It used to be commonplace to see marquee college football games on Thursday night, but as the NFL expanded its package into a season-long schedule, the primetime ESPN or ESPN2 slot lost a considerable amount of luster. Now, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 adjusting with new TV arrangements and other conferences making moves to spread out their broadcast inventory for maximum exposure, Friday night has become the new Thursday night, with a deceptively compelling lineup of games that in many cases lead fans right into the early hours of Saturday.
If you can bear to sacrifice both of your weekend nights to college football this season, you should be rewarded. A sampling of the best offerings on each Friday of the season:
Week 1: San Diego State at Stanford, Colorado vs. Colorado State, Western Kentucky at Wisconsin. Wisconsin and Stanford both have the returning talent to harbor playoff aspirations (as does Michigan State, which also kicks off against Utah State on Friday of Week 1). And after Tulane–Wake Forest came out of nowhere to be the best game of Thursday's opening night action, CBS Sports Network has another game that might get weird in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Week 2: TCU at SMU. This is actually the only FBS game on the schedule for Sept. 7, sandwiched between the NFL's opening night and college football's Week 2. TCU likely minded the short week less than most, knowing it would get an extra day of rest before a primetime showdown with Ohio State in Arlington the following weekend. New SMU coach Sonny Dykes spent last year across town as an offensive analyst on Gary Patterson's staff.
Week 3: Georgia State at Memphis. Another lean Friday, with a very watchable Boston College–Wake Forest game on Thursday night to tide everyone over. You will be grateful for the break over the course of the ensuing month's slate. Georgia State narrowly avoided losing its home opener to an FCS team for the second straight season after rallying past Kennesaw State on Thursday.
Week 4: Florida Atlantic at UCF, Penn State at Illinois, Washington State at USC
Here we go. Lane Kiffin vs. Josh Heupel in a battle of SEC offensive coordinators turned Florida head coaches, McKenzie Milton vs. Devin Singletary in a battle for Group of Five Heisman consideration ... and that's before entertaining the possibility that this game has New Year's Six bowl bid implications.
Week 5: Memphis at Tulane, UCLA at Colorado
A second Friday night showcase in September for Memphis, whose excellent 2017 was ultimately overshadowed by UCF, followed by Chip Kelly's Pac-12 opener. That'll work.
Week 6: Georgia Tech at Louisville
A few years ago, this would have been a textbook Thursday night offering: a mid-tier ACC game between two high-variance teams.
Week 7: Arizona at Utah
As if Khalil Tate on ESPN isn't reason enough to watch, this sets up to be a crossroads game for USC's two biggest challengers in the Pac-12 South.
Week 8: Colorado State at Boise State
In a rare exception, this week's Thursday slate (Georgia State at Arkansas State, Stanford at Arizona State) outguns its Friday slate, which will only get worse if Colorado State's season-opening loss to Hawaii turns out not to have been a fluke.
Week 9: Miami at Boston College, Utah at UCLA
Consider this a major trap game if the Hurricanes come to Chestnut Hill in the driver's seat for the ACC Coastal Division. Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin (whose Owls host Louisiana Tech) both make their second Friday night appearances of the year.
Week 10: Pittsburgh at Virginia, Colorado at Arizona
Colorado's defense was the first to suffer the humiliation of trying to stop Khalil Tate in open space.
Week 11: Louisville at Syracuse, Fresno State at Boise State
The Orange travel to Western Michigan on the season's first Friday night, but this date with Louisville will feel more like the mid-October upset Syracuse sprung on Clemson a year ago. A Mountain West title game rematch will be waiting in the wings.
Week 12: Memphis at SMU
Two Friday night regulars meet again, with plenty of points (and potential AAC West implications) in the forecast.
Week 13: Oklahoma at West Virginia, Washington at Washington State, UCF at South Florida, Nebraska at Iowa, Houston at Memphis
No one needs to be told to watch college football on Black Friday, but a clash of Big 12 heavyweights makes this year's slate especially strong. If Houston meets its lofty expectations and hangs with Memphis, we could be looking at a pair of AAC semifinals.