Southern Cal became the latest team to fall on ESPN’s Thursday Night Football, continuing a trend that begs the question: What is it about Thursday night that makes for great football?
The Trojans fell 27-21 at Oregon State on Thursday, despite having a week off both before and after its dominating win over then-No. 5 Ohio State.
Oregon State entered the game with a record of 1-2: a win over Hawaii and losses to Stanford and Penn State. The Beavers certainly didn’t seem ready to upset the No. 1 team in the nation.
Already this season, we have seen Vanderbilt upset No. 24 South Carolina in Week Two and unranked Colorado stun No. 21 West Virginia in Boulder in Week Four.
Just last year, unranked Miami beat No. 20 Texas A&M in Week Four, No. 11 South Carolina stunned No. 8 Kentucky in Week Six, unranked Wake Forest upset No. 21 Florida State in Week Seven, unranked Rutgers upended No. 2 South Florida in Week Eight, unranked Arizona shocked No. 2 Oregon in Week 12, and No. 11 USC took down No. 6 Arizona State on the road in Week 13.
All of those upsets came on Thursday night!
How is it that ESPN’s scheduling always seems to feature either a big upset or a great game on Thursday night? The schedule is made before the season starts, so it’s not as if ESPN can pick the game it wants to feature each week depending on the current performance.
If that were the case, it wouldn’t have picked a game pitting a 1-2 Oregon State team that got demolished by Penn State against a seemingly untouchable USC team that dominated Ohio State in the so-called “Collision in the Coliseum.”
Yet, I looked forward to watching that game for just this reason – anything can happen on Thursday night. The only way I can explain it is that the national spotlight puts the underdog at an advantage, giving the underdog home team a chance to shock the world on national television.
Only one of those upsets last year (USC over Arizona State) was by the road team.
You can even go back to previous years.
In 2006, BYU upset No. 17 TCU on the road in Week Five, unranked NC State upset No. 17 Florida State in Week Six, unranked Boston College shut down No. 22 Virginia Tech in Week Seven, unranked Virginia Tech took down No. 10 Clemson in Week Nine, No. 5 Louisville upset No. 3 West Virginia in Week 10, No. 15 Rutgers upset No. 3 Louisville in Week 11, and unranked Miami upset No. 18 Boston College in Week 13.
Again, all but one of those upsets (BYU over TCU) was by the home team.
The 2005 season only had one, as unranked NC State beat No. 24 Georgia Tech on the road in Week Six. For some reason, that season didn’t feature as many potential upset games as the following two years and this year.
For the sake of time, I won’t go further back, but I will say this: Thursday night football is must-see TV. The phrase “any given Sunday” should be changed to "any given Thursday."
Mark your calendars for the rest of the year. Next Thursday, unranked Pittsburgh travels to No. 13 South Florida and Oregon State travels to No. 17 Utah. Both have a chance to achieve the uncommon Thursday night road upset. The Pittsburgh-South Florida game is on ESPN.
The following week, No. 16 Wake Forest hosts No. 20 Clemson on ESPN. The week after that, No. 24 TCU hosts No. 11 BYU. The next week, West Virginia has a shot at Thursday night redemption when it hosts No. 15 Auburn. On Oct. 30, No. 13 South Florida travels to unranked Cincinnati. In week 11, No. 24 TCU travels to No. 17 Utah. All of those are on ESPN.
While Saturday still reigns supreme for college football traditionalists, Thursday nights should be reserved for football every week as well. You can never write off the underdog on Thursday night.
What are your thoughts on why Thursday nights create college football magic nearly every week?