Defending national champion Alabama. Texas A&M, the only team to defeat the Crimson Tide in 2012. It's this season's edition of the Game of the Century. With a rematch of epic proportions on tap this Saturday, hordes of Aggie and Tide fans are descending upon College Station to turn the entire town into one giant shin-dig.
"People started camping out for tailgate spots on Wednesday," said the individual known as Cuppy Cup, one of three editors-in-chief at SB Nation A&M blog Good Bull Hunting. "It's going to be a madhouse, so the typical [Texas A&M tailgate] scene won't describe what you'll see on Saturday."
College Station is located in southeast Texas, roughly an hour and a half northwest of Houston. With a population around 97,000, it isn't the biggest college town around, but it's large enough to pack in plenty of dining and nightlife options.
"The entire nightlife is centered around our historic Northgate bar district," Cuppy Cup said. "You should drop by the Dixie Chicken, even if it's only for one pitcher, just to say you've been there. There's a rooftop patio at the Corner Bar, which is nice, but honestly every place is going to be packed to the rafters this weekend. There are places to sit and have a beer, take shots, go dancing or get bottle service. All of your needs will be met if you don't mind huge crowds."
And if you do mind huge crowds or just want something a little more familiar -- but who wants that on a football roadtrip? -- Cuppy Cup says there are safer options available.
"If you want to get away from Northgate, we have another decent bar district in downtown Bryan, and every chain restaurant imaginable."
ColoradoAg, another editor-in-chief at Good Bull Hunting, echoed the recommendations for the Dixie Chicken and Corner Bar, and he added a few of his own.
"The Dixie Chicken is the most iconic of the bunch and worth a stop if only to sling back big, cold beers and listen to old codgers talk of football without facemasks. If you're looking for a similar atmosphere, but less touristy fanfare, I recommend going to Dudley's Draw. If you're looking to get cranked in a hurry, make a stop at the Dry Bean. The Bean is a long, narrow bar constructed solely for shot-taking (there are hundreds of varieties). Corner Bar is a three-story joint with lots of TVs for watching games. Lots of pretty girls, too."
"Other good spots these days include Chimy's (margs and tacos), O'Bannon's (wide beer selection), and Logan's (pub-style revelry). There are also bars for grinding with young girls, doing stupid stuff, and whatnot that I am no longer privy to (I'm 30) if that is your thing. We are even cultured enough to have Saki bombs."
As for the food scene, it's Texas, so there's going to be plenty of TexMex and barbecue. The 'Q is centered around beef brisked and pork sausage -- again, it's Texas, which is something this Alabaman writer has a hard time accepting. In the rest of the South, the smokey pit is dominated by pork shoulders and ribs. But, to each his own.
"For food, I highly recommend burgers at Koppe Bridge (Wellborn Road location)," ColoradoAg said. "For barbecue, go to C&J or J. Cody's or Rudy's. TexMex is good at Chuy's. My favorite restaurant, Los Nortenos, closed, which is just devastating. If you need some late-night chow on Northgate, go to Antonio's for some pizza."
The Friday night scene shouldn't be overlooked, especially with the biggest Midnight Yell ever expected at Kyle Field, but the real show is on Saturday. Aggies love their tailgating, and now that they're in the SEC they are matched with 13 other fanbases that take it just as seriously. This is the first huge SEC game to take place in College Station, so the hometown crowd aims to show just how well it puts on a party.
"If you're looking for a young party crowd then you'll want to head to Spence Park, which is next to Kyle Field," Cuppy Cup said. "You'll see plenty of beer pong, cowboy golf and cornhole around all of the tailgates. There are RV lots for large family gatherings, but they'll invite you in as part of the family if you drop by in Alabama gear. The parking lots and grassy areas surrounding Reed Arena, where the Aggies play basketball, are a good place to take in the full tailgating experience."
"The tailgates will be playing a lot of Texas country music -- Robert Earl Keen, etc," ColoradoAg added. "We generally don't care for the country you'd hear on the radio. The Greek community will ironically play a lot of '80s music and might have an actual band or two. The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band will march through campus and play before entering the stadium. Finally, you'll hear a lot of incredibly friendly people offering the opposing fans beers and food so long as they are pleasant guests."
Speaking of beers and food, those are a couple of subjects Aggies know well, and there will be plenty of proof Saturday. Anyone who didn't sample barbecue while out and about on Friday will have ample opportunity in the hours leading up to and following the game.
"Food is no joking matter for any good Texan -- especially on sacred game days," ColoradoAg said. Follow your nose to where brisket and sausage has been properly smoking for hours. Again, if you're a good guest, you're likely to get properly fed. Gratis. There are also some good vendors and food trucks around the stadium slinging artery-blocking goodness. You'll find a variety of foods, but Texas barbecue is what you should be seeking.
"As for drankin', Aggies love their suds. Ice chests will abound with canned domestics and some choice Texas beer selections. I think it is actually illegal to eat good barbecue without cold beer. Bourbon and other spirits will be available at many tailgates, but take heed: it will be hotter than balls on Saturday. Mix in some water too."
Yes, people in Texas love their football and their barbecue and their tailgating. Those passions alone are enough to create great game days. But this is the biggest game A&M has played in quite some time, and everybody knows it. However good a normal tailgate scene one might find in College Station, expect it turned up to 11 this weekend.
"This game was circled the moment the SEC schedule was released. With No. 1, College GameDay, CBS and others coming to College Station, the scene is going to be incredible," an obviously giddy ColoradoAg explained. "Friday night will feature First Yell with entertainment from Aggie legends Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. Midnight Yell is forecasting possibly 50,000 people in attendance. The tailgating will start early and is sure to have that indescribable buzz that surrounds massive games.
"After a decade of disappointment and soul-crushing frustration, our rabid fan base is ready to explode. The country's eyes will be on College Station on Saturday, and Aggie fans are plenty prepared for a big time. And hopefully a massive win."