The College Weekend
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains (Knoxville, Tenn.)
THE GAME: Tennessee vs. Florida; Sept. 18. The post-Kiffin Vols meet the post-Tebow Gators in each team's conference opener. THE TOWN: Knoxville is an ideal jumping-off point for camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where 100-plus species of deciduous trees erupt in colors in mid-September. Market Square, downtown's rejuvenated core, is your base. Stay at the St. Oliver (407 Union Ave.; $89/night), which offers a breakfast buffet on football weekends. Stock up at the Square's Saturday farmers' market and The Tomato Head (12 Market Sq.), where the Benton's Bacon on the Oh Boy ($7.50) sandwich will keep you moving.
The Literary Retreat (Iowa City, Iowa)
THE GAME: Iowa vs. Wisconsin; Oct. 23. UW's running game will battle a defense led by DE Adrian Clayborn. THE TOWN: Dubbed the world's third City of Literature by UNESCO— on account of the university's Writer's Workshop—the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk celebrates 49 writers with state ties. Rest your feet at Prairie Lights bookstore (15 South Dubuque St.), which occupies a café once frequented by ee cummings, before hitting the library at the Brown Street Inn (430 Brown St.; $85/night). Drop your book for dinner at Devotay (117 North Linn St.), where beef dishes change daily.
Drinking up Willamette Valley (Eugene, Ore.)
THE GAME: Oregon vs. Stanford; Oct. 2. The Ducks hope to avenge their lone 2009 Pac 10 loss. THE TOWN: In the Willamette Valley, Oakshire Brewing (1055 Madera St.) opens its tasting room on Saturdays. Or join them at Furrer Farms (82467 Howe Lane, Creswell) the night before the game for a dinner pairing beer with roasted pig ($65). After the game, hit King Estate Winery (80854 Territorial Rd.) for its 2008 Signature Pinot Gris ($23/bottle) and smoked oysters ($12). Stumble home to elegant Augusta House—you'll get a portable GPS device at check-in (2585 Bowmont Dr.; $219/night).
Bike the Desert Foothills (Boise, Idaho)
THE GAME: Boise State vs. Oregon State; Sept. 25. BSU must stave off this potential spoiler to have a shot at a national title. THE TOWN: Idaho Mountain Touring (1310 W. Main St.) sets you up with a bike and route ($35 for 4 hours). Choose between 25 miles of paved trails along the Boise River or ride single-track over high-desert foothills in Camel's Back Park's 65-acre preserve. Tap the town's thriving Basque community by eating beef tongue ($7.25) at Bar Gernika (202 S. Capitol Blvd.) after the game. Rest up at Idaho Heritage Inn (109 W. Idaho St.; $80/night), steps from Julia Davis Park.
Rock 'n' Roll Pilgrimage (Lehigh Valley, Pa.)
THE GAME: Lafayette vs. Lehigh; Nov. 20. College football's most played rivalry has 146 years of bad liberal arts blood. THE TOWN: Martin's Guitar Factory in nearby Nazareth (510 Sycamore St.) offers free tours explaining the 300-plus steps that go into making each model. After viewing axes played by Cash, Dylan, and Elvis, pluck the limited editions in their Pickin' Parlor. Then head to The Guitarmaker's Connection (10 W. North St., Nazareth) for the parts to make your own. When the jamming's done, stay at the Grand Eastonian on the Delaware River (140 Northampton St., Easton; $129/night).
Seeking Southern Hospitality (Oxford, Miss.)
THE GAME: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State; Nov. 27. Ole Miss seeks to avenge last year's 41-27 drubbing in Starkville. THE TOWN: Oxford's Courthouse Square Historic District is lined with Victorian gems, including Square Books (160 Courthouse Sq.), where Pat Conroy and John Grisham are known to pop in. The university town is filled with charms—including William Faulkner's residence and B.B. King's complete recordings—and it's now a food mecca. The Coca-Cola-brined fried chicken ($10.50) is the most important meal of the day at Big Bad Breakfast (719 N. Lamar Blvd.), though the Burgsalom, Burgsalom! burger ($9) will fill you up before the game too. Come early, they don't take reservations. Hotel options are limited, but you'll sleep soundly at the Downtown Oxford Inn (400 N. Lamar Blvd.; $129/night).