolis is one of the more underrated cities in America. The University of Minnesota has this odd blend of 19th Century architecture mixed in with some funky, space-like buildings. It’s a unique place in that it has a campus and campustown, but it is in the heart of a big city — similar to the University of Washington in Seattle, as an example.
TCF Bank Stadium is a gem, and it’s perfectly situated near UM’s campus and the downtown Minneapolis area. Since the stadium opened, the Illini are 1-3 on the road at Minnesota. Last season’s 55-31 beatdown of Minnesota was the highlight of 2018 campaign, and PJ Fleck and company likely have this game circled as a “revenge game” of sorts. If you can make the trip, absolutely go!
1. Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes; Nov. 23
In a series that dates back to 1899, the Illini have beaten the Iowa Hawkeyes 38 times. Iowa’s beaten the Illini 34 times, and there’s been two ties. Historically speaking, this ‘rivalry’ is neck-and-neck, but you wouldn’t think that if 63-0 is still fresh on your mind.
A trip to Iowa City checks all of the boxes: It’s a four-hour drive from both Champaign and Chicago. The tailgating scene outside of the stadium pregame and the postgame scene at the bars along Ped-Mall creates an invigorating, party-like atmosphere. The stadium itself is humble; simple in design and packed with Hawkeye fans in grandstands that seem to stretch forever once you’re inside.
On top of all of that, Iowa’s newest tradition is one in which players (of both teams), fans and coaches/administrators take part in: They wave to the children at the University’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital high above in the building next to Kinnick Stadium.
Are you planning on going to any away games this coming season?
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