Michigan-Florida 3:30 kickoff part of ESPN/ABC's big opening weekend
Michigan’s neutral site season-opening game against Florida on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas, will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on ABC, ESPN announced on Thursday. That matchup will be featured prominently in an opening weekend schedule of Big Ten games on the network.
In case there’s any confusion about the Big Ten’s football TV deal, ESPN is offering a reminder that it very much has a presence with marquee games after splitting the Big Ten rights deal with Fox Sports.
The first week of the college football kicks off on ESPN on Aug. 31 when Ohio State plays at Indiana at 8 p.m. Wisconsin's game against Utah State will air the next day at 9 p.m. on ESPN, while Akron will play at Penn State on Sept. 2 at noon in the slot ahead of the Michigan-Florida game.
Alabama will face Florida State that Saturday night in the primetime game. To round out the first weekend of college football, Tennessee-Georgia Tech from Atlanta will be Sept. 4 at 8 p.m.
But with four of the Big Ten heavy hitters playing in games on ESPN the first week of the season, network executives are hoping to remind fans that the conference rights are shared by ESPN and Fox Sports.
“We are going to come out of the Big Ten gate strong,” Nick Dawson, ESPN vice president of college sports programming, told The News. “We have four of the biggest brands in the conference (playing the opening week). It’s important for us to remind viewers the Big Ten still lives on ESPN, as well.”
Fox Sports made news recently for getting first dibs on the Big Ten’s biggest matchups and selected the Michigan-Ohio State game this fall.
“It’s always difficult to lose that game in the sense they have the ability to pick it off the top,” Dawson said. “It’s one of the most visible games in college football, but there are a lot of high-profile games in the Big Ten; Michigan-Penn State, Oklahoma-Ohio State.
“The pool of conference matchups with the brands in the conference, the resurgence of Penn State, and Wisconsin playing at a high level, Michigan State has been strong for the half decade – there are a ton of great brands there, and there’s no shortage of great games.”
ESPN also announced Thursday that Ohio State will be the featured ABC Saturday Night Football game when the Buckeyes host Oklahoma at 7:30 p.m. on ABC on Sept. 16 in the second week of the season. Additional Big Ten games will be announced soon.
The mechanics of how the two networks make their Big Ten game selections is complex, but ultimately, they have an equal split of games, not to mention the Big Ten Network obviously also will carry games. With the equal share of games, ESPN will likely have the Michigan-Michigan State game on Oct. 7, in addition to several other Michigan games.
But, networks for all games beyond the first three weeks do not have to be finalized until after the start of the season. The complete network schedule for the first three weeks of the season is expected to be announced soon.
Dawson said with Fox Sports getting the Michigan-Ohio State game, long an ABC/ESPN fixture, it’s easy for viewers to think ESPN is no longer televising Big Ten games.
“What’s new is easy to get excited about and write about and talk about,” Dawson said. “What sort of has been there traditionally can get lost in the shuffle. It’s important for us to make sure people understand it’s a different world, but we and Fox will split the Big Ten games. We’re excited about that.”
ESPN/ABC WEEK 1 SCHEDULE
Thursday, Aug. 31
No. 1 Ohio State at Indiana, 8 p.m., ESPN
Friday, Sept. 1
Utah State at No. 11 Wisconsin, 9 p.m., ESPN
Saturday, Sept. 2
Akron at No. 5 Penn State, Noon, ABC
Kent State at No. 7 Clemson, Noon, ESPN
N.C. State vs. South Carolina at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN
No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 21 Florida at Arlington, Texas, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Appalachian State at No. 13 Georgia, 6:15 p.m., ESPN
Chick-fil-A Kickoff: No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida State at Atlanta, 8 p.m., ABC
AdvoCare Texas Kickoff: No. 12 LSU vs. BYU from Houston, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Sunday, Sept. 3
MEAC/SWAC Challenge: South Carolina at Southern, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
No. 20 West Virginia vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., 7:30 p.m., ABC
Monday, Sept. 4
Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech at Atlanta, 8 p.m., ESPN
Saturday, Sept. 9
No. 8 Oklahoma at No. 1 Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Saturday, Sept. 16
No. 15 Miami at No. 2 Florida State, 8 p.m., ABC