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Illinois Football move 2015 season opener vs. Kent State to Friday Night

Memorial Stadium to host first non-Saturday game since 2001 Big Ten Championship clincher.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Illinois announced Monday morning it will open the 2015 football season against Kent State under the lights on Friday, Sept. 4.

It will be the first non-Saturday home game at Memorial Stadium since Nov. 22, 2001, when the Illini defeated in-state rival Northwestern on Thanksgiving Day to clinch the 2001 Big Ten championship. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network. Kickoff time has yet to be announced.

"We are always exploring new ideas on improving our in-game atmosphere and trying to make the games as enjoyable as possible," Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a statement. "We are introducing an exciting new tailgating area on the west side of Memorial Stadium this season, and an early season night game is a a terrific way to allow our fans to experience that area. We think this is a great way to kickoff the Labor day weekend."

The Illini have seen a decrease in attendance for home openers each year since Coach Tim Beckman took over the program. Coming off back-to-back bowl wins, 43,441 fans made the home opener, and that number dropped after a 2-10 season to 42,175. Beckman guided the program to a 4-8 season in 2013, but only 36,234 attended the home opener this season.

Illinois did not play a home game at night last season in Champaign, with six of its seven home games starting at 11 a.m. The lone one that didn't start before noon ended in the evening, with Illinois defeating Texas State 42-35 in a 3 p.m. kickoff time that was marred by a near two-hour rain delay.

The Illinois high school football season will be in its second week when Illinois hosts the Golden Flashes.

Illinois spring practices begin Saturday, March 14, with the first of 15 workouts. The annual Illinois football Orange and Blue Spring Game will take place at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 18 at 5 p.m. live on BTN.

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