A week ago, I drafted a post that forecasted Nebraska's TV schedule, not expecting that the Big 10 and ESPN would have to set their primetime schedule before the month of May was upon us. Please, Big 10: you don't have to announce your fall lineup before the four major networks announce theirs. It's a long summer, so please wait at least five weeks after the last spring game. And don't fill every primetime slot through the end of October, just through the first weekend in October. Keep us in suspense.
As far as the games that were selected for TV, the winning programs from last year all got a night slot...except Nebraska, whose only September/October game deserving of a major slot was against UCLA. Some comeuppance for the Big 10 Title Game disappointment and ruining the league's reputation even further? Maybe, but Notre Dame will not get a bad rating in any market in this country. ABC may be expecting Fox to air either Ohio State-at-Cal or Wisconsin-at-Arizona State against whatever game they selected for that night. Nebraska-UCLA would take much of the same audience.
<div style="float:left; text-align:right; width:450px; max-width:450px; margin:0 20px 10px 0;">Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports</div>But Nebraska deserved at least one primetime ABC/ESPN slot coming off of last year, and even though the popularity of the Irish trumps a lot, Nebraska and UCLA's combined viability going into 2013 is greater than Notre Dame and Purdue's. But this isn't football; it's television, and major college football is a television show. The UCLA game will still get the 2:30 slot on ABC, or the 11 A.M. slot on ESPN at the very worst.
Nebraska was fortunate to get good TV windows last year. Thanks to great seasons by their two mid-major opponents in 2011, Nebraska's single home games against Southern Miss (who quickly fell off the map) and Arkansas State got plum national windows. (Anyone remember when Nebraska had three or four pay-per-view games a year in the Big 12?) Bolstered by crossover games with Wisconsin and Ohio State, Nebraska had a total of eight regular-season games on over-the-air networks (seven on ABC, one on Fox), and had three night games total. And it helped that the rest of the Big 10 was so bad, Jim Delany longed for the days when no one could get BTN.
With a schedule downgrade (read: Illinois, Purdue as crossover games), Nebraska will not receive as many great windows. Bo Pelini and Shawn Eichorst should have taken SDSU off the schedule when Southern Miss sold their home game back to Nebraska, in order to play a road game. I know there was a contract, but Pelini has said repeatedly he doesn't want to play FCS schools. Put your money where your mouth is, coach. If you want to complain you couldn't have found an opponent, here's who needed a non-conference games in 2013 after it became official that the Golden Eagles would play in Lincoln this season: Florida State, Missouri, BYU, Pitt, Boston College (who is playing a road game at New Mexico State), Syracuse, Wake Forrest, Baylor, Texas State (who Nebraska could have gotten two visits to Lincoln out of for one visit to recruit-rich Texas), and Georgia Tech, who was forced to schedule a second FCS team. The ACC threw a curve ball at its members when it switched back to an eight-game conference schedule in October, and any ACC member would have welcomed Nebraska to get a top ABC or ESPN airing. Given that Nebraska has its schedule set through 2016, it would not have mattered if the other school couldn't have come to Lincoln for a four or five years
As it is, Nebraska fans should feel lucky if one of the Huskers' three non-conference cupcakes is either a BTN night game or gets on ESPN. Of the three games, Wyoming is the most likely candidate for a good TV window, but it still seems unlikely that Nebraska will play more than one night game this year after playing at least four a year since 2008. As a result of this, Nebraska fans should campaign for the Northwestern game to be at night. It's early in November (the 2nd), and Northwestern would likely be amenable to the additional publicity a night game would bring. With the Big 10 division's changing and annual schedules with Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota, Nebraska needs to take every opportunity to get good TV windows.