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Column: Good things come from Thursday night games

Plus, a brief history of Ohio State’s non-Saturday matchups. 

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Remember the last time Ohio State opened on a Thursday? It also happened to be a conference game on the road. It also felt like an anomaly, being the first (non-postseason) non-Saturday game the Buckeyes had played since 2010.

That time, the Buckeyes traveled to Bloomington, Ind. to open the 2017 season. Heading into the Aug. 31 kickoff, Ohio State had a lot that was going wrong. Most notably, Mike Weber, the feature back from the 2016 season, was out with an injury. In his place was a true freshman back from Texas.

As per usual with Ohio State, because of its epic ability to get players into the NFL, questions remained with the departures of key players. Curtis Samuel, the leading receiver from the previous season, was gone. The defensive secondary lost three players to the first round of the NFL Draft.

But of course, the game kicked off and the rest is history. The Buckeyes brought home a 49-21 win over the Hoosiers that night. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, starting off his senior season with a bang, threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and didn’t seem to be missing Samuel at all. Defensively, Ohio State held Indiana to 17 rushing yards and pulled in two interceptions.

However, the biggest takeaway from the game was, of course, the emergence of true freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 181 yards on 29 carries and established a running back battle we didn’t anticipate (in a good way).

Dobbins, as we know, went on to have three 1,000+ yard seasons, including totaling a program record 2,003 yards in 2019. He finished his career at Ohio State as one of the top running backs in program history; and it all began on a Thursday night.

Could we expect similar fireworks come tomorrow evening when the Buckeyes travel to Minneapolis to face the Golden Gophers in this season’s opener? Perhaps. Ohio State is breaking in a brand new quarterback and behind the veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson stands a stable of the nation’s most talented young receivers. And of course, a lot of folks are looking for TreVeyon Henderson to be the next great true freshman running back a la Dobbins.

And while Dobbins’ emergence is inextricably linked in many of our minds with that 2017 Thursday night opener in Bloomington, there are other things to love about kicking things off on a non-Saturday. It’s just not that often that it happens.

High school has Friday. College has Saturday. The NFL has Sunday. Monday Night Football is a special occasion, and the casual MACtion on Wednesdays (and other random days) and American Athletic Conference games Thursdays certainly keep things rolling. And yes, Thursday Night Football in the NFL can muddy the waters.

But what about when highly ranked teams (like Ohio State, for example) play on non-Saturdays? Well, Ohio State’s history with those games is brief:

  • Most recently, Ohio State played Northwestern on a Friday in 2019. The Buckeyes won 52-3. It was an odd choice, because the game was not a season opener, and there was a strange scheduling trend at the time that tended to move Thursday night games to Friday night, presumably to account for Thursday Night Football for the NFL.
  • As discussed previously, the Buckeyes opened up the 2017 season on the road against Indiana on a Thursday night with a 49-21 win over the Hoosiers. That was good.
  • Ohio State opened its 2015 campaign against Virginia Tech on Labor Day Monday. The Buckeyes, fresh off a national title, kicked things off with a 42-24 win with quarterbacks Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller all getting playing time in the matchup.
  • In 2010, the Buckeyes opened their season against Marshall on a Thursday night in Columbus, bringing home a 45-7 win over the Thundering Herd on the heels of three Terrelle Pryor touchdown passes and two scoring runs from Brandon Saine.
  • In 1999, ninth-ranked Ohio State opened up its season on a Sunday against No. 12 Miami (FL) as part of the Kick-off Classic hosted in New Jersey. Sadly, the Buckeyes fell 23-12.
  • In 1997, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes opened up against Wyoming on a Thursday, defeating the Cowboys 24-10 in Columbus.
  • The 12th-ranked Buckeyes opened their 1995 season with a 38-6 victory against No. 22 Boston College on a Sunday, also in the Kick-off Classic in New Jersey.
  • In 1994, No. 20 Ohio State kicked off against Fresno State in Anaheim, California, on a Monday night, winning 34-10.
  • Finally, in 1986, No. 9 Ohio State fell to No. 5 Alabama 16-10 on their Wednesday night season opener in New Jersey.

While the non-Saturday game is rare, when they do happen, they are usually held at the start of the season. Especially when they are premier matchups featuring a conference game or ranked Power Five opponents; it also makes sense to schedule the opener during the week before the NFL season starts, avoiding competition with the pros’ Thursday Night Football broadcast.

As Ohio State fans, it feels special to separate the Buckeyes’ matchup as the main event of the evening ahead of the rest of opening weekend — and hopefully use it to propel the team to a 1-0 record before anyone else even takes the field.

Additionally, with Labor Day being such a busy travel weekend, how often have you missed a game because you’re on vacation? Thursday night games help circumvent the issue entirely.

There’s the added benefit of enjoying a summer evening watching your favorite team before coasting into a long weekend. It also doesn’t hurt that it gives the Buckeyes extra time to prepare for a highly ranked Oregon team to come to town the following Saturday.

Finally, and perhaps most obvious, as fans who have waited an entire offseason, it’s nice to not have to wait for an extra two days to watch our favorite team play.