NORMAN — College football has never had a Thursday night like this — though you can expect more of them in the future.
Two games with championship implications, matching four highly ranked teams.
No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 5 Baylor, with first place on the line in the Big 12, kicks off at about 7:30 EST on Fox Sports 1. Then, a few minutes after 9 p.m., comes No. 2 Oregon against No. 6 Stanford, the Pac-12 game of the year.
“A lot went into it to get us here and a lot had to break right,” said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions. “Now that it’s here, we’re so fired up.”
The folks over at Fox Sports are psyched, too. OU-Baylor is one of the biggest events the fledgling all-sports cable channel has shown since it went on the air last summer. It’s the type of game that Fox officials hope can accelerate the growth of FS1 and help build a regular audience.
“We like to call them tent-pole events. This is one,” said Bill Wanger, executive vice president of research and programming for Fox Sports.
Thursday night college football has been a staple on ESPN for more than two decades, with games regularly involving ranked teams. The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East were among the first conferences to embrace the idea of playing televised games on Thursday nights as a way to shine a spotlight on their leagues.
ESPN’s most viewed Thursday night game is No. 3 Texas’ 49-39 victory against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving 2009. Second was USC-Oregon State in September 2008, a memorable upset of the top-ranked Trojans.
“We’ve always told our conference partners Thursday night is a big-time opportunity to gain exposure because everybody is watching,” Ben-Hanan said. “On Saturdays the games tend to wash over you. There’s something great about that too. Thursdays are different. Your teams have the stage to themselves. It becomes a really cool spotlight opportunity, and our partners have embraced it.”
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