We're crossing a threshold Thursday night, we consumers of college football, and I think we're going to like it.
In the 22 seasons that college football has been shown regularly on Thursday night, there have been 25 games matching ranked teams. We get two this Thursday, and the networks are nice enough not to kick them off at the same time. No. 3 Oregon is playing at No. 5 Stanford on ESPN at 9 p.m. EST, 90 minutes after No. 10 Oklahoma plays at No. 6 Baylor on Fox Sports 1.
That noise you hear is change, sweet change. Thursday night, once the hangout of wannabes, is now the sickest nightspot on the strip.
It is not news that Thursday night games are no longer for the rabble. Once the province of programs looking to establish a national profile -- if it's Thursday night, it must be Virginia Tech -- prime-time, weeknight college football long ago became acceptable to the sport's bluebloods.
But this is different. A second network has brought a major conference into your weeknight living room. And that major conference coughed up a marquee game. That's what makes this so good for us fans. After all, ranked teams have appeared on Thursday night almost from the beginning. No. 2 Florida State's 33-28 loss at Virginia way back in 1995 comes to mind.
And it's not just that the ranked teams are playing each other. In 2006, No. 5 Louisville defeated No. 3 West Virginia 44-34 to take control of the Big East race (Yes, kids, Louisville, soon to be in the ACC, and West Virginia, already in the Big 12, were once rivals in a conference called the Big East).
So all of this has happened before. The Big East masterminds, Nick Carparelli and Tom Odjakjian, long ago mastered the art of scheduling for the cameras. Conference officials aren't supposed to handicap their races, but the Big East, which didn't have a playoff, always tried to put its biggest games in prime time late in the season.
And now, two more conferences are showing up with the Thursday night goods during the stretch run for their respective championships. In the Pac-12, that order came straight from the top. Commissioner Larry Scott has pushed the move of so many games from day to night that the schools are starting to complain. Scott basically replied, Hey, you told me to find you more money." The league must like it. Scott just got a new contract through the 2017-18 academic year.
With all due respect to the Pac-12 Championship Game in four weeks, this is the conference's game of the season. Oregon has a 19-game road winning streak. It last lost in 2009 at Stanford, which has an 11-game home winning streak, having last lost in 2011 to Oregon.
The matchup in the Big 12 isn't quite the same, but it's rich nonetheless. Oklahoma, the team that has dominated the Big 12 for more than a decade, agreed to play its first Thursday night conference road game, and not against a conference lightweight. Everyone knew Baylor would be good. I'm not saying top-10 good, but good.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione reminded me that Oklahoma has a history on Thursday. The Sooners played Nebraska in the 1971 version of the Game of the Century on Thanksgiving afternoon. Holiday games aren't quite the same as what we have tonight, but point taken.
Castiglione is somewhat of a reluctant convert to the cause. He said via email that Oklahoma agreed to do it because of the Big 12's new TV deal with Fox. And he cited the same reasons that most schools have been reluctant to play on Thursday -- campus disruption, the travel of its fan base, the impact on the players. Last, which Castiglione left unsaid, is that Oklahoma doesn't need the exposure. Oklahoma football does pretty well for itself.
There's one other thing.
"I fully realize times change," Castiglione wrote, "but Saturdays are still magical."
Yes, they are. There is no magic like being on a campus for a Saturday afternoon kickoff. The timing is right. But Thursday nights have their own magic. It might exist more in the living rooms of the viewers than on the campus, and that stinks for everyone whose lives are tossed about to stage a Thursday night game, but it's great for the rest of us.
All of which begs to question: Should we demand that the SEC and the Big Ten follow suit and put their best games on Thursday night? No. 1 Alabama welcomes No. 13 LSU to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday night in a game with ramifications in the SEC West and across the country. Maybe it's a good thing that CBS has left that game in its traditional spot. This Saturday could use a little magic, too.