2018 – Best Of List

The 2018 season has now completed and it’s time to look back on Year 1 of the College Football Road Trip. There were some beautiful venues and a couple really fun games along the way.  Let’s take a look back at some of my favorites!

Top 5 Games of 2018

5. Toledo at Western Michigan: Toledo 51 – Western Michigan 24

Waldo Stadium

This game took me a little by surprise. Western Michigan was undefeated in MAC play entering this game and Toledo was only 1-2.  The Western Michigan defense ended up being on their heels the entire night. The first half was a back and forth affair.  Both teams scored on their first possessions and you thought this could end up being a shoot out.  Western Michigan scored a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the first half to bring them within 3 at 20-17, but then somehow let Toledo go down far enough to hit a 45-yard field goal as time expired to take a 23-17 lead into the break.

That last second field goal just took away the momentum from Western Michigan going into the second half. Toledo had a new quarterback, Eli Peters, come in due to injury and he sparked the Rockets. Toledo scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to start the second half to pull away. Western Michigan scored once more at the end of the third quarter, but the game was over by then. Toledo scored the only points of the fourth quarter to account for the final score.

4. Western Michigan at Central Michigan: Western Michigan 35 – Central Michigan 10

This was one of the more miserable games I have ever been to, weather-wise. With about ten minutes left in the pre-game, a large shower came by with some heavy sleet mixed in with the rain. You had to look away from the field to keep the ice from hitting you in the face.  On top of that, five minutes into the game they announced a lightning strike hit within eight miles of the stadium and we had to evacuate into the concourse area. Thankfully, once the game resumed the heavy rain and sleet had moved by. There was still seem light rain and sleet that came through once or twice during the game, but nothing as bad as the first round.

As for the game itself, Western Michigan pretty much owned this game from start to finish.  They jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead. Central Michigan did try to make a game of it in the third quarter. They scored ten points, to pull within 21-10, and got the ball back to try to pull even closer. But on that drive, quarterback Tommy Lazzaro threw an interception, and Western Michigan then drove down for another score. Western Michigan scored once more in the fourth to come to the final score.

3. Rice at Hawaii: Hawaii 43 – Rice 29

This ended up being a very exciting game. Hawaii came in with a 2-0 record and coming off a big win over Navy at home. Rice was 1-1, coming off a loss to cross-town rival Houston, where they competed but fell.  As in prior games, Hawaii went out to a big lead thanks to a dynamic offense. The run and shoot is back!

But Rice would come back in the second half to make it competitive. After trailing 28-13 at the end of the third quarter Rice scored a safety then took the ensuing punt down for a touchdown to pull within 28-22. Hawaii then did just enough the rest of the game to win 43-29.

2. Oklahoma at Iowa State: Oklahoma 37 – Iowa State 27

Jack Trice Stadium

After a huge upset in Norman the year prior, Oklahoma came into the game looking to put in a much better performance. At first this looked possible after pulling off to an early 10-0 lead after the first quarter. But, just as in the prior year, Iowa State refused to go away. On the first play from scrimmage after kicking a field goal, Iowa State recovered a fumble from Grant Calcaterra. On the very next play Hakeem Butler caught a pass for a 51-yard touchdown and the score was suddenly tied again at 10.

Oklahoma scored two more touchdowns before the half to take a 24-10 lead into the break. In the second half Iowa State continued to fight.  They were able to pull to within seven three different times but could not get in closer to that. Oklahoma wins the game 37-27.

1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State 45 – West Virginia 41

Rushing the field!

Like most Big 12 games of the 2018 season, this game was a high scoring shoot out. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been to live. The fact that I was fan neutral, I believe, let me soak in the game and the atmosphere even more.  Already up 21-14 late in the first half, West Virginia was able to score ten points in the final 1:17 of the half to take a 31-14 lead into the break. About a quarter of the crowd appeared to leave at half time and they missed out on a great final half of play.  Oklahoma State held West Virginia scoreless in the third quarter and pulled back to 31-24.  Both teams scored at will in the fourth quarter, but with 42 seconds remaining in the game, Taylor Cornelius threw an 11-yard pass to Tylan Wallace to take their first lead of the game at 45-41. Even with that little time, West Virginia took the ball down to the OSU 14-yard line with one second remaining.  On the last play of the game the pass to the end zone was incomplete and Oklahoma State completed a great comeback to pull the upset.  The students rushed the field in celebration.

Top 5 Stadiums of 2018

5. Kelly/Shorts Stadium – Central Michigan

Outdoor scoreboard at Kelly/Shorts stadium

With a combination of the poor weather, along with Central Michigan’s 1-6 record going into the game, the attendance for this game was very poor. The student section was basically non-existent, especially after the lightning delay. The stadium itself was a little run down, but not too bad. The seating area and the concourse areas were both pretty nice. One thing that did seem fairly dated was the scoreboard. They had one small video board on the north end of the stadium that appeared to have seen better days. It had some issues with clarity and contrast, plus it was hard to hear the sounds that came from the videos that were played. The stadium served basic ballgame fare.  Along with the normal concession stands, they did have a fresh kettle corn stand where they popped various flavors fresh. They also had a small Domino’s pizza stand.

4. Aloha Stadium – Hawaii

Aloha Stadium is probably best known for being home to the Pro Bowl, but it is also the home stadium for the University of Hawaii. I am not a big fan of stadiums that are off campus, but in general I felt this stadium worked. Aloha Stadium holds up to 50,000 people. The stadium as a whole was a little worn down. You can tell it has been a while since there has been some major maintenance done.  They had a moderate sized video board over the North end zone and a basic scoreboard over the South end zone. There were a couple nice things about the stadium though including having individual seats instead of bench seating, which made the seats very comfortable. Also, one thing I found very cool was the open areas they had on a couple of the concourses. They had tables where people could sit and eat and they also had a live band playing before the game.

3. Waldo Stadium – Western Michigan

Player tunnel at Waldo Stadium

Waldo Stadium was a very nice stadium, that had a fairly modern feel to it. It has a seating capacity of 30,200. The stadium was less than half full for the game, probably because the game was on a Thursday night as opposed to the usual Saturday kick-off. The stadium had three video screens, two on the north side of the stadium on each side of the athletic stadium building and one on the south side of the stadium. The player tunnel to the field also was open to the concourse.  That means before the game the players would walk out of the indoor football center to the concourse and then cross the concourse to enter the field through the tunnel.

The one thing that Waldo Stadium did not have was a wide variety of concessions. They had the normal concessions stands serving the normal hot dogs, along with a lot of barbecue chicken dishes (sandwiches and nachos). But there were not really any other types of concessions along the concourses. The other interesting thing is the stadium only sold bottled drinks, they did not serve any fountain drinks. This might be the first stadium I’ve been to that did that.

2. Jack Trice Stadium – Iowa State

Outside Jack Trice Stadium

Jack Trice stadium was a great venue for a football game with a seating capacity of 61,500. The stadium was virtually full for this early kickoff. The majority of the stadium had bench seating though there was some individual seats in the two end zone areas for the club areas for donors.  On the north corners of the stadium there were also a couple green hilly areas where families could come with blankets and enjoy the game with a general admission. The south end zone hosts the new Sukup end zone club that opened in 2015. This area includes a huge concourse area for donors which is also the one area of the stadium that served beer.

The concourses at Jack Trice stadium were very nice. There were plenty of concession options all around the stadium. A majority of the concessions had a ‘State Fair’ type feel to them, which seemed to fit in perfectly with Iowa. They had locations with corn dogs, tenderloin sandwiches, funnel cakes, and root beer floats. The only thing that seemed to take away from the stadium compared to some larger stadiums is there was only one concourse where all people were forced to go. That made it very difficult to walk around during the rush at half time. Since it was such a hot day, everybody made a rush to the concession stands and you had to maneuver your way through the crowds and had many people cutting through lines to get around. With that exception though, I was extremely impressed with how nice Jack Trice stadium was all around. This was a very fun stadium to enjoy a game day at!

1. Boone Pickens Stadium – Oklahoma State

View from seat at Boone Pickens Stadium

The Boone Pickens stadium renovation was completed back in 2009 and it has become a very nice stadium.  The stadium has a capacity of 56,790.  The stadium was approximately 80% full at kickoff.  A cold front came through during the came so temperatures dropped from 65 degrees at kickoff down to 50 degrees by the start of the fourth quarter.

The one thing I felt Oklahoma State did very well was their multimedia presentation throughout the entire game.  Music and videos seemed to flow seamlessly throughout the entire game. There is a giant video board on the east end of the stadium on the outside of Gallagher-Iba arena.  There are two additional small video boards on the east side of the stadium and two additional ones on the northwest and southwest corners.

There was a large variety of concessions sold at the game.  There were stands for Down Home BBQ, Slim Chickens, Freddy’s Steakburgers, Chick-Fil-A, Aspen Coffee, and Pizza Hut. They also sold beer throughout the stadium. This was the first college stadium I attended that sold beer to the public and not just in the donor lounge. (Aloha Stadium did sell beer, but it is not an on-campus stadium.)

Top 5 Campuses of 2018

5. Hawaii

University of Hawaii Campus

My first thoughts of the Hawaii campus were from driving past to the dorms to one of the visitor parking garages. I first noticed how many mopeds were being driven. I don’t think I had seen so many mopeds at one time. Beyond that, the campus did not have a feel of a big college campus. As many of the other buildings in Honolulu, a majority of the buildings were open aired buildings. The union building also felt a little dated. On top of that, the fact that it was near 90 degrees with a very high humidity made it very uncomfortable, especially with many places not having air conditioning. But, if you’re going to the University of Hawaii for college, the building on campus aren’t going to be your major selling point anyway.

4. Western Michigan

Western Michigan library

The Western Michigan campus is a typical college campus with nothing extraordinary in place.  In fact, while visiting the campus bookstore in the student union I asked the students working there if there was anything on campus I should try to visit while I was there.  They both responded, “No. There really isn’t anything special about our campus.”  They did mention there were a couple of nice fountains on campus, but they had already been turned off for the winter.

The student union did seem a little run down, especially compared to the Central Michigan campus I visited the week prior.  Downstairs they had a few dining selections like a Subway, Biggby coffee, and a K-Zoo Coney Island.

3. Central Michigan

Central Michigan seal

The Central Michigan campus is a compact, but pretty campus just south of the downtown Mount Pleasant area. All the people I talked to were very friendly and most of the facilities seemed very updated.  There were several large fountains throughout the campus, and I did like the arch that was over the Southern entrance to campus.

I was also able to get a peek inside McGurik arena, where the basketball teams play. Since they had a live practice going on at the time I was not allowed to take photos, but it was a very nice arena and the entire athletic facility looked very modern with a major renovation that occurred during the 2009-2010 season.

The Central Michigan union had a fairly modern feel to it, especially in the Down Under food court.  They had areas with pizza, burritos, pasta, burgers, and even sushi.  All of the food was made with fresh ingredients and made to order. I went with a half Wally pizza which had a basil pesto sauce, along with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. It was very tasty and high quality for a campus dining facility.

2. Oklahoma State

Christmas lights outside Oklahoma State Union

Although I have been to Stillwater a few times before, this was my first time to spend time on the actual Oklahoma State campus. I have always heard that it was very pretty and I would have to agree. My first stop was the visitor’s center which had a couple horse statues outside to welcome potential students.  Right next to the visitor’s center is Old Central which is the oldest building on campus and the first permanent building built in 1894. Today, the building houses the Honors College.

The next stops on campus were the library that student union.  They were just starting to put up some of the Christmas decorations outside both locations. In front of the library was a fountain that was shut off for the winter, but is famous for being colored orange during homecoming week. Inside the union was also very nice. They had a wide variety of places to eat including Baja Fresh, Chick-Fil-A, and a Johnny Rockets, including full 50’s decor.

The other nice place on campus is Theta Pond.  It is a fairly small pond, but with its fountains and mature trees was a very relaxing place to sit for a few minutes. There were also a few students out feeding some ducks that were on the pond as well. It made for a very nice way to end the visit on campus.

1. Iowa State

Iowa State University

I was blown away by how beautiful the Iowa State campus is. Everything is spaced out enough so that in the middle you have plenty of green space, trees, and even a large pond in one area of campus.  They had a clock tower in the middle of it all that would play various songs throughout the day.

The Memorial Union was also a very pretty building. Many student groups had their offices there, plus there were plenty of places for students to study. They had an impressive food court area with many standards such as pizza, burgers, and burritos, but also a large salad and hot bar where you payed by the ounce.

The library was another very pretty building in the heart of it all. Inside they had some nice murals over a lot of the doorways. While I was there, the library was extremely busy with students studying that made it seem like one of the go-to places on campus for study halls.

Top 5 Attractions of 2018

5. Oklahoma Territorial Museum – Guthrie, OK

American flag with 46 stars.

The Oklahoma Territorial Museum highlights the history of the land that would eventually become Oklahoma. On the first floor of the museum they highlighted the history of Native Americans in the area through the first people that came to the area with the land run.  The second floor went through the history of becoming the 46th state, along with how the capitol ended up moving from Guthrie to Oklahoma City.

A couple of the highlights were flags located on the second floor.  The first was a large American flag that was one of the first flags created that showed the 46th star for Oklahoma’s inception as a state.  The second was one of the first state flag, a red background with a single star with 46 inside of it. As red would become closely tied to communism it was decided to select a new flag in the mid-1920s that would eventually become the state flag that Oklahoma has today.

4. Matchbox Marvel – Gladbrook, IA

Matchstick Marvels – Space Shuttle

Consider this one of those hole in the wall places that is well worth a trip out of the way. The Matchstick Marvels museum is located in the small town of Gladbrook, Iowa, which has a population of just under 1,000 people. This museum highlights some of the creation of artist Patrick Acton, who has made some amazing creations out of just matchsticks and glue. He has many pieces throughout Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums across the nation as well. It’s estimated that over 6.5 million matchsticks have been used to make all of the models to this point. The attention to detail of these items were just amazing to see in person. There were models of the Capitol building, battleships, a NASA space shuttle, and many others.

3. Whiting Forest (Part of Dow Gardens) – Midland, MI

Canopy at Whiting forest

The Whiting Forest is part of the Dow Gardens, but located adjacent in a different facility.  Buying a ticket to one facility will allow you access into both.  The Whiting Forest is a brand new attraction that just opened in October 2018 and known for having the largest tree canopy walk, at over 1,400 feet, inside the United States.

This place was very popular since it just opened, especially with families with young kids. Some areas of the canopy had a large canopy net that kids could climb on. The facility also has a large playground and some walking trails through some nice forest area. There were also quite a few workers around the canopy to help families along the way.

2. Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum – Kalamazoo, MI

Classic plane inside Air Zoo

The Air Zoo museum was a very nice and interesting place to visit.  They had planes on exhibit dating all the way back to World War I through a massive NASA plane that was more recent.  They also had some hands-on science exhibits and a traveling weather exhibit on site.  I enjoyed being able to read into the history of many of the planes that they had on display.  They also had some rides for kids and various flight simulators which would make this a fun place to visit with a family. On top of the main facility they also had a secondary location where you could go and watch people work on restoring some other planes that they had on site. The secondary location was not very exciting, but I would highly recommend the main Air Zoo museum on a trip to Kalamazoo.

1. Kailua Beach – Kailua, HI

Rainbow

Kailua Beach is on the Eastern shore of Oahu and was by far the highlight of my trip. I left about 5:30 in the morning to make sure I was able to get to the beach in time for the sunrise. Though there were too many clouds to get a perfect sunrise, it was still very relaxing and very beautiful. After the sunrise I made a quick walk to the Kalapawai Market just a couple blocks away. Along the way it briefly rained on me, but as I left the store, an absolutely gorgeous rainbow went across the whole sky.

Top 5 Restaurants of 2018

Honorable Mention: Waiola Shave Ice – Honolulu, HI

Although this was not an actual restaurant, I did want to mention the best dessert I had on my trips this year. I did not know what constituted Hawaiian shaved ice until I tried it. Basically, it is a bowl of soft serve ice cream that then has shaved ice packed all around it. Then the various toppings are placed on top. I went with the Super Island, which had acai, strawberries, and blueberries. This was delicious. I wasn’t sure if the ice on top of the soft serve would work, but it ended up being a great combo. This is something everyone should try as a dessert while in Hawaii.

5. University Roadhouse – Kalamazoo, MI

University Roadhouse

University Roadhouse is a very popular joint located right next to the Western Michigan campus. This is the place that most people in Kalamazoo suggested I visit while I was in town. It was your basic sports bar, with many televisions throughout, but because it was located up on a hill it also provided great views, especially from up on the second floor.  I decided to try the Kalamazoo Best Burger (I was in Kalamazoo after all!) which came with white cheddar, a homemade bacon jam and garlic aioli. The flavors all worked very well together with the sharpness of the white cheddar contrasting well with the sweetness of the bacon jam.  The fries were also fresh and crisp.  They were very busy even though I went during lunch, so I can only imagine it would be a great place to go with friends at night.

4. Taylor’s Maid-Rite – Marshalltown, IA

Taylor’s Maid-Rite

If you look up the foods that Iowa is famous for at the top of that list is the loose meat sandwich, which is NOT to be confused with a sloppy joe. The place known for the loose meat sandwich is Maid-Rite which has several restaurants around Iowa. But the store in Marshalltown has been in it’s current location since 1958 and has an amazing old-school feel to it. Inside is just one long counter that goes around the entire store where you can see your food being made in the middle. The store was extremely popular and you can tell you have a lot of regulars here as the employees would call a lot of the diners by name as they walked in.

So what is a Maid-Rite? Think of it as a hamburger that uses loose meat instead of a patty.  It is ground beef that comes along with mustard, pickle, and chopped onions. It was very tasty. I had one along with a chocolate malt that was also made right in front of me in the kitchen. It was very tasty and the price was very reasonable as well. If I lived in the area, this would easily be one of my regular places to eat. When in Iowa make sure a Maid-Rite from at least one of their locations is on your list.

3. Dog Central – Mt. Pleasant, MI

Outside Dog Central

Dog Central is a popular joint in downtown Mount Pleasant just a short distance from the Central Michigan campus. It is known for being a popular spot for college students late into the night on weekends with a 3 AM closing time.  I tried two different dogs on my visit. The first was the classic Detroit Dog, which has chili, mustard, and onions. The second one I tried was the elote dog. This one had corn, cotija cheese, mayo, cayenne pepper, and a lime wedge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to like having mayo on a hot dog, but all of the flavors actually worked very well together. Both of the dogs had a good crunch to them and were both very tasty. I would recommend this place as a to-go lunch joint.

2. Hideaway Pizza – Stillwater, OK

Outside Hideaway Pizza

The Hideaway is another popular joint that is right across the street from the OSU campus.  Although there are other locations across Oklahoma and Arkansas, this location is the originally location and is run separately from all the others.  I went right after they opened at 11 AM and it quickly filled up.  I went with a mini pizza with Italian sausage and onions. This was one of the best pizzas I have eaten in a long time.  The crust had a nice crunchy texture and the sauce had a perfect blend of spices that gave it a unique but delicious flavor.

1. Hickory Park BBQ – Ames, IA

Hickory Park Cy Statue

When talking to people around Ames to prepare for my trip the one place that everyone said I must go was Hickory Park, a very large BBQ restaurant in town. As a Texan, I, of course, went in wondering how would a BBQ place in Iowa compare with the Texan BBQ I love. I came away extremely impressed. Hickory Park had a very impressive menu and I decided to go with the sausage and beef brisket combo. The servings were large and the flavor of the meat was very good. On top of that, the prices were much lower than you would expect. I have paid much more for much poorer quality BBQ back home. The only minor complaint is that the spicy sauce they had on the table was not very spicy at all. Just part of having that Texas palate, I guess.

The other thing about Hickory Park is they have a very extensive dessert menu, with many different kinds of ice cream sundaes available. Even though the main course was very filling, I knew I had to have dessert while I was here. I went with a small hot fudge split. It was the perfect mix of ice cream, bananas, and hot fudge and I left knowing I had eaten too much, but still very satisfied.

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