The Big 12 is beginning its makeover for the 2023 college football season, but the conference will once again look different when Texas and Oklahoma depart for the SEC in 2024. This one “hybrid” season provides college football fans with even more travel opportunities inside the conference with 14 possible destinations before the Longhorns and Sooners join the SEC.
With four new schools (UCF, BYU, Houston and Cincinnati) joining the Big 12, this is a perfect time to plan a few road trips for the upcoming fall. You will have your own factors to consider when constructing a trip but here is the criteria for my rankings.
Cities with a close proximity to other potential sporting events received strong consideration. For example, several Big 12 teams present the opportunity to attend a college football game on a Saturday followed by the NFL on Sunday (assuming the schedules align). Texas and Oklahoma are high on the list given the opportunity for most Big 12 fanbases to see their team play in Austin or Norman will be much more challenging after this upcoming season.
What each city has to offer is also an important factor including potential outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, going to the beach, etc.), the food scene and things to do near the campus. Finally, both the quality of the current football team combined with the gameday atmosphere and traditions were considered.
We are using the term “road trip” loosely realizing most of these destinations will be reached via plane for the majority of fans. Be sure to leave your Big 12 travel rankings in the comments below.
Here are my power rankings of Big 12 college football destinations for 2023. It is time to hit the open road.
No. 1 Texas Longhorns (Austin): Tacos, Brisket & Football
This is your last year to visit Austin with the Longhorns as a member of the Big 12. Much has been made about how the Texas atmosphere stacks up with some of the more rabid venues, but Austin remains one of the more unique cities in the United States. The combination of seeing a game at the historic Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium while finding the best spots for tacos and brisket puts Texas atop the list.
As for the football, you will either get to watch Quinn Ewers or Arch Manning at quarterback. The one downside is the strength of Texas’ home schedule is not the greatest, especially given the rivalry matchup against Oklahoma is played at a neutral venue. Your best viewing options include BYU (October 28), Kansas State (November 4) and Texas Tech (November 24).
If your friends or family are up for a Thanksgiving road trip, you could spend the holiday in the Dallas area to watch the Cowboys annual NFL showdown at AT&T Stadium before driving to Austin for the Longhorns-Red Raiders season finale. The drive from Austin to the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a little more than three hours and can also be added to another week’s itinerary if the Cowboys are playing a home game.
No. 2 TCU (Fort Worth, Texas): The Ultimate Sports Trip With Cowboys, Mavericks & More
TCU finds itself a little higher on the list than a traditional season given it is coming off an appearance in the national championship game. The Horned Frogs’ ranking is bolstered by its proximity to Dallas which opens up the opportunity for an epic sports weekend with the presence of the Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers, FC Dallas and Stars depending on when your trip takes place.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area gives you the rare opportunity to pull off two sporting events in the same day. For example, attending a Horned Frogs Saturday afternoon game followed by a Mavericks contest at night.
Once the Cowboys schedule is revealed there will likely be some overlap allowing you to attend an NFL game at Jerry’s World as well. It also does not hurt that you are close to an excellent food scene in nearby Dallas with plenty of great barbecue and Tex-Mex options.
Your PRIME TCU viewing opportunities include the season opener versus Colorado (see what we did there) on September 2, West Virginia (September 30), BYU (October 14), Texas (November 11) and Baylor (November 18).
No. 3 Oklahoma (Norman): They’ll Be Gone Soon(ers)
Like Texas, Oklahoma is on their way out of the conference, so this is your last chance (at least in the Big 12) to see the Sooner Schooner wagon roll onto Memorial Stadium. Oklahoma City is less than an hour away if you want to watch a (hopefully healthy) Chet Holmgren and the Thunder when they are in town. For the particularly ambitious crowd, Norman is also a three-hour drive to Dallas which opens up more potential opportunities for additional sporting events during a long weekend.
As for which games to attend, Oklahoma’s October 21st matchup against UCF could get particularly spicy as quarterback Dillon Gabriel goes against his former team. It will also be UCF fans’ lone chance to visit Norman unless an out-of-conference game gets scheduled down the road. Some of Oklahoma’s marquee home games include Iowa State (September 30), West Virginia (November 11) and TCU (November 24).
No. 4 UCF (Orlando, FL): Bounce House, Beaches & Disney Magic
UCF is one of the more underrated college football gameday experiences, especially for marquee games. The Bounce House lives up to its nickname as the 45,000-seat stadium literally shakes as “Zombie Nation” is played. Walk down Memory Mall at your own peril, as many over-eager younger students have struggled to make it into the stadium for the game. After all, tailgating is a marathon not a sprint.
This new addition to the Big 12 will rank even higher for families given Orlando has many tourist attractions to offer. UCF’s campus is a short drive to amusement parks like Disney World and Universal Studios.
Do yourself a favor and spend some time in the downtown and Winter Park areas. You will get to experience some of the local culture if you grow tired of the 17 Applebee’s on I-Drive. The international district offers food from all over the world and can slide under the radar on things to do in Orlando.
UCF is also just an hour drive to the beaches (Cocoa and Ormond are good starting points). If the ocean is what you crave, it is feasible to stay beachside and commute for the game of your choice. With the Magic and Orlando City, there is also plenty of overlap to expand your sports weekend. Orlando City’s new soccer-specific stadium is a gem worth checking out and within walking distance to the Amway Center where the Magic play.
If the schedules align, UCF is also two hours away from the University of Florida in Gainesville and Raymond James Stadium where the Buccaneers call home if you are craving more football. UCF’s home schedule gets an upgrade from the old AAC slate of games headlined by visits from Baylor (September 30), West Virginia (October 28) and Oklahoma State (November 11).
No. 5 BYU: From the Slopes to Salt Lake City, It Provo(kes) a Utah Road Trip
BYU is another new addition to the Big 12 and does not disappoint with its road trip potential. Provo is less than one hour away from Salt Lake City which not only puts you near a big city, but allows for the potential to catch both BYU and Utah play football on the same weekend. Unfortunately, the 2023 schedules do not appear to align, but it is good to keep in mind for future football seasons.
Sadly, there is not an NFL team a reasonable distance away from BYU’s campus. Skip the NFL for one Sunday and hit the slopes with the best nearby ski offerings of any Big 12 school. You can still catch the Jazz (Salt Lake City) or Real Salt Lake (Sandy) play while you are in town.
Even if you are only attending a BYU game, the picturesque stadium nestled in the mountains makes for one of the most scenic venues in college football. If you are looking for the best 2023 matchups, Cincinnati (September 29), Texas Tech (October 21), Iowa State (November 11) and Oklahoma (November 18) headline the Cougars’ inaugural Big 12 home schedule.
No. 6 West Virginia: Skis, Steelers & a Weekend in Morgantown
College football is king in West Virginia with no pro sports teams in the state, but that does not mean your road trip cannot be equipped with plenty of other opportunities. The good news is the West Virginia campus is within driving distance of skiing locales with the Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline about a two-hour drive. The well-known Snowshoe is located three hours away from campus if you are up for a longer trip.
The one caveat here is that ski season generally peaks from December through March, but there are times in November when there is enough snow on the ground. This eliminates a good portion of the West Virginia football schedule. Your best opportunities for this upcoming season are home games against BYU (November 4) and Cincinnati (November 18).
Skiing aside, the campus is about an hour away from Pittsburgh giving your sports weekend plenty of pathways to morph into something bigger. The most obvious combination is seeing a Mountaineers game on a Saturday followed by the Steelers on Sunday. If the schedules align, there is also a golden opportunity for multiple college football games in one day allowing you to watch West Virginia and Pitt play on the same Saturday.
After more than a decade hiatus, the Backyard Brawl rivalry matchup between Pitt and West Virginia returned in 2022. This season, the Mountaineers play host to the Panthers on September 16 and highlights West Virginia’s schedule for 2023.
No. 7 Cincinnati: Bearcats, Bengals & Painting This Ohio Town Red(s)
Cincinnati re-emerged as a force in college football in recent years which makes Nippert Stadium a great place to watch a game. Luke Fickell helped return the program to greatness, but the Bearcats will now transition to the Big 12 without their longtime coach who moved on to Wisconsin during the offseason. Options abound for making your time in Ohio an epic sports weekend.
Cincinnati is a major sports town allowing you to catch star quarterback Joe Burrow lead the Bengals or head to the ballpark for a Reds game. You can also attend an FC Cincinnati match in the team’s brand new soccer-specific stadium.
There are other college football options as Cincy is about an hour and a half away from Ohio State. If the kickoff times cooperate, you could catch the Bearcats during the afternoon and head to Columbus to see the Buckeyes at night. Cincinnati’s new Big 12 schedule is strong with home games against Oklahoma (September 23), Iowa State (October 14), Baylor (October 21) and UCF (November 4) headlining the 2023 slate of games.
No. 8 Oklahoma State (Stillwater): Eskimo Joe’s, Pistol Pete & a Thriving College Football Atmosphere
If we were just ranking destinations based on the college football gameday atmosphere, Oklahoma State would be much higher on the list. The challenge with Stillwater is the fans have limited options to extend the sports weekend, but we strongly co-sign looking for a weekend where you may be able to combine Cowboys and Sooners games.
The two rival campuses are about one hour and thirty minutes apart meaning you could catch both teams on the same day if they are alternating afternoon and night kickoffs. Tulsa is also an option given it is a one hour drive away from Stillwater.
Oklahoma State’s campus is worth checking out and home to some of the biggest squirrels I have ever seen. Eskimo Joe’s is an iconic restaurant and fans of the establishment have been spotted wearing the shirts all over the world. I’m partial to the cheese fries and a big fan of the plastic cups they let you keep with your drinks.
Boone Pickens Stadium has one of the closest distances between the stands and the field in the country making you feel on top of the game. Attending an Oklahoma State night game is still on my bucket list, and the school gets bonus points for the Pistol Pete logo being one of the best in college sports. Oklahoma City is also in driving distance making it possible to catch a Thunder basketball game as part of your weekend festivities.
No. 9 Houston: A Pro Sports Weekend Dream in Texas
It feels criminal to put Houston so low given you have so many sports options in the city for your weekend. Houston is home to the Astros, Rockets, Texans and Dynamo FC. The city is also one of the best food locales in the country not only with tasty barbecue but a huge international scene.
Houston may give you the most available sporting events for your trip to Texas. The school’s basketball program is back on top and also worth checking out as one of the best programs in the country.
There are a number of great 2023 home games for the Cougars football team including TCU (September 16), West Virginia (October 12), Texas (October 21) and Oklahoma State (November 18). If you are looking to do a road trip to different Texas sporting events, Houston’s matchup against West Virginia on October 12 is a Thursday and could be a launching point for an extended weekend in the Lone Star State.
The addition of former college football stars C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson suddenly makes a Texans game much more appealing. The challenge for the Cougars is the actual gameday atmosphere is hard to compete with some of the other schools on this list.
No. 10 Baylor: Everything to Gaine(s) in Waco
If these were rankings put together solely for couples, Baylor would be higher on this list thanks to Joanna and Chip Gaines. Waco has become a travel destination thanks to the former HGTV “Fixer Upper” television stars. The couple has created their own Magnolia complex in Waco full of restaurants and shops. You can also drive around Waco to see some of the houses featured on their signature shows.
The main challenge with Baylor is the university is the signature part of the city, and you will need to make a drive to see any other sporting events during the same weekend. Depending on traffic, it is about a one hour and a half drive from Waco to see the Cowboys play at AT&T Stadium.
This also puts you in striking distance to see other Dallas pro sports teams including the Mavericks and Rangers. It is possible to see two of TCU, Baylor and Texas play on the same day if there are alternating early and late kickoffs.
The beautiful McLane Stadium opened in 2014 providing an appealing gameday atmosphere. Baylor’s marquee home games include Utah (September 9), Texas (September 23), a 2014 Fiesta Bowl rematch against UCF (September 30), Iowa State (October 28) and West Virginia (November 25).
No. 11 Iowa State: Ames-ing for a College Football Weekend With the Cyclones & Hawkeyes
Iowa State could prove to be the launching point for a great college football weekend. What the state lacks in pro sports, it more than makes up for with two enticing college football environments in Ames and Iowa City.
Head to Ames on September 9 to see the two rivals square off for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Aside from the rivalry matchup, there are several weekends of overlap where both schools are hosting home games. Dancing between the two on the same day will depend on the kickoff times. Both schools have home games on September 2, October 7 and November 18, so fingers crossed the times will align in your favor.
The highlights of Iowa State’s home schedule include Iowa (September 9), Oklahoma State (September 23), TCU (October 7) and Texas (November 18). Head coach Matt Campbell has built Iowa State into a consistent threat in the Big 12 and the Cyclones have a particularly enticing home schedule for 2023.
No. 12 Kansas State: Catching the Big 12 at the Little Apple
Kansas State would be higher if we were only ranking college football atmospheres as the Wildcats have a long history of being a great watch dating back to Bill Snyder’s track jacket. A weekend with the Wildcats presents a few logistical challenges if you are looking to do more than catch a college football game, but we didn’t come this far just to come this far.
If you are willing to do a bit of driving, you can stack a few more sporting events into your weekend in Kansas. The Chiefs and Royals are about a two-hour drive from campus into Kansas City. Heading up to Lincoln for a Nebraska game is slightly farther if you are willing to drive.
Make sure to have a strong rental car option in case you opt to make either drive and enjoy the small-town feel of Manhattan. Some of the top options at Bill Snyder Family Stadium include UCF (September 23), TCU (October 21) and Baylor (November 11).
No. 13 Kansas: Rock Chalk Patrick Mahomes
Lawrence does not offer a lot of additional options outside of the Jayhawks, but you are within striking distance of Kansas City. Head coach Lance Leipold has helped Kansas dig out from the bottom of the Big 12 emerging as one of the surprise stories of 2022.
There are a few advantages of being in Lawrence itself including the Cradle of Basketball museum which explores the city’s rich history with the sport. It is definitely worth checking out, and if you wait until later in the fall you can try to add a Jayhawks basketball game to your itinerary boasting one of the best atmospheres in the country.
Kansas City is less than one hour away meaning you could set up shop for the weekend in K.C. and drive over to Lawrence on gameday. Attending Jayhawks and Chiefs games in the same weekend is more than doable and you will get bonus points for adding in some college basketball action as well. Let’s call Kansas football the appetizer while ending the weekend watching Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champs at Arrowhead Stadium is the entree.
As for the Jayhawks, some of the marquee home games include BYU (September 23), UCF (October 7), Oklahoma (October 28), Texas Tech (November 11) and Kansas State (November 18).
No. 14: Texas Tech: Let’s Get Weird in Lubbock
Things tend to get weird during night games in Lubbock. Just see the 2008 Texas-Texas Tech matchup as a prime example of the Lubbock factor with late coaching legend Mike Leach’s squad pulling off the notable upset to shakeup the college football season. While the Red Raiders promise an electric atmosphere, the chances of putting together a complete sports weekend is slim with the majority of major cities with pro sports team not in driving distance.
Texas Tech should still be on the bucket list to see a college football game, but you will have to find some non-sports activities if you are hoping to enjoy an extended stay in Lubbock. One appealing matchup is Texas Tech hosting Oregon star quarterback Bo Nix and the Ducks on September 9. Other notable 2023 home games include Kansas State (October 14) and TCU (November 2).
is a sports and news contributor based in Atlanta, Georgia. Jonathan has had exclusive interviews with a number of the top athletes in the world. He graduated from UCF with a Master of Sport Business Management degree and has worked inside the industry in a variety of capacities in the sports world. Follow him on Twitter @JonDAdams.
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