University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz looked to another sport as a means of evaluating his football team five games into the 2006 season.
"It's like a boxer who has been training against great sparring partners," Amstutz said. "Now he's going to go into the ring against an opponent that's pretty equal and he's ready to fight the fight.
"We've just played what might have been the most difficult early-season schedule in UT history and our character has been tested. You hope those great sparring partners have raised you to the level necessary to win the fight."
That fight - seven straight Mid-American Conference opponents to close the regular season - begins Saturday night at the Glass Bowl against Central Michigan.
Both teams are 2-3 overall, but the Chippewas are 2-0 in league play compared to UT's 0-1 mark.
UT, which dropped a 45-3 decision at Pitt last Saturday, has a losing record after five games for the first time in six seasons under Amstutz. If you think the coach is ready to push a panic button or two, you'd be wrong.
"I'm not disappointed with this team at all," Amstutz said. "I look at who we've played. We played two Big 12 teams and beat one [Kansas] and took the other [Iowa State] to triple overtime. That's pretty good. We handled a nationally-ranked Division I-AA team [McNeese State] pretty soundly and that's good.
"We went on the road against a good conference opponent [Western Michigan] and didn't perform well in taking care of the football. That wasn't good.
"The Pitt game was a bit of a distorted situation. We had people moved around, some backups playing, the field position snowballed against us, the opponent was playing at a high level, and things got away. I don't want to read too much into it.
"I like the players on this team, I like their intensity, I like the way we've scrapped. I still see good things happening to us."
FLEET FEET: How the quarterback situation shakes down for conference play is yet to be determined, according to Amstutz, who said injured starter Clint Cochran, who has missed the last two games, will be evaluated throughout the week.
But it has turned into a two-man race. If Cochran is not able to go, the job belongs to true freshman Aaron Opelt. Redshirt freshman Brandon Summers, who started the last two games, has likely played his way out of the competition.
Opelt's major attribute is his ability to scramble out of the pocket, avoid sacks, and produce positive yards. He has carried 17 times for 105 yards against just eight yards lost by sacks.
"That's sort of my game and it was the same thing in high school," said Opelt, a product of Fremont Ross. "I can get out of the pocket when I have to, which isn't very often with this offensive line. I try to find the open receiver, but if nothing's open I feel confident tucking the ball and running. The best thing is when it helps us sustain drives."
Whether Opelt can produce decent passing numbers is yet to be determined. In two appearances, he has completed 21 of 42 passes for 157 yards, one interception and no touchdowns.
QUOTE-UNQUOTE: This from Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly, whose team snapped a 10-game losing streak against UT last season, but whose Chips haven't won in Toledo since 1993:
"We'd like this to be a rivalry, but rivalries are built by teams that win. It wasn't much of a rivalry with us getting our brains beat out for so many years. We hope we can turn this into a rivalry because it would mean our program has elevated itself to compete with Toledo on a day-to-day basis. We're not there yet. But this weekend's game will have a lot to say about that."
AROUND CAMPUS: Senior guard Danielle Bishop was named yesterday to the All-MAC West Division preseason team for women's basketball. She received the same honor a year ago and responded with averages of 14 points and 4.6 rebounds. The deadline for 2007 Varsity T Hall of Fame nominations is Nov. 10. The induction ceremony will be Jan. 26 at The Pinnacle in Maumee. More information and nomination forms are available online at www.utrockets.com. Senior outside hitter Kate Bean set a school record last weekend with 39 digs in a loss at Ball State and followed with 21 kills in a win over Akron. UT's volleyball team, splitting four road matches to open the MAC season, hosts Kent State tomorrow at 7 and Ohio Saturday afternoon at 3 in Savage Hall. Jason Hines, a graduate assistant in sports medicine from 2002-04, has returned to UT as an assistant trainer who will work with the volleyball and swimming-diving teams.
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