Meet Ohio’s best intrastate rivalry: Toledo-Bowling Green. Sure, it’s a Mid-American Conference matchup, but “The Battle of I-75″ is, as Ron Burgundy may say, “kind of a big deal” around these areas.
Tuesday night the college football microscope takes a brief look in northwest Ohio where the best intrastate rivalry takes place for the 70th time: the University of Toledo Rockets and the Bowling Green State University Falcons.
► Meet the rivalry. The series began in 1919, but the annual match was put on hiatus, as told by UT’s athletic fan site:
The series discontinued for 13 years following Toledo’s 63-0 victory in 1935. BGSU officials reportedly ended the series due to the unruly behavior of UT fans following the victory, though many UT faithful claimed the decision had more to do with the outcome of the game.
While I vividly recall the last five games won by the home team, that streak actually extends two more years, back to 1998. This year the game is played in BGSU’s Doyt Perry Stadium.
► Meet Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz. Granted, the man could be the manifested version of Jabba the Hutt, but “Toledo Tom” is the heart and soul of Rocket football. He was born in Toledo, played offensive line at Toledo, and coached at Toledo since 1977, except for a three-year period at Navy. When former coach Gary Pinkel bolted to Missouri, Amstutz was handed the team in 2001 and has a 43-18 winning record.
► Meet Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. You may have already met some of his Pennsylvania-bred predecessors: Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, George Blanda, Johnny Lujack and Terry Hanratty. They all went to rather prominent colleges: Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Kentucky, Notre Dame and Notre Dame, respectively. Gradkowski had more passing yards his senior year of high school than any of them. Yet he was barely recruited at the Division I-A level. But Toledo knew what they were getting when they signed him.
He began starting for Toledo as a sophomore, and in each of his two full years had a 70 percent completion rate, second in the nation each year. In his senior year he has fallen off a bit completing only 62.4 percent. If he does not beat BG tonight, his team will likely not go to a bowl game and thus he will finish his college career with two straight losses.
► Meet Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs. Like Gradkowski, Jacobs was a high school prospect not getting any love from D-1A schools. After Kansas State reneged on a scholarship offer, his choices were Buffalo or Florida International. But then-BG coach Urban Meyer heard about him from K-State and signed him up when he met him. All Jacobs did last year was throw for over 4,000 yards, 41 TDs and 4 interceptions, setting a record for the best TD-to-INT ratio in NCAA Division 1A history.
This year, again like Gradkowski, has been a letdown from last year — especially since Jacobs has missed a couple games with a separated shoulder. But the 6-4 Falcons will forget about the 4 losses if they can simply beat their rival.
► Meet head coach Gregg Brandon. Brandon inherited a team energized by hip young football coach Urban Meyer, who has since globetrotted to Utah and now Florida. Brandon began his coaching career in the Rocky Mountains, starting the D-1A carousel at Wyoming and moving around to Utah State, Northwestern and the U. of Colorado before finally being brought in by Meyer to BG. In Brandon’s first two years he has won two straight bowl games, one against his former employer Northwestern.
► Meet the implications for each team if they win. If Bowling Green wins, they will win the MAC West title and play in the MAC championship. If Toledo wins, they will have a chance to win the MAC East if Northern Illinois loses Wednesday.
Other players for each team to watch:
- Toledo RB Trinity Dawson has 1000 yards rushing this season.
- Bowling Green WR Charles Sharon has the BG record for most receiving yards in a career.
The game is on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Eastern. I’ll be watching.