When Notre Dame plays Boston College at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 on either ABC or ESPN, it will be the first Saturday prime-time telecast involving an ACC football team in three weeks. If only the major broadcast networks and ESPN are counted, and not ESPN2, it will be the ACC's first Saturday prime-time appearance since Sept. 27, when Virginia Tech defeated Nebraska 35-30.
There's more to it than which games the networks like — contractual restrictions, preseason scheduling — but that's definitely a factor. This year's ACC story lines simply aren't blowing away network executives.
So far this season, 10 games involving ACC teams have been aired in prime-time — four on ESPN on Thursday night and three on ESPN2 on Saturday night. Of the three other Saturday prime-time games, two involved Southeastern Conference teams, and all three took place in August or September.
SEC teams, by comparison, have hit prime-time in 15 games this season — three on Thursday night, two on ESPN2.
ESPN and ACC officials note that the Thursday night telecasts are considered marquee games that are scheduled before the season, and the ACC's Mike Finn says some of the conference's better games have been played that night.
ESPN also is somewhat restricted by the SEC's contract with CBS, which usually televises its SEC games at 3:30 p.m. Saturdays. ESPN can't go against CBS with an SEC team or teams in that time slot, which leaves an earlier slot Saturday or prime time — 8-11 p.m. — for ESPN. That means ESPN's SEC games Saturday tend to be shown in prime time.
That said, ESPN wants ranked teams with the most compelling stories on the air in prime time. Three SEC teams are ranked in the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll — No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Florida and No. 8 Georgia — LSU sitting at 15th. The ACC is flying under the radar with Florida State at No. 16, UNC at No. 21 and Maryland at No. 25.
The big guns brought via expansion — Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College — have eight losses among them.
To TV networks, ratings ultimately mean more than rankings. A look at three broadcast network football telecasts on Saturday night shows little difference. Alabama-Clemson on ABC on Aug. 30, Virginia Tech-Nebraska on ABC on Sept. 27, and LSU-Florida on CBS on Oct. 11 all reached about 4 million to 4.3 households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
In Nielsen's weekly cable network top 40 listings through Oct. 19, however, the only ACC team to make it was Miami in its 26-3 loss to Florida on ESPN on Sept. 6. In addition to that game, the SEC accounted for three other top-40 games, according to Nielsen.