For only the third time in its venerable history, Michigan Stadium will host a night game. When the Wolverines take on Penn State on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m., it will be the first Big Ten game to be played entirely under the lights at the Big House.
It's about time.
Night games are a fact of life now in college football, and there really isn't anything wrong with that. Saturday is the ideal night to stay up late anyway. You can sleep in the day of and after the game, still catch the late Sunday Mass or service and be awake enough for the first NFL kickoff at 1 p.m. This isn't like starting a World Series game at 8 p.m. on a school night.
As for Michigan and the Big Ten, it's a sign of the times.
Though its Big Ten title drought has now reached a decade, Michigan is still among the five most powerful brand names in college football. The Big House, with its 109,901 seats, is still the biggest stadium in the land. Having games played in primetime under the lights is an important part of staying competitive and relevant in the 21st century.
The SEC has made Saturday night games an attraction during the BCS era, with a few epic battles between LSU and Alabama coming immediately to mind. The Pac-12 has also used night games to get increased face-time, with a built-in time-zone advantage as those primetime games start at a not-so-late 5 p.m. kickoff time.
The Big Ten—particularly Michigan—has resisted playing at night until recent years, with tradition and weather the primary considerations. The Big House finally hosted its first night game in 2011, when Michigan rallied to a miraculous win over Notre Dame. The Wolverines repeated that feat last year with another electrifying win over the Irish.
The choice of Penn State as the foe for the 2014 night game is inspired. While the Nittany Lions are still on probation for the Jerry Sandusky transgressions, they're also one of the marquee names in college football. These teams, who have not met in Ann Arbor since 2009, are now division rivals in the realigned Big Ten.
Perhaps the most memorable Michigan-Penn State game ended under the lights, even though it didn't start at night. In 2005, Mario Manningham caught a Chad Henne TD pass on the game's final play as Michigan handed the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season, one that denied them a shot at the BCS championship.
"The night game atmosphere created by our fans has been electric and we expect that same type of energy for our first-ever conference night game against Penn State. Our players really enjoy playing in primetime at Michigan Stadium."
The 2014 game will be televised on ESPN (or ESPN2) as part of a revamped primetime schedule for the network. The Wolverines have always been a Bristol favorite for Big Ten night games, though until the coming season they've always played on the road.
About the only thing to spoil the idea is a lack of moderation. As long as Michigan plays only sparingly at night and never past mid-October, the Big House under the lights will be a welcome new sight for college football.
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