MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mid-week games are no longer a yearly staple on the West Virginia football schedule the way they once were.
This year’s WVU football schedule is a throwback in many ways. The most notable way is that the calendar features contests against former Big East foes Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
Another way this year’s slate sees the return of Thursday night football games for the Mountaineers.
But not just one Thursday night contest, not even just two. Neal Brown’s club will play a trio of regular-season mid-week contests under the lights, all of which will carry more significance than the average college football game.
“I think it does help. I think it’s a little bit of a throwback, right?” said WVU’s Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs, Matt Wells.
Wells and his staff are in charge of, among other things, selling tickets for West Virginia athletics events through the Mountaineer Ticket Office.
“Thursday night can create some challenges, obviously, with people having to take more time off of work, especially when they have to travel,” added Wells. “But I also think it creates some excitement.”
Some of that excitement was pre-built into the schedule for Wells and WVU’s marketing department.
The Backyard Brawl is returning to the gridiron for the first time since 2011. West Virginia is facing Virginia Tech for just the third time since the end of the 2005 season, and it will be the Mountaineers’ first trip to Lane Stadium since 2004. Brown and company’s other mid-week contest comes on Thursday, October 13 at home against Baylor.
The Bears have been picked as the top conference’s team in the Big 12 Football Preseason Poll.
“Especially that Pitt game, we’re going to be the biggest show on TV that night. It’s the opening night of college football,” said Wells. “You really got the stage to yourself so to speak. I know there will be a few other college games, but I think this will be the marquee game that night.”
Matchups aside, Thursday night games do feel different. There is something unique about largely being the only Power 5 vs. Power 5 game of the day, and playing on national television.
Bring the opponent back into the picture, and it’s easy to see why WVU’s allotment of tickets for the Backyard Brawl have sold out, and why tickets to the Virginia Tech matchup are selling quickly.
“I think if you look back over the past 15 to 20 years or so, [we] largely built our brand off of some of these mid-week games,” Wells said. “I think it’s kind of cool to get back to that.”
West Virginia has played 26 Thursday night games since the start of the 1994 season. The Mountaineers are 15-11 in those games, 21 of which have featured at least one ranked team.
This is the seventh season over that time that WVU will play multiple Thursday night contests, and it’s the third time that the Mountaineers will play three Thursday games in one year. WVU has never played four Thursday contests in a season.
In both previous seasons in which West Virginia has played three games on a Thursday, 2000 and 2006, either Pitt or Virginia Tech was a mid-week opponent.
This year, the Panthers and Hokies are both mid-week foes.
Overall, West Virginia has an all-time record of 20-5-1 in home games played on Thursday. Conversely, the Mountaineers are 9-22-2 in true road games on Thursday nights.
WVU is 0-2 against the Hokies in games played on Thursday. Both of those meetings were played at Lane Stadium.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are 2-1 against Pittsburgh on Thursday night, with one of those two wins coming at Heinz Field.
West Virginia is 1-3 against Big 12 opponents on Thursday since joining the conference. However, WVU did defeat the Baylor Bears on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, by a score of 58-14.