Do you own an RV? Do you dream of owning an RV? Do you have unlimited funds to rent an RV and not work all fall? If any of the above apply, this is the list for you. (And if not, keep reading. You'll learn something.)
This summer, in the drudgery of a world without football, we at Sports Illustrated began dreaming of a perfect fall. Because we are lunatics, that dream included an RV, a GPS and tickets to 21 football games in 15 weeks. With that in mind, we came up with the best possible route for any college football fanatic who might want to make this vision reality.
Saturday, Aug. 26: USF at San Jose State, 4:30 p.m PDT
Catch the beginning of the Charlie Strong era at USF as the Bulls start their season clear across the country from home against San Jose State. SI's preseason No. 17 team is the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference in 2017 after a 10-win 2016, and it should win this matchup handily. Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers is one of the most underrated passers in college ball, and there's a bit of Lamar Jackson in his dual-threat game, making him a dark horse Heisman candidate. In 2016, he passed for 2,812 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions while rushing for another 1,530 yards and 18 scores.
The game should be over in time to catch at least the second half of the day's overseas event: Stanford vs. Rice in Sydney, Australia. We’d have sent you if we could, but adding a yacht into the mix for this journey seemed financially prohibitive. Instead, settle in at a sports bar in charming downtown San Jose, grab some dinner and catch the end of the game. In the morning, head east toward Utah, stopping at Ikeda's California Country Market in Auburn for lunch. It's about two-and-a-half hours down the road. From there, spend a night or two at Lake Tahoe before making the nine-hour drive across northern Nevada. Make sure to save some time to spend in Park City before heading to Salt Lake City for the next game.
Thursday, Aug. 31: North Dakota at Utah, 5:30 p.m. MDT
The tour of season openers continues with another nonconference game against mismatched opponents. The Utes are coming off three consecutive impressive seasons, going 9–4 in 2014, 10–3 in ’15 and 9–4 in ’16 while winning three straight bowl games. Look for a new no-huddle offense from first-year coordinator Troy Taylor, and keep an eye on defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Panthers nose tackle Star Lotulelei; he could have a promising NFL future ahead of him.
Now it’s time to drive. It’s eight hours to Denver, where you’ll need to be by Friday evening for the annual showdown between Colorado and Colorado State. Get moving; the mountain driving should be easier than in wintertime, but Eisenhower Pass is still a beast.
Friday, Sept. 1: Colorado State vs. Colorado in Denver, 6 p.m. MDT
The Buffs are coming off a resurgent 2016, but their offseason was marred by scandal, and they’ll certainly be ready to get back to football. The Rocky Mountain Showdown is played every year in the Broncos’ stadium, and it’s always a fun atmosphere. Plus, it’s been a back-and-forth series in recent years; no team has won more than two games straight since Colorado did from 2003-05. For Colorado State, keep an eye on senior receiver Michael Gallup, who had 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago. Colorado receiver Shay Fields is another name to remember. He'll go into the game with the most career yards (1,929) of any returning Pac-12 receiver.
Grab a beer at one of the many craft breweries in downtown Denver before or after—or before and after—the game. Try 10 Barrel, Denver Beer Co. or Epic Brewing Company. Or, if you want a bar with massive selection of local drafts, head to Falling Rock Tavern. The grilled cheeses there are simple and amazing, and you may need one to soak up some of the alcohol. Remember, you’re at elevation.
Get on the road by 9 a.m. Sunday, just to be safe. You’ve got a mind-numbing seven-hour drive ahead of you, plus you lose an hour as you head east. Download some podcasts; there won’t be anything a sane person would call scenery to take in once the mountains disappear from your rearview mirror.
Saturday, Sept. 2: Central Arkansas at Kansas State, 6:10 p.m. CDT
Bill Snyder’s Wildcats closed out 2016 with a bowl victory over Texas A&M, and they’re SI's preseason No. 19 team. Get to Manhattan early enough to check out the tailgating scene around Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and settle in for what should be a drubbing. Snyder’s teams rarely do much that's especially odd or exciting, but they’re fundamentally sound, and you’ll see few, if any, mistakes. Senior starting quarterback Jesse Ertz holds the school record for lowest career interception rate, at 1.52%, and cornerback D.J. Reed led the Big 12 in passes defensed a year ago after transferring from junior college. For Central Arkansas, look for standout cornerbacks Tremon Smith (No. 1) and Jaylon Lofton (No. 11).
Stick around in the so-called Little Apple long enough on Monday to grab lunch and an ice cream cone at the Call Hall Dairy Bar on campus, which is part of the Animal Sciences and Industry department at the university.
You have all week to make the eight-hour trip to Laramie, Wyoming (or the nine-hour drive to Alamosa, Colorado, your alternate destination). If you're headed to Wyoming, take the northern route along I-80 to avoid retracing your path back through Denver. Take a slight detour through Omaha and Lincoln, perhaps spending a night or two. Veer a bit north before you hit the Wyoming border to check out Scotts Bluff National Monument, a park along the bluffs overlooking the North Platte River that was an important stop along the Oregon Trail.
Saturday, Sept. 9: Gardner-Webb at Wyoming OR Western State Colorado at Adams State, 2 p.m. MDT
This will be coach Craig Bohl’s fourth season in Laramie, and over that time, he’s been adamant that Wyoming isn’t just a stopover on his way to something better. The former North Dakota State coach took over a program coming off a four- and then a five-win season, and the turnaround took time. The Cowboys won four games in his first season, then just two in his second in 2015. But last year, under quarterback Josh Allen, the tide turned. Eight wins and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl (which Wyoming lost to BYU) later, there’s plenty of optimism surrounding Bohl’s team this fall. Allen could well be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, so don’t miss this opportunity to see him, even if he's just picking apart a lesser opponent. Another wrinkle: this game comes on the heels of a nonconference matchup at Iowa on September 2, and if the Cowboys win in Iowa City, get ready for the hype to begin in full force.
Your alternate option is to head to rural Colorado to catch a glimpse of the first-ever woman to receive a scholarship to play Division-II or higher football: Adams State kicker Becca Longo. It's unclear if Longo will see playing time—there are two additional kickers on the Grizzlies' roster—but if it's looking like she might, this diversion might be well worth the trip.
After whichever game you choose, you have the good part of the week to spend in the Wild West. Although it’s about 10 hours (13.5 from Alamosa) to drive straight to Boise, split up the drive. First, head six hours northwest along I-80 and US-191 to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park. Then make your way four and a half hours west to Sun Valley, Idaho before you finish the trip.
Thursday, Sept. 14: New Mexico at Boise State, 5 p.m. PT
What would this road trip be without a chance to see Boise’s blue field in person? This stop also allows you a chance to see two favorites to win the Mountain West back-to-back: last week the Cowboys, this week the Broncos. But the tides are shifting for Boise State as the rest of the conference catches up to the team that was its crown jewel for the good part of a decade. This game should be a relatively simple win, but the Broncos will be coming off a tough game against Washington State. Keep an eye on junior quarterback Brett Rypien, who’s thrown 44 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions over his career, and defensive tackle David Moa, who might be the best defender in the conference.
The next day, make the six-hour drive north to Pullman, Washington. To the east of your route is a swath of national forests; stop and smell the conifers.
Saturday, Sept. 16: Oregon State at Washington State at 2:30 p.m. PT
This brings us to our first conference matchup, a Pac-12 showdown that includes SI’s preseason No. 22 team, Washington State. This game may also feature the most memorably massive player you'll watch this season: Cougars left guard Cody O'Connell. He stands 6' 8" and weighs a whopping 354 pounds, and last year he became the second unanimous All-America in Washington State history. He's strong against the run but even better at pass blocking in the Cougars' Air Raid offense, and he'll be a name to watch in next spring's NFL draft. Same goes for Washington State quarterback Luke Falk.
One wrinkle: Mike Leach's team has stumbled in September the past two seasons, losing to Eastern Washington, Portland State and Boise State. If Gary Andersen and company can pull out a road win, they'll earn some credibility as they continue to rebuild. Still, that'll be a tall task; in three career games against the Beavers, Falk has averaged 433 yards and 5.3 touchdowns per game.
From here, you face one of your longest drives of the trip, but you have a week until you need to be in Minneapolis. Start out with the nine-hour drive to Yellowstone, and stay there a night or two. Go an hour north to scenic Big Sky, Montana for another night, and then on another nine hours east to Mt. Rushmore. From there, hightail your way nine hours across South Dakota to Minneapolis, your next stop. Get in a few days early and enjoy the city, especially before the onset of its never-ending winter. Go for a jog around Lake Calhoun, and check out the Surly Brewery. Maybe catch a show at First Avenue, the venue Prince made famous, and be sure to eat a Juicy Lucy, the cheese-stuffed hamburgers many bars and restaurants feature on their menus. The Blue Door and the 5-8 Club have two of the best.
Saturday, Sept. 23: St. John's vs. St. Thomas, 1:10 p.m. CDT
This D-III rivalry—known as the Tommies versus the Johnnies—is one of the best in college football, and the 2017 edition will be the first football game ever played at the Twins' stadium, Target Field, which opened in 2010. First off: This is a great ballpark, period. Add a football game and the excitement of a in-state rivalry (St. Thomas is down the street in St. Paul, and St. John's is a little over an hour northwest of the Twin Cities), and how could we not stop?
The teams have met 86 times since their rivalry began in 1901, and both draw especially well for Division-III programs. For the Tommies, watch for Tucker Trettel and Josh Parks, who netted more than 900 rushing yards each in 2016. For the Johnnies, keep an eye on defensive lineman Nathan Brinker, who finished last season with 9.5 sacks.
Spend a few more days in Minneapolis, or perhaps take a trip up north to one of the 10,000 lakes; it won't be too cold yet. Once you're ready, head four and a half hours south to Dyersville, Iowa, to see the Field of Dreams, site of the 1989 Kevin Costner baseball classic. Then, it's two and a half hours west to Ames.
Thursday, Sept. 28: Texas at Iowa State
Tom Herman's first Big 12 game comes on the heels of a massive matchup at USC the previous week. In their second straight road game, the Longhorns may be tired, and this could be a trap game. Still, Texas is expected to be much stronger in 2017 behind one of the most talented young coaches in the country. Quarterback Shane Buechele led all true freshmen in passing yards in ’16 with 2,958, and Collin Johnson, a receiver who also played as a true freshman, could be poised to elevate his game under the new Longhorns staff. It won't hurt, either, that Buechele will have one of the better left tackles in the game protecting him in Connor Williams.
This offseason, Iowa State embarked on an ambitious plan to turn a former quarterback, Joel Lanning, into a linebacker. The team had switched to Jacob Park under center late in the season, but coaches believed Lanning too good to ride the bench. The solution: transition him to a physical defender. Keep an eye on how he's settling in.
Grab a meal at Olde Main Brewing Company while you're in town, and then hit the road. Madison beckons, and it's only four and a half hours northwest.
Saturday, Sept. 30: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Get to Madison by lunchtime Friday, and enjoy the afternoon with a meal and sightseeing around Lake Mendota or Lake Monona. Tour the beautiful state capitol building, too. But rest up; Saturday will be a big day of football, and Camp Randall Stadium offers perhaps the most festive game-day atmosphere in the U.S.
Wisconsin’s defense should be just as good as it was a year ago, when it ranked No. 4 in points per game in the FBS. For Northwestern, 2017 will see something of a rebuild on defense after the departure of star linebacker Anthony Walker and defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo. But Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson is going into his third season as a starter, and he has improved steadily from year to year, throwing for 3,182 yards, 22 touchdowns and just nine interceptions a year ago.
Make sure you pick up some Spotted Cow beer on your way out of Wisconsin, and you can't leave without some of Madison's best cheese curds and burgers at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry near campus. From there, make the three-hour drive to Chicago to spend a chunk of the week. It's touristy, but the view from the Willis Tower can't be beat. The Chicago Architecture Foundation's boat tour is also a can't-miss activity before it shuts down for the winter in November. Have hot dogs or Italian beef at Portillo's, and if you're a deep dish pizza person, make a stop at Pequod's. If you can plan reservations in advance, try to get into chef Stephanie Izard's Girl & the Goat for dinner, and take a tour of Wrigley Field—the Cubs should be out of town until later in the week, playoff schedule pending.
From there, make your way to Columbus, Ohio whenever you're ready. Stop at the 3 Floyd's Brewpub in Munster, Ind., on your way for the salt-baked pork belly sandwich.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Maryland at Ohio State
The Big Ten portion of the tour continues at the Horseshoe, a stadium that packs a punch in both history and capacity. (It opened in 1922 and now seats nearly 105,000.) Tailgating is essential, and with parking spots at a premium, don't hesitate to participate without a vehicle. Local food vendors sell provisions outside the stadium, and there should be plenty of friendly and generous fans with lavish tailgate setups. Get there early to attend the pregame "Skull Session" in nearby St. John Arena; the Buckeye marching band puts on one hell of a show. You'll get a preview of the pregame and halftime shows and a visit from the team, and seating is first-come, first-served.
As far as the game goes, well, you can probably already predict the outcome. SI's preseason No. 3, Ohio State will continue to be the machine it's been under Urban Meyer, and with a more experienced roster than a year ago, it should have a certain finesse it lacked at times in 2016. You may already know who to watch: quarterback J.T. Barrett, defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis and linebacker Jerome Baker. For Maryland, coach D.J. Durkin had his first top-20 recruiting class this winter, and the Terrapins' quarterback competition may still be going on by the opening kickoff. Tyrrell Pigrome, Max Bortenschlager, Caleb Henderson and Kasim Hill are all competing for the job.
Once the game is over, head east. The drive to Syracuse is seven hours, but break it up, stopping first in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From there, head an hour north to Cleveland to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From there, it's another three and a half hours to Niagara Falls, a must-see. Spend some time there, and then drive the final two and a half hours to Syracuse by Friday.
Friday, Oct. 13: Clemson at Syracuse, 7 p.m. CT
The reigning national champions are headed north for a Friday-night conference game. At this point, the college football world should have a better idea of what Clemson without Deshaun Watson looks like—the Tigers will have played Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech by the time it heads to Syracuse. Dabo Swinney's team could very well be on another championship run, and if so, this might not be pretty for the Orange. Still, Dino Babers's high-octane offense will be back, and quarterback Eric Dungey could be a force if he can stay healthy. But with the junior's injury history, another question has emerged at Syracuse: Who will back him up? Last year, the job fell primarily to Zack Mahoney, and he should get the nod again as a senior, but the Orange also have Tommy DeVito, a four-star freshman, and should Dungey come up hurt again, it'd certainly be tempting to burn DeVito'sredshirt and see if he's the quarterback of the future.
After the game, it's a quick turnaround. Get on the road first thing—as, in before dawn—Saturday morning, and head straight to Pittsburgh. It'll take about six hours.
Saturday, Oct. 14: NC State at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh continues its tradition of graduate transfer quarterbacks this fall, moving from Nathan Peterman, who's now with the Buffalo Bills, to Max Browne, formerly of USC. Browne waited in the wings for three years before starting last season and eventually losing his job to Sam Darnold. With the younger quarterback ensconced in the Trojans job, Browne enrolled at Pitt in December, and he went through spring ball with the Panthers, giving him an advantage many graduate transfers don't have the luxury of: time. Pitt is coming off an 8–5 season, with two of those wins coming over Penn State and Clemson, so expectations are high in coach Pat Narduzzi's second year. Having two dynamic receiving options won't hurt Browne's chances, either; Quadree Henderson finished with 286 receiving yards and 631 rushing yards a year ago, and Jester Weah had 870 yards receiving. NC State’s line anchors the defense, with four seniors who could all go on to the NFL: Kentavious Street, Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill and Justin Jones.
After the game, you have a full week to explore Appalachia. Breaks Interstate Park is at the Virginia-Kentucky border, just over six hours from Pittsburgh, and has been called the Grand Canyon of the South. Then, once you've gotten your fill of nature, head to Washington D.C.—about seven hours east of the park—for a few days to see the sights and museums. From there, it's four hours to State College, Pa.
Saturday, Oct. 21: Michigan at Penn State
After that brief ACC interlude, we're back to the Big Ten for one last game, this one pitting two of the best teams the East Division has to offer. Last year, this game was a 49–10 Michigan blowout in Ann Arbor, but it's hard to imagine anything close to a repeat performance. Penn State hasn't looked back since hitting its stride in October 2016—between quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions' offense should be explosive. Meanwhile, Michigan lost most of its starting defense from the nation's No. 1 unit a year ago. Still, the Wolverines will be a force on that side of the ball.
Penn State is still a historic place to watch a game. Soak in Happy Valley, and while you're there, make sure to check out Rothrock Coffee for all your caffeination needs. It's a favorite of the Penn State coaching staff, too.
When you've filled your Pennsylvania quota, you'll have a long drive ahead; it's 14 hours to Memphis. Break it up with a stop in Cincinnati (about seven hours down the road) and another in Louisville (two more hours southwest), where you can't miss checking out a few of the city's famous distilleries. Once you've sufficiently exhausted your liver, move on to Nashville (another three hours) and then finally make the final three-hour drive Memphis, where you should give yourself sufficient time to eat—Rendezvous for ribs, Gus's for chicken—and check out the city's musical and civil rights history.
Friday, Oct. 27: Tulane at Memphis
Here's our first American Athletic Conference stop, a chance to see what coach Mike Norvell has done at Memphis in the year and a half since Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech. The Tigers should contend to win the AAC, thanks in part to fifth-year receiver Anthony Miller, who broke out a year ago with 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 15.1 yards per reception.
Head coach Willie Fritz's first year at Tulane was something of a disappointment; the Green Wave finished 4–8 despite having several standout defenders, most notably Tanzel Smart, who went in the sixth round of last spring's draft. There may finally be some stability under center: In the spring, Fritz named junior college transfer Jonathan Banks his starter, and his dual-threat skills should mesh well with Fritz's option offense.
After the game, make the quick drive down to Oxford, Mississippi. It's just an hour and a half, and you'll want to be there bright and early to tailgate.
Saturday, Oct. 28: Arkansas at Ole Miss
Get to the Grove, the 10-acre green space on campus where Mardi Gras meets a debutante ball. If you miss the game, we won't blame you, although you do have a chance to see the (perhaps quite bleak) dawn of a new era at Ole Miss under interim coach Matt Luke, the former co-offensive coordinator who played on the Rebels' offensive line from 1995 to '98 and now must steer the program through looming NCAA sanctions.
Arkansas is coming off a down season defensively, when it allowed an average of 6.8 yards per play, most of any team in the SEC. They'll be working to rebuild their front seven with new faces, and it's hard to imagine they'll be noticeably better on that side of the ball, but they still have quarterback Austin Allen, who was one of the best in the conference a year ago, finishing with 3,430 yards while completing 61.1% of his passes.
Stick around Oxford on Sunday and eat. City Grocery is probably the most popular restaurant in town, and you can also try the southern cuisine at Ajax or ribs at B's Hickory Smoke BBQ. When you're ready, drive five hours to the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Spend some time in the city, and then head three hours south to Troy, Ala., by Thursday. You'll pass Auburn's campus on the way.
Thursday, Nov. 2: Idaho at Troy
After a few down seasons, Troy was a 10-win team in 2016. The Trojans will be among the top programs in the Sun Belt this season, and running back Jordan Chunn may be the best rusher in the conference. Idaho went 9–4 a season ago, but despite finishing with the third-highest winning percentage in program history, the Vandals are on their way back to the FCS ranks after this year. Between a stout linebacking corps and defensive lineman Aikeem Coleman, who had eight sacks a year ago, the defense will be sharp, and quarterback Matt Linehan returns for his senior season.
While in Troy, hit Butter and Egg Adventures, an adventure park with a massive zip-lining course. If that's not your speed, try the Pioneer Museum of Alabama before you head out of town. It's less than a three-hour drive to Tuscaloosa.
Saturday, Nov. 4: LSU at Alabama
It's Alabama-LSU; enough said. The Tigers will be coming off their bye week and will likely have settled into a rhythm under new coach Ed Orgeron. Junior Derrius Guice should slot nicely into his full-time starting role at running back. Keep an eye, too, on linebacker Arden Key, who has been starting since his freshman year. For Alabama, montor the ongoing development of quarterback Jalen Hurts in new coordinator Brian Daboll's offense.
While in Tuscaloosa, check out the Paul W. Bryant Museum, which showcases (what else?) the history of Alabama football. Then hit the road, first to Vicksburg, Miss, one of the most significant sites of the Civil War. From there, it's slightly more than three hours to New Orleans. Get a po'boy at Domilise's and dinner at Galatoire's or Jacques-Imo's. Grab beignets at Cafe du Monde for breakfast. Spend a couple of days, and then it's another seven hours to College Station, Texas.
Saturday, Nov. 11: New Mexico at Texas A&M
Get to College Station in time to enjoy a meal at the Dixie Chicken, which is adjacent to campus and a mainstay for beer, burgers and (of course) chicken. Then get ready for a unique brand of football, from a vibrant tailgating scene to the yell leaders to the moment when you realize all of Kyle Field is swaying on its foundation.
Going into the season, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin should be at least a little worried about his job security after three consecutive 8–5 seasons. His team hasn't had a winning SEC record since 2012, its first year in the conference, and by November Sumlin's fate may be decided. Either way, New Mexico should be a nice reprieve after the Aggies face Alabama, Florida and Auburn in the span of a month. Running backs Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford will figure big in Texas A&M's offensive attack, which has become more run-focused in recent seasons.
Last season, New Mexico's offense led the nation in rushing, although it lost leading rusher Teriyon Gipson to graduation. He was only one of two 1,000-yard backs on the 2016 roster; the other, Tyrone Owens, will return for his senior season. New Mexico won nine games a year ago, so this could be closer than one might predict for an SEC–Mountain West matchup.
After the final whistle, you'll have six days to travel 22 hours to Los Angeles. Break it up. Spend Sunday two hours down the road in Austin, where you can check out the football facilities and the beautiful campus and eat at Franklin Barbecue. Monday, drive 11 hours to Santa Fe, where you can spend Tuesday. Wednesday, drive to the Grand Canyon, another seven hours west, and spend Thursday enjoying the views. On Friday, take the southern route to L.A. and stop at Joshua Tree National Park. It'll only take you three hours in the morning to get to the Coliseum.
Saturday, Nov. 18: UCLA at USC
This game should be a doozie, even if USC puts on a clinic. Sam Darnold looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and cornerback Jack Jones seems poised to break out for the Trojans' defense after learning from first-round pick Adoree' Jackson.
This time a season ago, UCLA QB Josh Rosen was the darling of the college football world; now that honor has been bestowed upon his crosstown rival. Seeing the two face off for the first time will be fun, although USC could already have the Pac-12 South in hand.
After the game, you have six free days in California. Hit the touristy sights of Los Angeles—or bolt for less hokey pastures. While you're still in town, though, grab breakfast at Four Daughters Kitchen in Manhattan Beach, just three blocks from the water. Then, the rest of the Golden State beckons. Head to San Diego or Palm Springs (or both) before making your way up the coast. There's no need to set aside any time for San Francisco and lands north or east; you have another week once you've finished with the next game.
Saturday, Nov. 25: Notre Dame at Stanford
The annual matchup is back in Palo Alto this year, and by now, Stanford's chance at a Pac-12 championship game berth will be out of its hands. (The Cardinal will almost certainly have an eye on the day's Washington–Washington State matchup.) With do-it-all star Christian McCaffrey and defensive end Solomon Thomas off to the NFL, Stanford will have some holes to fill this fall. The health of Keller Chryst, who tore his ACL in the Sun Bowl, will go a long way in setting his team's trajectory. McCaffrey's one-time backup, Bryce Love, got some valuable experience a year ago due to injuries, finishing the season with 779 rushing yards. Look for him to pick up where he left off.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, faces a greater degree of uncertainty after finishing 4–8 a year ago. With a new quarterback (Brandon Wimbush) and two new coordinators (Chip Long on offense and Mike Elko on defense), there's plenty of new perspective and fresh blood in South Bend to right the ship. And apart from DeShone Kizer, the Irish didn't have a ton of big-name losses to their roster. Still, their defensive line was weak a year ago and doesn't look to have improved in a meaningful way, which will be a hurdle to any significant success.
Once the game is over, you have another week to kill in California. (You're welcome.) Spend it in wine country and San Francisco; you'll have no shortage of activities from vineyards to Alcatraz to a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you're looking for more outdoor activities other than imbibing, check out Muir Woods or one of the many beaches along the bay, or make friends with someone who owns a sailboat and cruise to Sausalito for lunch.
Saturday, Dec. 2: Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium
It's hard to say what's in store here beyond a trip to a well-done new NFL stadium. Our guess: Washington or Stanford against USC, with a playoff spot on the line.