Since 1997, Thursday night games on national television have been a staple of the Atlantic Coast Conference football season. The idea of playing on Thursday nights is both a treat for fans and a nightmare for coaches. Regardless of the feelings on either side, Thursday night games are here to stay, and the ACC has made the choice to own its role in that regard.
Clemson and Georgia Tech will renew the tradition this week in Atlanta in the first conference tilt of the season in the primetime Thursday time slot. Neither team is a stranger to the challenges and benefits of playing on Thursday nights, but one team has a more expansive history than most others.
When you think of Thursday night college football, there’s a good chance you think of Georgia Tech. In 19 full seasons—plus a few weeks from this year—Tech has played 25 games on Thursday nights. Four of them have featured non-conference opponents in the first week of the season, meaning the Yellow Jackets have played just more than one conference game a year on Thursday. Three have come against Clemson, with the Yellow Jackets prevailing in two out of three.
Fifteen of Tech’s 21 ACC Thursday night games have been at home, making Atlanta a familiar place for ESPN’s crews to camp out during the middle of the week during the fall. From that standpoint, preparing for such a game on short rest is familiar for the folks on campus, as well as the fans that have made Bobby Dodd Stadium a difficult place to play on a consistent basis.
Clemson is no stranger to Thursday night, either. The Tigers have played 15 games in that time slot, and only three have been home games. That includes the most recent Thursday meeting with Georgia Tech, a 55-31 Clemson victory in 2013.
Neither team has had particularly great success historically on Thursday nights. Since ESPN began featuring that package, Georgia Tech is 8-13, while Clemson is 6-9. For the Tigers, it’s not that surprising due to the high volume of road games against ranked opponents. For the Yellow Jackets, however, the results are more difficult to explain.
Then there’s this: Since Tech beat the Tigers in 2009 in Atlanta, the two teams have been on opposite paths as far as Thursday night success is concerned. Clemson has won its last five games on Thursday nights, and four of them have been by double-digit margins. In contrast, Georgia Tech has dropped its last six such contests. Half of them have been home games, all against Virginia Tech, and all decided by a combined 20 points.
Clemson’s lengthy losing skid at Georgia Tech has gotten the headlines, and conventional wisdom may be to pile Thursday night track records on top of that to give the Yellow Jackets a decided edge in terms of the trends. However, it feels like many of those trends are pointing in the Tigers’ direction, and the ultimate battle—the battle of talent between the two sides—appears to point that way as well.