After 10 years in the American Athletic Conference, UCF is finally moving up to the Power Five. With the Knights set to join the Big 12 in 2023, UCF fans are about to have a whole host of new road trip opportunities available to them.
Some are really cool. Some are really not. So, I decided to go ahead and do some research to rank the 11 destinations available to UCF fans in their new league. Factors I considered included travel to get there, weather, activities and events in the city and the actual game day experience.
I didn’t include Texas or Oklahoma since they’ll likely only be in the league with UCF for a year and are reportedly more likely to make a trip to Orlando than host the Knights.
Here are the definitive rankings of which Big 12 cities UCF fans should consider taking a trip to for a road game.
#1: Houston – Houston, Texas
UCF’s made five trips to Houston in the last 15 years, so there’s a good chance you’ve checked this city out already if you’re a big road game traveler. Getting there is super straight forward. It’s just a two-and-a-half-hour direct flight from Orlando.
Houston’s a big and really cool city with plenty to do. The food scene is vibrant and diverse. You’ll be able to get everything from true Texas barbecue to traditional Tex-Mex and great seafood. There are even real beaches nearby!
Outside of restaurants, bars and beaches, there are plenty of other activities. The Alamo Drafthouse is a unique place to watch a movie. You can check out the NASA Space Center, so UCF fans can make their comparisons to the Kennedy Space Center.
You’ve got the Rockets, Astros and Texans as potential pro sports to take in while you’re there. There really is something for everybody. Activities in the city span from indoor skydiving to guided fishing trips. You’ve got to love huge cities.
The one and only drawback for visiting Houston might be the actual game itself. TDECU stadium is not exactly known for its vibrant game day atmospheres. The Cougars went 12-2 last season, and the stadium was still mostly empty for almost every game.
The city is fantastic and there’s plenty to do, but don’t expect a true Big 12 road atmosphere when it’s game time.
#2: BYU – Provo, Utah
Unlike much of UCF’s new league, BYU is actually fairly close to a major city! The campus is a 50-minute drive from Salt Lake City’s airport, which is typically a five-hour flight.
You could opt to stay right by BYU in Provo, which has plenty of outdoor activities from rafting to hiking. The scenery is absolutely stunning around BYU’s campus, with the stadium literally sitting in the shadow of a snow-capped mountain.
But staying in nearby Salt Lake City and driving the 45-50 minutes to BYU on game day isn’t a bad option either. It’s a full-blown city, with plenty to do and see. You’ve got zoos, water parks, restaurants, bars and pretty much anything else you could ask of a big city.
And it’s all surrounded by great scenery. Not too bad of a destination at all.
On top of that, the stadium is massive and BYU fans bring the energy. A packed, buzzing stadium beneath a mountain is a pretty cool thing to experience.
#3: TCU – Fort Worth, Texas
The great thing about visiting TCU is that it’s truly the one of the few stops in the conference where you have access to a major metropolitan center in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The heart of Dallas is just about 30 minutes from TCU’s campus. It’s also an easy place to get to, with two-hour-and-45-minute direct flights from Orlando.
It’s a huge area, with nearly 8 million people living in DFW. That translates to all kinds of food, entertainment and activities.
If you’re interested in history, there’s a museum covering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Other museum options include the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, as well as the George W. Bush Presidential Library.
There is a beautiful botanical garden and some excellent sightseeing options as well. Local pro sports to check out include the Dallas Cowboys, Stars and Mavericks.
As far as food, everything from traditional delicious Texas brisket to southern cooking and international food is available. Options stretch from walk-up barbecue joints to the types of places you’ll need to make a reservation for months in advance (If you can’t tell from this list yet, I’m sort of obsessed with food).
Much like UCF, TCU’s stadium can get rocking when the team is good and should make for a fun game day experience if you’re visiting in a good year for the Horned Frogs.
#4: Cincinnati – Cincinnati, Ohio
This has been a regular road trip option for UCF fans for the last decade now, so you may already be familiar with Cincinnati. There are thankfully direct flights from Orlando, and it’s a pretty quick trip that usually lasts about two hours.
As you can see, Cincinnati’s one of the few major cities in the New Big 12 and it comes with all of the corresponding activities. You might be able to catch a Reds or Bengals game when you’re there depending on the schedule. The city has an excellent nightlife, from bars to good restaurants.
Skyline Chili is either a draw or a major negative depending on who you are. There’s also plenty of interesting museums and some good outdoor activities that range from riverboat cruises to parks and a zoo.
There’s pretty much something for everyone, so you’ve got a pretty good shot at having a nice trip. And again: a direct flight!!
#5: Baylor – Waco, Texas
As with many of the Big 12 destinations, actually getting to Waco is a bit complex. The city does have an airport, but there are no direct flights from Orlando. In fact, it’s difficult to find a flight plan that doesn’t include multiple layovers. You may be looking at up to 10 hours of travel time.
Your other option would be to take a two-hour-and-45-minute direct flight to Dallas, rent a car and drive an hour and a half to Waco. Either way, you’ve got a lot of travel in your future if you’re determined to see UCF take on Baylor in-person.
On the bright side, there are some actual things to do in Waco once you’ve made it there. You’ve got the obligatory city zoo and the Waco Mammoth National Monument, which has fossils from two dozen mammoths (I’m a bit of a paleontological nerd so I’m counting this as a cool thing to do. Deal with it).
Waco features bars, pubs and taprooms galore. There’s a decent downtown area and the city is also home to Magnolia Market, which any HGTV fan has probably heard of.
As far as food, there’s obviously good barbecue around and a surprisingly decent diversity of restaurants. There are certainly worse places to take a road trip to in this league.
#6: Kansas – Lawrence, Kansas
One of the biggest surprises for me researching this article was the realization that it’s actually not that difficult to travel to Lawrence.
You just have to fly into Kansas City (about a three-hour direct flight) and drive about 45 minutes to get there. As far as Big 12 destinations go, that’s really not bad.
Lawrence is certainly a small town, but the scenery is quite nice. You’ll have a good trip if you like spending time outdoors and don’t mind a more quiet vibe.
There is a natural history museum, and the Prairie Park Nature Center is a cool place to check out. But outside of that, there really just isn’t a lot to do. Think of this option as more of a quiet getaway that also includes a football game than the vibe you’d get in some of the bigger cities.
And, obviously, don’t expect an awesome game day atmosphere. Kansas has a decent-sized stadium (slightly larger than UCF’s) but the seats are rarely filled. But when travelling on the road to watch your team play, you can’t discount knowing that you’re almost guaranteed to watch UCF win.
#7: Kansas State – Manhattan, Kansas
Manhattan may be the most remote of any of the Big 12 cities. The nearest major airport (Kansas City) is over 100 miles away. But the town does have a small regional airport that you can get to with a connecting flight or two.
You’re looking at anywhere from six to eight hours of travel time taking that route, which is still probably better than the alternative of flying into Kansas City and then driving two hours.
Once you’re there, Manhattan is a college town through and through and the campus itself is undoubtedly the main attraction.
Once you’re in town, there are some areas to check out. There’s a popular downtown farmers market with all sorts of locally grown fresh foods and treats. Sort of unusually, there is also an insect zoo on Kansas State’s campus, located inside an old dairy barn. You just can’t make this stuff up.
A potential restaurant to try out is the Little Apple Brewing Company, which has been in downtown Manhattan for over 25 years and is a popular spot. There are naturally a number of outdoor activities, like Tuttle Creek State Park.
Kansas State’s campus is a nice spot and the games themselves can be fun. The stadium is a few thousand seats larger than UCF’s and is close to full most games. The weather is also nicer than I would’ve expected, with the average high remaining in the 70s through October.
You may want to skip this road game if it’s in November, though. The average high that month is just 55 and the low is 32.
#8: Texas Tech – Lubbock, Texas
Trying to figure out how to get from Orlando to Lubbock is maybe the first time I’ve truly appreciated how freaking huge Texas is. Lubbock does have an airport, but it’s going to take at least one stop (and often two) to get there.
Flights are all over the place. Some take you through Dallas, others through Denver. Your travel time will range anywhere from five hours to eight hours depending on the deal you take.
If you’re a Buddy Holly fan, then Lubbock is the place for you since many of its highest-rated attractions are related to the singer. You’ve got the Buddy Holly Center, The Buddy Holly Statue and a few other music-related spots.
You also apparently might want to check out Prairie Dog Town which, as the name implies, is basically a giant field of prairie dogs. The Cactus Theater is a nearly century-old venue that features a variety of live performances.
The food in Lubbock seems to be a bit all over the place and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of life-changing cuisine in the area, but there are some wineries and that’s something.
For game day, Texas Tech does have a big stadium (over 60,000 seats) that they frequently get good crowds for. It’s a rowdy environment and should make for a fun game. The rest of the city… leaves a lot to be desired.
#9: Iowa State – Ames, Iowa
Getting to Iowa State can be a bit tricky. You’ll have to fly into nearby Des Moines, which doesn’t offer direct flights from Orlando. You’ll likely be routed with a layover through Nashville or Atlanta.
Iowa State’s campus is then about a 45-minute drive from the airport, so you’ll need to be pretty committed to a Knights-Cyclones matchup to get through all that travel.
Ames is another one of the Big 12 cities that falls into the unfortunate category of “the college campus is probably the coolest thing in town.” There are a good number of bar and brewery options, so drinkers should at least be satisfied.
There are a handful of museums and some outdoor activities, but the weather could be an issue for Floridians. The high in October in Ames is just 63, and that drops to 48 in November. If UCF’s making this trip late in the schedule, you may want to pick another road game.
Iowa State’s campus is very pretty and you will be sure to experience a great game day atmosphere at least. Jack Trice Stadium seats nearly 62,000, and the stadium is typically rocking for every game. It’s not often that the Knights play in front of a hyped-up road crowd of that size.
But outside the campus and game itself… there’s just not a ton to do.
#10: Oklahoma State – Stillwater, Oklahoma
Travelling to Stillwater from Orlando isn’t the easiest task. Your best bet is to fly into Oklahoma City (about a three-hour flight) and then either rent a car or Uber to Stillwater, which is a little over an hour drive away.
And once you’re finally in Stillwater… there really isn’t much of anything to do. The main attraction of the town is seemingly Oklahoma State’s campus (never a good sign) and your activity options are pretty severely limited.
There’s a botanical garden and a zoo, so that’s something. Trip Advisor ranked a Japanese restaurant as the best spot to eat in town, which is mildly alarming given the nearest ocean is nearly 500 miles away.
The game day experience itself is pretty cool. With a 55,000-seat stadium and a rabid fanbase, Oklahoma State provides a heck of an atmosphere.
All in all, spending your vacation in Oklahoma City and just driving into Stillwater for the game is probably your best option.
#11: West Virginia – Morgantown, West Virginia
There are a couple different ways you can go about getting to Morgantown. There is a municipal airport, and you can get there from Orlando with a couple stops and some potentially lengthy layovers. You also could just take a two-hour-and-twenty-minute direct flight to Pittsburgh and then drive a little over an hour into Morgantown.
Trip Advisor’s top two attractions in Morgantown are the WVU campus and the WVU stadium, so that’s a pretty bad sign. Activities seem to be largely based on what you can do outdoors. There’s a nice farmer’s market as well as nature-related areas to check out like the WVU Arboretum or Dorsey’s Knob Park.
Food options are mostly limited to what you’d expect to find in a small town settled in a rural part of the country. Weather can also be a factor in the latter part of the season, with lows in the 30s and 40s in October and November.
The stadium itself seats 60,000 but attendance has been inconsistent the last few years. You may not know what type of atmosphere you’re going to get.
Add the game day vibe on top of the limited activities of the town, the potentially cold weather and the difficult travel to get there and a trip to Morgantown is probably not worth it with so many other more intriguing options.