116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — I’ve been to one game in Big Ten country — Northwestern vs. Michigan State in 2019 at Ryan Field.
At the time, I was a graduate journalism student at Northwestern living in downtown Chicago exploring all the experiences my new school had to offer with my roommates. It was not a good year for the Wildcats, who fell to the Spartans, 31-10, not scoring a touchdown until there were two minutes left in the game.
But I remember the experience. The field was smaller, more intimate than what I was used to, and there were some crafty food trucks under the bleachers. Asian food at a football game? Weird flex, but OK.
I’ve been all around the Big 12. I went to Texas for undergrad, so I’ve had the image of my heartbroken face displayed on national television at Darrell K Royal and traveled to the Cotton Bowl for the annual Red River Rivalry with Oklahoma.
My best friend went to Texas Tech for a year, so I’ve had too many whiskey cokes and watched the flying tortillas at Jones AT&T Stadium. I grew up in Fort Worth, so I’ve watched TCU play in the Mountain West and the Big 12. I’ve actually been to Jack Trice Stadium because I found cheap tickets to watch Iowa State play Texas while I was living in Mason City.
In the spirit of SEC expansion, I also will admit that I’ve been to a Texas A&M game at Kyle Field and nearly lost my balance with all the cult-ish swaying and cheering by the Aggie fans.
But what excites me the most as Iowa’s new beat writer are the raucous, dedicated fan bases, rivalry trophies and unique culture of the Big Ten. And the return of the cross-conference Cy-Hawk rivalry game.
There are five away games on the schedule, so here are the rankings of which I’m most excited about going to, based on college town treasures, gameday experience and opponent difficulty.
1. Wisconsin, Oct. 30
This matchup is expected to be the battle of the Big Ten West, so when you get two rowdy, Midwestern fan bases with a lot on the line, there’s no question Madison, Wis., will be my top choice.
From what I’ve read, more than 80,000 fans will jump to the song “Jump Around,” and shake the stadium. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the tradition actually started in 1998, when the song came over the loudspeaker at the start of the fourth quarter in a tough game against the Drew Brees-led Purdue Boilermakers. The Badgers went on to win that game and the Rose Bowl, and when the stadium underwent renovation in 2003, an engineer was hired to make sure it could withstand the jumping.
Camp Randall also is known for its vulgar chants, which I’m all here for.
I’ve been told Mickie’s Dairy Bar is the place for an early breakfast on Saturday morning before that 11 a.m. kickoff, and the tailgates linger around Regent Street. It may be too cold to check out the beautiful Memorial Union Terrace, which overlooks Lake Mendota, but I’ll try. I also can’t go to Wisconsin without having the local brews and brats. I’m told State Street Brats is the place for both.
To top it all off, it’s Halloween weekend. It’s gotta get weird.
2. Iowa State, Sept. 11
Hate me if you want, Iowa fans, but my case here is judging by how readily I received Ames trash talk on Twitter to this one, I know that y’all are salivating for the return of this rivalry. The stakes are high and the hype is real as Iowa State is projected to not only contend for a Big 12 title, but potentially make the College Football Playoff. This could be the ultimate showdown between two high-caliber running backs in the state: Breece Hall and Tyler Goodson.
As a journalist who roots for good stories, I expect this to be a nail-biter.
Rumor has it Hickory Park is the place to be for BBQ, but I’ve gotten mixed reviews. I am a Texan, so I’m skeptical, but the ice cream should be good. Stomping Grounds is the place for pre-game coffee, according to our lifestyle features reporter, Elijah Decious, and I’m excited to try Great Plains Pizza, which apparently has a wheat crust served with honey. Both Decious and Erin Jordan, our investigative reporter, highly recommend it.
I’ve heard the bars on Welch Avenue can get wild on game weekends and that if the Cyclones win, Sweet Caroline will play over the loudspeaker.
An added bonus that might be premature to think about: if Iowa State announces there are future plans to join the Big Ten, I feel like that’ll boil some blood.
3. Northwestern, Nov. 6
I don’t know what’s in store for the Wildcats this season, especially at quarterback, but they’re still projected to be a tough contender in the Big Ten West.
While this isn’t the rowdy Big Ten culture, it is one of my alma maters, which means I have friends on the beat. From what I know during my time in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern tends to attract more fans from the road team and the Chicago area has quite a few Hawkeyes.
Buffalo Joe’s apparently has the best wings in town and Mustard’s Last Stand is the place for an Evanston-Chicago dog. While I’m at it, I might as well go to Chicago for an evening.
4. Maryland, Oct. 1
Again, College Park, Md., isn’t a rowdy football atmosphere, but it’s my farthest trip on the schedule and it’s a Friday night game, so maybe I’ll have some time to explore the Maryland/Washington D.C. area to catch up with friends and family on Saturday.
Plus, that primetime hour means Iowa takes the main stage in college football that night.
According to my friend Danielle Stein, a University of Maryland alumna and TV reporter in Charlottesville for CBS19, the iconic place to eat is Ledo’s pizza, home of the square sheet pan pizza. Also, RJ Bentley’s off Route 1 is the go-to bar for Maryland alumnus Scott Van Pelt of ESPN.
My friend Callie Caplan, an alumna who works for the Dallas Morning News, said fans will tailgate hard, but getting to the game and staying there is a gamble. Often, the incentive for fans to stay are prizes that are awarded in the second half.
As far as traditions, the Maryland flag is lowered over the student section during games and the section will dance underneath it.
5. Nebraska, Nov. 26
It’s Nebraska. I’ve driven through it a number of times. It is the gateway from the Midwest to Colorado, and it’s not my favorite.
I’ve never once stopped in Lincoln, Neb., though, and Runza for sure will not live up to my mother’s Thanksgiving cuisine.
Jeff Browne from the University of Iowa’s journalism school said I should catch some live music at the Zoo Bar, eat Mexican food at Muchacho’s and grab an Elk Creek Spring Water at Sandy’s. That’s a mixed drink with vodka and gin. Vodka and I do not get along, so I will pass.
Gameday should be crazy, as it’s not only the last of the regular season, but also the Heroes Game rivalry and it could be a make-or-break year for Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost.
But it is a volleyball school, after all.
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