Saturday, Dec 03, 2016
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Attendance will show if Bowling Green, Toledo rivalry is alive

Matt Campbell said it earlier this week.

"This is one of the great rivalries in all of college football."

Dave Clawson said it earlier this week.

"It's one of the biggest rivalries in the country."

They are the head football coaches at Toledo and Bowling Green, respectively, and they were discussing the 77th meeting between the northwest Ohio neighbors Saturday night at the Glass Bowl.

I can't begin to count how many times I've written something similar through the years. That BG-UT is the Mini-Me of Ohio State-Michigan. That UT-BG captures the liquid passion of Georgia-Florida, the fire of Auburn-Alabama, the history and elegance of Harvard-Yale, the pageantry of USC-UCLA, the hard edge of Texas-Oklahoma.

Maybe it is because I am writing this on a birthday that ends in '0' and I feel old and crotchety, but that's all balderdash.

It doesn't matter when a great rivalry game is played, but it does matter when BG-UT is played. Thus ...

In 2008, there were 11,264 fans at the Glass Bowl for the Rockets-Falcons showdown. A year later, at Doyt Perry Stadium, a bowl-bound BG team whipped Toledo in front of an announced crowd of 14,075. In both cases, it was the last game of the regular season played on the Friday following Thanksgiving, with students on holiday break. In the latter case, it was a very cold day with wind gusts that threatened to slice a person in half.

Those games ended a decade of late-November dates, either on the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving or the day after, and seven of those 10 games were played before less-than-capacity crowds at a pair of cozy stadiums whose capacities are modest.

The last two were definite proof that the rivalry was ailing. In 2010, the game was moved to a Wednesday night the week before Thanksgiving and 22,071 showed up at the Glass Bowl with UT closing in on an eight-win season and a bowl bid. Last year, the game was played in mid-October and two 3-3 teams yet to define their seasons drew 22,408 at The Doyt.

Now, we're going to try mid-September, the Mid-American Conference opener, warmer weather, colder beer, a tailgater's delight.

"I think you could play this game in July, two months before the season begins, and it would be pivotal," Clawson said.

Ssshhh. Not so loud. They'll try that next.

This season's date is too early. A rivalry game doesn't necessarily have to end a season -- UT and BG fans alike have proved they are neither hearty enough in shabby weather nor supportive enough of shabby teams for that to work -- but it shouldn't open a conference slate.

Privately, UT officials are not happy with this schedule because they feel a home opener against any opponent and later home games against BG and Cincinnati, both in October, would have assured three 25,000-plus crowds. But when Temple forked over big bucks to escape the MAC immediately for the Big East and the league's divisions and schedules had to be jockeyed, this is how it tumbled out.

Who knows? Maybe mid-September will be the magic elixir for what ails the UT-BG rivalry.

"I think it's a great opportunity," said Campbell, a rookie head coach, but someone who has been on both sides of this rivalry as an assistant. "It's early, everybody's excited, the atmosphere should be even more charged."

Anything less than a sellout -- that's 26,248 at the Glass Bowl -- with swaths of orange slicing the stands and a raucous solid-gold student section, will be a disappointment, especially to players who take this game very seriously.

A real rivalry calls for packed houses and a fever pitch. Otherwise, ranking BG-UT among the great ones is just lip service.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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