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O/NSO: Ranking the 2021 USC fans road trips edition

The Obvious: With the USC Trojans announcing last week that the Coliseum will return to full capacity (77,500) for the 2021 home schedule and Trojans’ opponents releasing similar statements of full capacity at their stadiums, USC football fans can actually begin making plans for not only attending home games but those fun and exciting road trips, as well.


The Not So Obvious: So, as a public service, the O/NSO ranks the 2021 road trips for you and provides a little insight and comments that may help sort out this whole travel cardinal and gold mosaic. We’ll rank the road trips from worst to first rather than take the “roadies” in scheduled order. As a primer, the actual scheduled sequence of road trips includes Washington State (Sept. 18), Colorado (Oct. 2), Notre Dame (Oct. 23), Arizona State (Nov. 6), and Cal (Nov. 13). Now to the our rankings…


The Obvious: In the third game of the 2021 season, the Trojans’ first road trip is at Washington State (Pullman, Washington) on Saturday, Sept. 18, with the announced kickoff at 12:30 p.m. (PT).

The Washington State campus (photo above) in Pullman is tucked away in what is called “The Palouse Country.” Notice the farmland beyond the campus.

The Not So Obvious: Unlike many others, the O/NSO enjoys making the journey to Washington State. If you’re staying in Spokane, it’s about an hour and a half drive to the campus of the Cougars and Martin Stadium, but it’s a relaxing commute and a very pretty excursion with quaint little wheat fields, farm animals, and the tranquil feeling of middle America. The Trojans haven’t played in The Great Palouse in a while (2017), so if you like beautiful scenery, this could be your nirvana. Playing in early September is really a nice time to go on this junket, and the weather should be comfortable…even by Pullman standards. There is nothing like driving through the little town of Colfax and its famous cigar store Indian, but you’d better adhere to the slow speed zone as it’s a renowned speed trap.

Airport access to Washington State: You have two options. You can fly into Spokane and drive to Pullman, or you can fly into western Idaho and make a much lesser drive. The drive from the Spokane airport is around two hours. The Trojans team has traditionally stayed across the Washington state line in Idaho. Again, if you don’t want to make the long but pretty drive from Spokane, fly into Idaho and stay on the state border.

Stadium: Martin Stadium (32,952)
Seating Chart:

Ticket info: 1-800-GO-COUGS (Monday – Friday; 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) or wsucougars.com.

Projected Pullman Weather Forecast: The average weather for Pullman in the month of September is a warm high of 73 and a low of 51 degrees.

Martin Stadium (photo above), Home of the Washington State Cougars, is a great place to watch a college football game because of its limited capacity and the proximity of the stands to the field.

Pros: If you like the great outdoors and a totally relaxing setting, then you might want to strongly consider making this trip to Eastern Washington. There are some interesting options of flying into Spokane, once home to the Dodgers Triple-A farm club, and having a very rural feel on one side of the city and on the other side of “the bridge” heralded Gonzaga University, which is really a beautiful campus. Having stayed in Spokane on one USC road trip, I found it interesting. The other option is to stay in Idaho along the Washington border. There are hotels that are really a stone’s throw from the Pullman campus. I kind of liked staying in Idaho because it was close to Martin Stadium, and the drive back to the hotel from the stadium at night was easy. Because of its small capacity, seeing a game at Martin Stadium is like being in a standout junior college stadium, you’re up-close and personal to the action on the field.    

Cons: Objectively speaking, many don’t like this road trip because Pullman seems so out of the way and in the middle of nowhere. If you’re looking for an exhilarating night life either in Spokane or Pullman, this isn’t your type of road trip. There are parts of Spokane that are really trashy and uninviting, so if you’re staying in Spokane, find a hotel near Gonzaga or near the airport that is located out of the general area. As for staying in Idaho, well, there are some descent hotels, but a lot of them look like a Travel Lodge if you get my drift. If you’re not the curious or adventurous type, save your money for a road game on the schedule that provides a lot more city sizzle.

Comments: It’s been a while since the Men of Troy have made this junket. Washington State’s football program is still in the rebuilding stage under second-year head coach Nick Rolovich, and a win in the Palouse Country should be a lot easier to attain than during the previous Mike Leach era. That being said, there’s no major drawback in going to see a game at Washington State, and if you’ve never been to this part of Washington, it will really open your eyes to the Pac-12 footprint.  


The Obvious: In the fifth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans second road trip is at Colorado (Boulder, Colorado) on Saturday, Oct. 2, with the kickoff time TBA.

Nothing like the beauty of Boulder (photo above), and the gorgeous mountains in the backdrop, especially when it has snowed.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO has made a couple of trips to Boulder and Folsom Field, and Trojans fans will be pleased the game is in very early October. Last time the Trojans played in Boulder (2019), it was mighty cold with some snow on the ground. However, that game was played in late October. Some words of advice on this one, decide whether you want to stay and make the drive from Denver or make the short drive if you are staying in or the surrounding areas of Boulder. One major fact on game day: If you don’t get there early, it’s difficult to find a place to park.    

Airport access to CU: By car from Denver International – 45 minutes to an hour without traffic. Use the toll road expressway if possible.

Stadium: Folsom Field (50,183)
Seating Chart:

Ticket info: 303-492-8337

Projected Boulder October Weather Forecast: The average weather for Boulder in the month of October is a high of 71 and a low of 45 degrees.

Folsom Field (photo above), Home of the Colorado Buffaloes, will host the Trojans on October 2.

Pros: Most folks stay in Denver because there are some nightlife options. In addition, you can go out of town and take a tour of its beer manufacturers, which means free samples! Again, if skiing is your deal (Vail and Aspen), there are some good options. Since the game is being played in mid-October, the weather should be tolerable…knock on wood.

Cons: We also think that the Colorado campus is a bit overrated. Yes, the school is backed up close to the mountains, but it’s not like you haven’t seen snow on mountains before.  Don’t expect a massive throng of USC fans to show up for this one because it could be really chilly heading into the fourth quarter.  This baby can be financially costly, and attention should be paid to whether the return is as good as the investment.

Comments: Honestly, this one doesn’t come highly recommended unless you include Aspen and/or Vail as part of your itinerary. If you’re planning on staying the weekend in Denver, it should be noted for you NFL fans that the Broncos are home that weekend and host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.


The Obvious: In the tenth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans actual third road game is at Cal (Berkeley, Calif. – The Bay Area Weekender) on Saturday, Nov.13, with the kickoff time TBA.

While the game against the Cal Bears is played in Berkeley, most USC fans spend the “Bay Area Weekender” hanging out in San Francisco (photo above) and its across the Golden Gate Bridge and its surrounding communities.

The Not So Obvious game information: It’s the Bay Area Weekender, and USC fans love that extended weekend in the San Francisco area. Having not had a Bay Area Weekender last season (against Stanford), you can bet that if COVID can stay away, fans will be making up for lost time. Aside from the usual fun spots, the big key for this Berkeley game is the kickoff time. Most Trojans fans will be hoping (praying?) that the kickoff is not at night when it could get quite chilly. Getting out of Berkeley can be rather lengthy (2 hrs.). However, if the game kicks off earlier in the afternoon and the weather is good, it’s generally a great place to watch a college football game.  

Airport access to Cal: By car without traffic – 30 minutes from Oakland International.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (62,467)
Seating Chart: https://seatgeek.com/usc-trojans-at-california-golden-bears-football-tickets/ncaa-football/2021-11-13-3-30-am/5373489

Ticket info: 800-GOBEARS                                                                           

Projected Berkeley November Weather Forecast: In mid-November, the high averages 66 degrees and with a low of 47 degrees.

With Tightwad Hill in the background, Cal’s Memorial Stadium (photo above) is a great place to watch an afternoon college football game.

Pros: There are worse things to do than spend a weekend in the Bay Area, and the atmosphere for the Friday night USC pep rally in downtown San Francisco can really get your cardinal and gold juices flowing. Again, on game day, it all depends on the time of day for kickoff and the precipitation. A daytime game at Cal under ideal weather conditions is delightful, but an evening game can be a chilly and sometimes wind challenged. You want honesty, right? With some skillful financial consideration, you can make this a big money trip on a relatively small budget.  

Cons: The stadium is located up on a hill and for those of you not in shape, it can be very challenging. Parking is a disaster, and even the media has to be shuttled in from down the hill. Getting in and out after a game can be a nightmare, so you might want to consider taking the BART. And then there is the annoying cannon on Tightwad Hill that gets shot off after every Cal score. It can be quite startling. And the concessions at the stadium can make the Coliseum look like Beverly Hills restaurant row on La Cienega.   

Comments: Depending on the weather, playing a game in “Strawberry Canyon” can be a picture postcard. If it’s a clear day, from the top of Memorial Stadium you can see the San Francisco Bay and the city. And if it’s really clear, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep your fingers crossed in terms of the kickoff time; it can really make an impact on your enjoyment. If you don’t want to pay for the game, you can try and hike up to “Tightwad Hill” and watch the game for free and get some national TV exposure. If you’re planning on staying the weekend in San Francisco, it should be noted for you NFL fans that the 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night, Nov 15.

Ranking – No. 2

The Obvious: In the ninth game of the 2021 season, the Trojans actual fifth road trip game is at Arizona State (Tempe, Arizona) on Saturday, Nov. 6, with the kickoff time TBA.

Tempe (photo above) is a college community next to Phoenix that will welcome Trojan fans for the ASU game on Nov. 9.

The Not So Obvious: First, we ranked this trip ahead of the Bay Area Weekender only because most experts agree the game at ASU may decide the Pac-12 South Division championship, and that has to be taken into account. You have a couple of options here for travel. Depending where you call home, you can drive or fly. The O/NSO has done both, and the drive from my condo in Orange County is around five hours depending on traffic.If you choose to fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, it’s a stone’s throw to Tempe. There are a number of ways to cut costs, but remember that Sun Devil Stadium has reduced its capacity (see below) and has become a more intimate setting to watch a college football game.

Airport access to ASU: From Sky Harbor airport by car – 25 minutes.

Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (53,599)
Seating Chart: https://seatgeek.com/usc-trojans-at-arizona-state-sun-devils-tickets/ncaa-football/2021-11-06-3-30-am/5373504

Ticket info: 480-727-0000

Projected Tempe November Weather Forecast: The average temperature for a November game in the Phoenix area is a high of 80 and a low of 56 degrees.

Sun Devil Stadium (photo above) can be a comfortable venue to watch the Trojans and ASU, especially when the game is played at night in early November. ASU hosts the Men of Troy on Nov. 6.

Pros: It’s a short airplane trip from any Southland airport, and Tempe and Phoenix have a lot to offer. There are some real options at night in Tempe, especially on Mill Street where the night before and on game day brings the college football crowd. There are also plenty of dining options and hangouts. Plus, being played in November, it figures that the game will be comfortable either during the day or night.

Cons: Weather will have a say in your comfort zone. If you sit high in the stadium, the desert wind can become quite uncomfortable and once the sun goes down, it can get quite chilly. Keep your fingers crossed on what time is kickoff. Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL are out of town, so make note of that when making your travel itinerary if you thought about watching the Cards.

Comment: The overall trip is affordable, and Tempe is a fine college town. Friday night rocks on Mill Avenue and then again on game day. However, the overall experience can really depend on the heat or cold at kickoff time. 


The Obvious: In the seventh game of the 2021 season, the Trojans actual third road trip is at Notre Dame (South Bend, Ind. – The Notre Dame Weekender) on Saturday, Oct. 23, with kickoff time at 7:30 p.m (ET).

For many USC fans, the Notre Dame Weekender is time spent partying and doing touristy stuff in Chicago (photo above) before and after the game.

Not surprisingly, the Notre Dame Weekender ranks as the O/NSO’s No. 1 USC road trip for fans because of the many offerings of fun, food, and entertainment of downtown Chicago, which rests next to the beauty of mammoth Lake Michigan.

The Not So Obvious: Folks, this is the mother of all road trips regardless of the yearly schedules. They don’t call it the Notre Dame Weekender for nothing, and it more than lives up to its reputation. If all goes according to plan, you will be joined by thousands of cardinal and gold fans in Chicago if you don’t choose to stay in the South Bend area, which can be quite expensive, thanks to the limited number of hotels in the area (those local hotels know they can get what they are asking). Don’t forget that Notre Dame fans also come from all over the country, as well, so they contribute to supply and demand. If you want to stay in the South Bend area, expect to pay $300 dollars or more a night. Some USC fans stay across the Michigan/Indiana border, which is just minutes north of the ND campus. 

Airport access to ND: By car without traffic – Chicago O’Hare (2 hrs), Chicago Midway (1 hr. 20 min.), South Bend Airport (10 min.)

Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795)
Seating Chart: https://seatgeek.com/usc-trojans-at-notre-dame-fighting-irish-football-tickets/ncaa-football/2021-10-23-1-pm/5337586

Ticket info: 574-631-7356

Projected South Bend October Weather Forecast: The average temperatures for an October game in the South Bend area is a high of 59 and a low of 43 degrees. Legendary Notre Dame Stadium will again feature the Trojans and the Irish in a night game, which gets quite cold as the game rolls from one quarter to the next.

For college football fans, there’s nothing like watching a game at storied Notre Dame Stadium (photo above), and the Trojans will be doing that on Oct. 23.

Pros: Although costly, this road trip is the best of the best, a premier experience for this or any other season for that matter and a true bucket list item for all Trojans fans. The Notre Dame Weekender normally begins in Chicago with great restaurants, shopping along Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile, and the Friday noon pep rally at The Navy Pier alongside stunning Lake Michigan. On Saturday, it’s mostly a pretty ride along autumn trees into South Bend and the Notre Dame campus, which more than lives up to all the hype. This is more than a game; it’s an event! Notre Dame Stadium is truly awesome and so is the entire campus, which is like a movie set (again think Rudy). In fact, go watch Rudy before you leave your home. For first-timers, you’re going to be blown away either by the Chicago wind or the beauty of the ND campus.

Cons: It’s now a traditional night game, and you’d better have plenty of warm clothes. If you choose to stay in Chicago and go to the game on Saturday, remember that there is a one-hour time difference between Chicago, which is on Central time, while South Bend is on Eastern Time. Getting out of Notre Dame at the conclusion of night game means that you probably won’t get back to your Chicago hotel until 1:30 a.m. at the earliest. Our advice is don’t try to be a hero and drive yourself back to Chicago late at night since you’ll be tired, and your mood will probably be predicated on the game’s results. Try finding a hotel room in the South Bend area (not easy if you are on a budget). Either way, the only way to avoid those endless toll roads between Chicago and South Bend is by either a round trip USC rooters bus or taking the train. They tell me either way is generally a good mode of transportation – especially after a night game.

Comment: There isn’t really much more to say regarding the Notre Dame Weekender other than to say it’s No. 1 on our list, and those who have experienced it will totally agree. It’s a bucket list item not to be missed and don’t worry about saving money. Enjoy it for all that it is – USC vs Notre Dame!

The Obvious: And finally, so, there you have it, the O/NSO rankings of the five road excursions.

The Not So Obvious: You may not agree with all the rankings – comparing Tempe and Berkeley, but you won’t get much or any debate on our No. 1 choice – The Notre Dame Weekender – so case closed and end of discussion.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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