There are smart-alecs among us who might suggest that the Toledo Rockets and Kansas Jayhawks skip the football game tonight and have their family-sized head coaches settle things by sumo wrestling on the 50-yard line at the Glass Bowl.
Toledo's Tom Amstutz pretty much waved off that possibility earlier this week, pointing out that his recent 50-pound weight loss would place him at a distinct disadvantage.
But, he added, he might be enticed if Kansas' Mark Mangino would agree to wrestle for contracts.
About three weeks ago, Mangino received a new deal that bumped his guaranteed annual income from $610,000, a number with which Amstutz can nearly relate, to $1.5 million.
That's what happens when a coach elevates a rather moribund BCS conference program, one that experienced seven straight losing seasons, to two postseason bowl berths in three years.
Mangino has found success with the same formula that the now-retired Bill Snyder used to revive the program at rival Kansas State - play a manageable non-conference schedule to offset the grind of the Big 12 Conference, eke out enough wins to be bowl eligible, and build from there.
A year ago, the Jayhawks went 6-5 in the regular season and whipped Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl. Three of the six wins were non-league decisions at home over Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State and Louisiana Tech.
The Jayhawks are 2-0 thus far in 2006 with victories over Northwestern (La.) State and Louisiana-Monroe, both at home.
Facing Toledo on the road tonight at 8 should prove to be Kansas' toughest non-conference test, although that might be a hard sell to those Jayhawks who were part of a 63-14 win over UT two years ago in Lawrence, or to those who have noticed the Rockets are 0-2.
"They started the season 0-2 but that does not tell the story about their ballclub," Mangino said earlier this week. "Toledo is a good football team. They stretch the field well vertically, but they also throw a lot of underneath routes and screens. Their quarterback has a very strong arm."
That quarterback, sophomore Clint Cochran, has completed 72 per cent of his passes in the young season. Other Rockets that jumped off the UT film at
Mangino include tight end Chris Hopkins (17 catches, 239 yards), offensive tackle John Greco, linebacker Mike Alston, safety and leading tackler Barry Church, and cornerback Nigel Morris.
Kansas has not been a particularly good road team. The Jayhawks are 21-29 in four-plus seasons under Mangino, but 17 of the wins have come at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
"I think if anyone knew the absolute answer as to why we struggled on the road, we would fix it as soon as we could," said Kansas senior center David Ochoa. "It's a point of emphasis that we need to win on the road.
"Toledo is a great team and they are an even better team at home. We are going to have to bring our 'A' game."
The Rockets, playing in their home opener, have won 34 of their last 36 games at the Glass Bowl.
"They played Iowa State pretty well, to three overtimes, so we know that they can play," said Kansas defensive tackle James McClinton.
McClinton is one of only three starters from last season back on a Kansas defensive unit that was among the nation's best. The Jayhawks have been vulnerable to the pass during their two opening wins, but have allowed just 37 total points and have held the opposition to 56.5 rushing yards per game.
"A team like Kansas, a Big 12 team, doesn't rebuild," said UT's Cochran. "They just reload. They have some really good defensive people. We're expecting Iowa State-type talent and we know we're going to have to be strong and execute."
Offensively, the Jayhawks are led by red-shirt freshman quarterback Kerry Meier (24 of 45, 295 yards, 4 TDs) and senior running back Jon Cornish (36 carries, 243 yards).
"They're pretty good," Alston said of the Kansas offense. "The quarterback really plays with a lot of confidence and he spreads the ball pretty evenly to his receivers."
UT's defense is reeling from giving up far too many big plays in a 31-10 loss last Saturday at Western Michigan.
"We feel we have great athletes on defense, but we have to showcase that better and do a better job of taking it from the practice field into the game," Alston said. "We don't like losing and we especially don't like losing in front of Toledo fans. We want to be at our best against Kansas."
Amstutz said personnel is not a problem for the Jayhawks.
"They're very talented," said UT's coach. "So we need to tighten up everything on defense. They're very sound. They're Big 12 players and I know it will be a huge challenge for us."
Sounds like a weighty issue for the Rockets.
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