Welcome to The Stuben Travel Agency: Nevada

The Stuben Travel Agency at a winery. Let's hope he didn't rent a car that weekend.

Many of you might already know Mike Stuben, as he's been a USF Athletics ticket sales representative for the last 15 years. Mike left USF just last month, which is bad news for the Bulls as his passion and talents will be missed. But it's great news for us and our readers, because we're going to put him to work around here where we can.

Mike has been traveling to Bulls games wherever they are played since before we even had a football program (and we both just got back from the Women's College World Series last week). The overwhelming majority of the time, he's done it on his own nickel. But the travel bargains he's found over the years have become legendary amongst his friends. There was the time Spirit Air made a pricing mistake, and he booked flights for about two dozen of us to the FIU game in Miami for $1 per person. Or the trip he took to South Africa about six weeks ago... he went for all of four days, because it cost him under $100 to do so. This is not hyperbole, these things actually happened.

And then there was the Wendy's-Airtran promotion where 32 large sodas equaled a free one-way flight; I can't discuss even what may or may not have been done to secure empty cups as I'm not sure the statute of limitations has passed. But things like this are the reason he's also got over a million frequent flyer miles in the bank, is heading to the Dominican tomorrow for four nights at an all-inclusive resort for under $100, and has been seemingly everywhere on earth at least twice. We'll let Mike take it from here, but we'll keep his genius coming all summer. And if a bargain or great deal to a Bulls destination pops up this summer, we'll let you know about it... as soon as we book it for ourselves first.

For college football fans, we are now in the dog days of summer. Spring football is over, recruits are signed, and the start of fall camp seems like it will never get here. I propose that now is the time to begin making plans for the fall. And since it's too soon to buy the ribs for the first home tailgate, let's take a look at joining the Bulls on the road this fall.

I have been very fortunate to have only missed eight USF Football games in the program's history. While the experiences have numerous and incredible, here are a couple of Top 10 lists to give you just an idea of the awesome things I've gotten to see and do first hand.

Top 10 USF on-field moments I saw on the road:

10. Freshman Marquel Blackwell showing poise beyond his years in our first ever game vs. a I-A opponent at San Diego State.

9. USF's first shutout at Cumberland. The field didn't have a fence or green grass. Fans could cut across the field to visit friends sitting on the other side.

8. USF losing at Rutgers on Thursday night. We arrived in New Jersey #2 in the country and in complete control of our destiny... you know what happened.

7. Watching Andre Hall explode for 275 rushing yards in a monsoon vs. UAB at Legion Field.

6. USF announcing their presence to the world by beating Pittsburgh in 2001. I flew home September 9, 2001, just two days before the world would change.

5. Going into the heart of SEC country and beating Auburn. The freshman for Auburn who lost to USF would be National Champions as seniors. (Ed: I was Mike's co-chaperone for the Student Bulls Club this game... This is far and away #1 on my list, and I was at 4, 3, and 1 too).

4. Watching walk-on freshman QB Bobby Eveld force overtime and then lead USF to the win at Miami.

3. Seeing USF win a bowl game for the first ever time in Birmingham against Skip Holtz's East Carolina Pirates.

2. Freshman QB B.J. Daniels leading USF to victory in his hometown against Florida State.

1. Touchdown Jesus keeping a watchful eye on his favorite team beating Notre Dame in South Bend.

More from Stuben, and a great guide to the Nevada game, after the jump:
Top 10 off-field moments I've had on USF road trips:
10. Big Time BBQ (Leitha's in Hattiesburg, Dreamland at UAB, Rendevous at Memphis)

9. Cheese steaks in Philly.

8. The Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

7. Visiting Dealey Plaza in Dallas and walking up the grassy knoll and looking behind the picket fence.

6. Times Square in NYC.

5. Sitting in the front row of the bleachers at Wrigley behind right fielder Sammy Sosa.

4. Thought-provoking moments in Oklahoma City at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

3. Walking around the campus at West Point.

2. Joining a Vietnam veteran at the wall in Washington as he searched for names of friends who didn't make it home.

1. Having Oklahoma fans warmly welcome USF fans. They all wanted to offer us food, drink and share a story about the great Lee Roy Selmon.

So to me, the trips are much more than just going to a football game. It's a chance to experience and explore. And I think our first one this year is a great way to kick it off.

SEPTEMBER 8 - USF AT NEVADA

Closest Airport: RNO - Reno, Nevada

It's expensive to fly into Reno, so be ready to pay a premium. If you see a fare under $350 roundtrip from Tampa, go for it. This is a great trip to use a frequent flyer award from Southwest, or maybe miles from one of the legacy airlines (United, Delta, American or US Airways). Your frequent flyer miles are most valuable when used for international first class/business class trips, where you can redeem miles at a value of up to 10 cents a mile. This trip will value your miles at 1 to 2 cents a mile; not horrible, but not the best. Some people have no desire to travel internationally, so for a domestic award this is about as good as it gets.

Alternative Airport: SMF - Sacramento, CA

Every time I've been to Reno, I have flown into SMF. If you see a fare under $235, I would say jump on it. Plus it is a very pretty drive through the mountains from SMF to Reno. Don't dismiss a quick stop into the California Capitol building. When Arnold was the governor but away from his office, they left his office door open with a velvet rope to keep people out so you could take a look at the Terminator's desk. Old Sacramento has its charms for a couple of hours of strolling around and shopping too. On your drive to Reno, as soon as you cross into the state of Nevada is a small casino that is the usual home of the Bonnie and Clyde death car (think a cross between a car and a piece of swiss cheese). The car goes on tours, but if it's at its home base, it's worth a stop for a free look.

Hotel Deals

The best deals will come from the casinos. The team hotel is the Grand Sierra Resort. Reno is not like Vegas as it doesn't have a ton of cheap hotel rooms. I once booked the Palace Station in Vegas for $7 a night. Expect to spend at least 10 to 20 times that amount in Reno.

Things To Do

"The Biggest Little City in the World" features casino gambling, bowling and short trips to Old West towns. If you have been to Vegas but not Reno, you need to get all those Vegas images out of your head. There are no volcanoes or pirate battles or indoor amusement parks. Reno does not have the mega theme resorts, but rather simple casinos with affordable limits for novice gamblers. (You should still be able to find roulette where chips cost a quarter each.) Some of the casinos have "Vegas review" type shows - singing, dancing, and showgirls. And lots of secondary performers get to be headliners in Reno. Think groups like Kool & the Gang, Earth, Wind, and Fire, or other bands with big names, but without the lead singer who made them famous.

Did I mention that Reno is the bowling capital of the world? I noticed a marking on my tourist map that said "bowling stadium." I was slightly curious, but never curious enough to actually go and take a look.

Here's a very cool day trip: head south out of Reno towards Carson City and Lake Tahoe, but take the long way, Route 341 through Virginia City. Virginia City is a wonderful Old West town turned into a tourist destination. It's preserved very well, and you can walk down Main Street and do some shopping. I recommend the steam engine train trip also -- it only takes an hour and a half or so. It can get a little cheesy, but it lets you see the area and the silver mines up close. The beauty of Virginia City is its significant role in American history. The Comstock Lode was the first major discovery of silver in the United States, and the $400 million (in 1860s money, billions more in today's value) in silver financed the Union Army in the Civil War.

Then head south through Carson City (note the dome of the Nevada state capital building is covered in silver leaf) and on to Lake Tahoe. Take a drive around the lake, which is half in California and half in Nevada. Casinos are near the state lines at both the north and south side of the lake. The drive, the lake, and the mountains are simply beautiful.

Eat Like A Local

Loosen up your belt and find a deal on a casino buffet.

Booking Advice

Bite the bullet on this rare trip west for our Bulls. It's a great destination. Think Thursday to Sunday at a minimum, but I would suggest leaving Wednesday or staying until Monday. I would want a rental car to explore, but if your plans are just to bounce from casino to casino as long as your stay downtown, everything is close enough to walk.

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