With the news that FOX is planning to air their premier college football games at noon whenever possible this season, that could make narrowing down potential night games for the Buckeyes incredibly difficult.
In the past, you could look at Ohio State’s schedule and have a pretty good idea of which of those games were going to be at night. Now? Not so much.
FOX has contracts with the Big Ten, the Big XII, and the Pac 12, but don’t expect to see the Pac 12 showing up on your TV at noon this year. They will be found in the 3:30/4:00 pm slot, the 7:30 / 8:00 pm slot, and the 10:30 pm slot each Saturday.
As it relates to the Big Ten schedule, those games will be split between FOX, ESPN/ABC, and the Big Ten Network.
They draft the schedule each year, with the networks “drafting” weeks of the season. For instance, FOX gets the first pick each year until the current deal ends after the 2022 season. This means they will choose the week of Ohio State vs. Michigan every year and then that gives them the first pick of that week, which will be Michigan and Ohio State. That game will then be played at noon, as it has been. ESPN then picks what game they want that week, and the rest of the schedule that week trickles down.
ESPN gets the second pick in the weekly draft, FOX the third, ESPN the fourth, and so on.
Then as they get closer to each week, the network that drafted that particular week will pick which game they want first. That allows them to be malleable when it comes to building the TV schedule. This way they don’t get locked in on putting a team in a prime slot while they are having a down year.
Some kickoff times are starting to come out now, with ESPN releasing the first three weeks of their prime-time lineup. More will be coming. So far, Ohio State is not involved.
Those initial games: Week 1 — Auburn vs. Oregon (Arlington, TN); Week 2 — LSU at Texas; Week 3 — Clemson at Syracuse.
Generally, you could look at Ohio State’s schedule in the past and know for a fact that their road game at Nebraska on September 28 was going to be a night game. With FOX’s desire to put their marquee games at noon, however, things get a bit cloudy.
USC plays at Washington that same week, which could very well be a FOX game, and if it is, it would fit well in the 8:00 pm slot.
Ohio State and Nebraska is the biggest game that week, but if it gets “drafted” by ESPN, then it’s going to be the annual Big Ten West night-time landmine for the Buckeyes.
The next possibility is Michigan State the following week. That’s a home game for the Buckeyes. Other games that week include Washington at Stanford, Purdue at Penn State, Iowa at Michigan, and Texas at West Virginia.
Regardless of who gets this game, this looks like a good possibility to end up at night. Ohio State is going to want some night games for recruiting purposes. With the Penn State game taking place in late November, that game may be too late in the schedule to play at night. The Buckeyes haven’t played a night game in November the last two years, but did so each of the three years before that.
The Penn State game takes place on November 23, which is as late as the Michigan game some years. That doesn’t always make for a good night-time environment.
Because of the Penn State game and the possibility of losing a typical night game to FOX’s 12:00 pm slot, perhaps we’ll see a not-so-typical game played at night, like Cincinnati at Ohio State in week two.
We already know the Buckeyes will kickoff in prime-time at Northwestern on Friday, October 18, but the week after that looks like a prime candidate as well. That’s when Wisconsin comes to town. If this is a Disney game, then you can almost go ahead and make your plans for a night game.
If it’s a FOX game, it could still end up at night, as there are noon options like Oklahoma at Kansas State, Texas at TCU, Iowa at Northwestern, and Penn State at Michigan State.
Maryland comes to Ohio State on November 9, and maybe this will be a game that allows the Buckeyes to get an extra night game on the schedule. Iowa and Wisconsin play this weekend, as do Purdue and Northwestern. Either or both of those games could be key to deciding the Big Ten West, and maybe FOX would like them at noon.
This is also the same week as LSU at Alabama, however, and this game has been an 8:00 pm (7:00 pm local) kick every year since 2011. While ABC and FOX may not want to go against that, the Big Ten Network would happily take a prime-time slot with Ohio State no matter who the other networks have going opposite them.
Interestingly, the Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin games are all in a row on OSU’s schedule, which means that the Buckeyes could very well be playing four straight night games. And if that Maryland game is a night game, that would be five night games in a row.
But that seems unlikely simply because it’s unheard of at Ohio State. A cluster of night games over a span of weeks, however, is not that unusual.
In 2016, the Buckeyes played four night games in a seven-game stretch. In 2015, they played three night games in a row. They did that in 2014 as well, and also played two other night games that season, including a 6:00 pm game against Cincinnati. In 2013, the Buckeyes played four night games in a six-game stretch.
It seems counter-intuitive to say, but the Nebraska game may not be a night game. The place will be sold out — as it always is — for an 11:00 a.m. local game without any problems. But this is dependent on it being drafted by FOX and then deciding to put it at noon. Given that it’s a 50/50 toss-up between ESPN and FOX, let’s lean towards this being a night game.
You can probably assume the Michigan State game and the Wisconsin game will be at night, but don’t put that in ink.
And don’t be shocked to see Cincinnati or Maryland as a token night game if MSU or Wisconsin are day games.
Expect some kickoff times to be announced in the next two weeks. Last year, we knew of five kickoff times by the end of May.