COLUMBUS — When Urban Meyer felt the quake of 106,112 fans cheering Ohio State to a runaway win against Nebraska one night last October, he wanted to relive the high again and again.
Tradition was all well and good, but Meyer cared more about the future. He saw how recruits took to the prime-time setting and made the case the Buckeyes should host two games under the lights per season — a sharp break for a school that has long refused to add permanent lighting to the Horseshoe.
This fall, Meyer will get his wish.
Ohio State and Michigan will play in five of the six Big Ten night games nationally televised by ABC or ESPN, the league announced Monday, with the Buckeyes playing two such home contests for the first time in program history.
OSU will be under the lights for home dates against Wisconsin on Sept. 28 and Penn State on Oct. 26, as well as its Oct. 5 conference road opener at Northwestern, with all three games starting at 8 p.m.
The Wolverines are back in prime-time, too, including at home against Notre Dame in a rematch of the first night game played at Michigan Stadium — a thrilling 35-31 UM win before an NCAA-record crowd of 114,804 in 2011. Michigan, which also travels to Penn State for a 5 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 12, will face the Irish on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
The move to more after-dark starts marks a major shift for both rivals, though the Buckeyes appear more willing to dive into previously unlit territory.
Michigan has not played a home night game since its first one with the Irish. Athletic director Dave Brandon has said he wants to limit the Wolverines’ late nights at the Big House to one per season. Ohio State, meanwhile, wants to do its rivals one better.
For years, Ohio State had played it conservative, citing safety concerns and fan convenience for hosting only 12 night games since 1985, but Meyer hoped to start a new tradition. Turned off by the Buckeyes’ six noon home starts last season, he pined for more late games — and the buzz these under-the-lights kickoffs stirred among the recruits in attendance.
Athletic director Gene Smith was on board. With Big Ten teams allowed to play three night games per year, OSU in the past had typically played two road night games per year, including at Indiana and Penn State last season and at Miami and Nebraska in 2011. But Smith said he is fine with flipping that to two home games and one road game — an option Ohio State expects to have most years as one of the nation’s top television draws.
All games announced Monday will be televised by ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2. The Big Ten Network is expected to announce its lineup of conference night games next month.
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