The pandemic is not over, but the country seems to be roaring back in a big way — and Big Ten football should be no different. Will it be harder to book hotels and plan a trip than it was in 2019 and earlier? There might be some added hurdles and even more limited space than usual.
Nothing can get in the way of a traveling college football fan. Of course, be sure to do plenty of research ahead of time and keep up-to-date on local COVID-19 guidance as stadium capacity and other potential restrictions are fluid.
The Fighting Illini have five road games this year. Let’s rank ‘em based on what should and could be appealing to the traveler getting ready to hit the road again.
5. Purdue Boilermakers: West Lafayette, Indiana
Why you’d want to go: The Cannon Rivalry and close proximity to Champaign is a major plus. Illinois won at Ross-Ade Stadium the last go around. This is one of the winnable games on the Illinois schedule. Purdue wide receiver David Bell is a top national talent and for those who are fans of the game in general, he’s definitely a guy you want to watch.
Why you might want to pass: The gameday atmosphere and stadium itself are on the lower end of the Big Ten in terms of excitement and prestige. West Lafayette is meh. This game happens often so if you want to make this trip another year, or have made it in the past — this one’s skippable.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Why you’d want to go: Hating on PJ Fleck is one of the most exciting parts of being an Illini Football fan these days, so to do that in person as a road fan can bring out the best in us. Minneapolis is a fun city to visit and the stadium is new, modern and very pleasant. Based on the results of the last two games against Minnesota (lost in 2020 41-14, lost in 2019 40-17), if the Illini were to win — this could be a super feel-good experience walking out of there as a road fan decked out in your orange and blue.
Why you might want to pass: A Nov. 6 game outdoors in Minneapolis could be very cold even though it’s still technically fall and not winter. As mentioned previously, Minnesota despite losing some weapons scores a lot in a hurry. They’ll feature one of the best running backs in the country in Mohamed Ibrahim, so the Gophers likely dominate running and passing against a defense still getting its arms around a new system.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions: State College, Pennsylvania
Why you’d want to go: When there were no fans at stadiums last season, one of the places hit hardest economically had to have been small-town State College, Pennsylvania. An empty Beaver Stadium was weird and depressing. Penn State Football thrives during its whiteouts when there are over 100,000 people packing Beaver Stadium, making this middle-of-nowhere university the third-largest city in Pennsylvania. It’s loud. It’s as close to a religious of an experience you can have as a visiting sports fan.
Why you might want to pass: Penn State is the most remote, arguably-hardest-to-get-to campus in the Big Ten. Not only is it far, but it’s very small and if there are accommodations limitations in any way, this could be a complex trip to plan. Top to bottom, Penn State figures to have a very good team in 2021 and could (though likely not) be a challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten East. The Illini have not won at Penn State since 2010.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes: Iowa City, Iowa
Why you’d want to go: A nearby Big Ten rival and a team Illini fans hate losing to. Pretty much every Illini fan has a friend, family member, colleague, someone in their lives who went to Iowa and is a proud Hawkeyes fan. Iowa City is a quintessential Big Ten college town with a historic, classic Big Ten stadium. The Wave has become synonymous with everything that’s right about college football and everyone takes part in that new tradition. I can’t fathom a better place to leave with a win as a road fan than winning at Kinnick Stadium. The Illini last won in Iowa City in 1999. It’s been too long.
Why you’d want to pass: It’s painful to say but this is true: Iowa football owns Illinois. Seven straight losses, many of them blowouts, continue to haunt our dreams as we gear up for another Big Ten season. You’ll be surrounded by black and yellow, and even though Bret Bielema has a Hawkeye tattoo from his own playing days, there’s not much overlap here: You’re an Illini fan, or you’re the Hawkeye enemy.
1. Virginia Cavaliers: Charlottesville, Virginia
Why you’d want to go: This is a different kind of road trip, the kind that is quite literally once-in-a-lifetime. The Illini are 2-0 all-time against Virginia, but both of those games (in 1990 and 1999) were postseason bowl games in Florida. The University of Virginia is very old and founded by one of the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. History oozes out of every corner of this university based in a college town known for its music scene. Coming off of a .500 season and wearing the same colors as Illinois, this is a Virginia team looking to prove itself.
Why you’d want to pass: An extremely rare 10 a.m. CT, 11 a.m. ET start time might be a negative in assessing whether or not you want to go to this game. In the “we have to win this game, we just have to win it!” category this game is probably towards the bottom of the list, as beating Big Ten teams or teams closer to Illinois means a lot more for the average fan. It’s 115 miles from DC and 160 miles from Baltimore, not exactly a quick trip.
Are you planning on going to any away games this year?
This poll is closed
Yes (if yes, comment below!)