Kinnick Stadium hosted two night games last season for the first time ever (the most night games Iowa has ever hosted in one season) and it sounds very likely that they'll be hosting at least one night game in Kinnick this fall. Which opponent could Iowa see under the lights? Let's rank Iowa's 2016 opponents, from least likely to most likely to be a night game opponent:
7) Nebraska (November 25, 2016)
Iowa-Nebraska could be a very big game next season if both teams are as good as the preseason projections suggest (counterpoint to those bullish Nebraska predictions: Tommy Armstrong, Jr. is still their quarterback) and this game could have big stakes and a lot of intrigue. But so long as it's played on Black Friday, it's going to be locked into an 11 AM or 2:30 PM kick-off. So we can rule it out.
6) Miami (OH) (September 3, 2016)
The Big Ten's opening weekend schedule isn't overflowing with compelling games, but even by those standards Iowa's opener against Miami (OH) (who went 3-9 last year) ranks pretty far down the list. Historically, Iowa has never played a season opener at night, either. That factoid may or may not be relevant -- prior to last year they'd never played two home games at night, either, so precedent can always be set -- but there doesn't seem to be much interest in an Iowa-Miami (OH) night game.
5) North Dakota State (September 17, 2016)
Iowa's game against the five-time defending FCS national champion Bison is a sneaky-good game (and arguably the best one on Iowa's non-conference slate, give or take your feelings about the Cy-Hawk Series). However, September 17 also features the best non-conference games of the Big Ten season. Ohio State-Oklahoma and Michigan State-Notre Dame are the heavyweight fights that week (go ahead and pencil them in for ABC and NBC, respectively), but there's also Oregon-Nebraska, Duke-Northwestern, and Temple-Penn State. Iowa-NDSU could get the BTN primetime treatment that night, but any BTN primetime game is going to get clobbered in the ratings by by the OSU and MSU games. This might be a good week for BTN to sit out the primetime action.
4) Iowa State (September 10, 2016)
Iowa has long preferred to play Iowa State during the day, mainly because giving Iowa and Iowa State fans an entire day to drink and spend time around one another can be somewhat... problematic, shall we say. If the night game decision was solely up to Barta and Iowa, I have no doubt that the Iowa State game would have a 0% chance of being in primetime. But it's not solely Iowa's call -- it's really TV's decision. Iowa played Iowa State at night in Ames three years ago, although that broadcast decision was handled by the Big 12's broadcast partners (FS1, in that case). Would BTN or ESPN/ABC want Iowa/Iowa State at night this year? It's a fairly meager slate for the Big Ten in Week 2 -- the top game is probably Penn State-Pitt, but that game is at Pitt, so it's not controlled by the Big Ten's broadcast partners. The other top games that week are probably Akron-Wisconsin (the Zips did go 8-5 last year), North Carolina-Illinois, and Cincinnati-Purdue. Not a whole lot to choose from there. I still don't quite think it's likely that this is a primetime game -- mainly because while Iowa State is a Power 5 opponent and this is an in-state rivalry game, the Cyclones just don't bring a whole lot to the table, interest-wise -- but it is a possibility.
3) Wisconsin (October 22, 2016)
This game has a lot going for it in terms of being a potential night game: it's a rivalry game, the games are typically close and very competitive, and these teams are both probably going to be picked near the top of the Big Ten West. Like the Iowa-Northwestern game, this could be a big game in terms of the divisional race. There is, however, one problem: Ohio State-Penn State is also scheduled that week. OSU-PSU has been a night game quite often and it wouldn't be too surprising if it was again next year.
2) Northwestern (October 1, 2016)
The Northwestern game is Homecoming next fall and Iowa has typically preferred to play Homecoming games during the day due to the logistical issues for various Homecoming weekend activities. But they have played a Homecoming game at night before (2010 against Penn State) and, again, television is the deciding factor in these decisions. Iowa and Northwestern were two of the best (and most surprising) teams in the Big Ten last fall and they're likely going to be picked to finish near the top of the standings this fall, given what both teams have in terms of returning talent and experience. This could be a very important game in the Big Ten West title race. Outside of Wisconsin-Michigan, this is a pretty quiet week of games in the Big Ten as well (unless you care deeply about the Battle for the Governor's Victory Bell between Minnesota and Penn State).
1) Michigan (November 12, 2016)
This game is late in the season, but the Big Ten has broken the seal on November night games already (Iowa played Minnesota at night on November 15 last year), so the calendar shouldn't be an impediment to putting this game at night. Iowa is expected to be a contender in the Big Ten West next year and Michigan is likewise expected to be a contender in the Big Ten East next season, which means that this game could serve as a Big Ten Championship Game preview. If everything breaks right for both teams, Iowa-Michigan could be one of the biggest games of next year's Big Ten slate. (And if both teams are having really good seasons when this game comes around in November, we might just see College Gameday make its return to Iowa City after a decade away.) Iowa-Michigan is also the biggest Big Ten game of the week (no offense to Minnesota-Nebraska and the Battle for The $5 Bits of Broken Chair).
What game would you prefer to see at night? I posed this question on Twitter and Michigan was the runaway choice:
Who would you prefer to see Iowa play in a night game at Kinnick Stadium next year?— Black Heart (@BHGP) April 8, 2016
Michigan was also the winner when I posed the question on Facebook. It's not hard to see why -- Iowa-Michigan is the biggest game on Iowa's schedule next year and playing Michigan always seems to carry a little added juice.