It used to be that ESPN's Thursday night games were used to bury the undesirable match-ups. That was the night that mid-major progams sought a place in the sun -- or stadium lights -- and mid-level BCS teams worked to get a bit of attention.
Now, it has become a showcase of sorts. Southern Cal played Arizona State on Thanksgiving evening. South Carolina and Kentucky's Thursday night clash looked monumental in 2007 until both faltered down the stretch. This year, ESPN uses Thursday, Oct. 23, to air Auburn at West Virginia, one of the most anticipated nonconference games of 2008, trailing perhaps only Southern Cal-Ohio State. The Tigers and Mountaineers kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Almost all the other significant games are TBA, though Illinois at Wisconsin airs at noon and seems like a likely candidate for ABC or ESPN. That game will help figure out the top competitor to Ohio State for the conference crown. The Nittany Lions get their shot at the Buckeyes, likely on Saturday Night Football, with Penn State at Ohio State scheduled for 8 p.m.
In the SEC, the top game is Georgia at LSU, a possible championship game preview should the spelling-challenged Dawgs navigate the East and Auburn stumble in the West. And old East-West rivalry is also renewed when Alabama goes to Tennessee. Both are strong candidates for either CBS or one of ESPN's primetime games.
The Big XII shakeup begun last week continues this week, with Texas Tech visiting Kansas. The Red Raiders will be looking for their first big conference win of the year; Kansas will be coming off of the Jayhawks' game against Oklahoma.
The night closes -- or, rather, the new day begins -- at 12:05 a.m. ET, when Nevada travels to Hawaii. C&F mentions it because this year could be the Wolfpack's best opportunity to actually win the WAC, and even a weakened Hawaii team could give Nevada a chance to evaluate its chances with games against Fresno State and Boise State lurking in November.
The Pack's game against the Bulldogs, by the way, has found a home on ESPN's new mid-major night: Friday.