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Behind the scenes: UT prepares for national spotlight in showdown with Miami

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    A Blue Crew member dances during the fight song at a pep rally around Centennial Mall on the University of Toledo campus in Toledo on Thursday. The football and women's soccer teams were recognized during the event. The football team will be taking on Miami (Fla.) on Saturday.

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    Mascot Rocky during a pep rally at the University of Toledo.

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    Band member Ethan Jessing, a sophomore, of Delta, front, chants while playing the UT fight song during a pep rally around Centennial Mall on the University of Toledo campus.

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    The University of Toledo band plays the fight song during a pep rally.

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    The UT Dancing Rockettes during a pep rally around Centennial Mall on the University of Toledo campus Thursday, September 13, 2018. The football and women's soccer teams were recognized during the event.

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    UT Football coach Jason Candle speaks during a pep rally.

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    Students reach up to try to get a free shirt thrown their way during a pep rally at the University of Toledo.

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    Toledo football player Richard Olekanma speaks during Thursday's pep rally.

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    Toledo soccer player Jamie Peters speaks during a pep rally Thursday at the University of Toledo.

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    Students make their way around Centennial Mall during Thursday's pep rally.

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    People attend during a pep rally Thursday at the University of Toledo.

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    The Miami equipment truck is parked during the preparation for Saturday's game at the University of Toledo's Glass Bowl.

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    Mark Beier, left, and Nicole Greene, both with Rocket Sports Properties, get the signs set up on the sidelines at the Glass Bowl.

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    Athletic development intern Jordan Fuchs, of Adrian, Mich., preps the president's suite at the Glass Bowl.

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    University of Toledo athletic development interns prep a suite at the Glass Bowl for Saturday's game.

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    Mary Cook, left, and Sue Donahue, both of Toledo and with Aramark, put items in a refrigerator for the concession stand during the preparation for Saturday's game at the University of Toledo's Glass Bowl against the University of Miami.

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    Equipment crew member Daniel Bogenschutz, of Miami, Fla., poses with the truck carrying Miami's equipment.

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    University of Toledo band members practices.

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    UT athletic development intern Jordan Fuchs, of Adrian, Mich., preps a suite at the Glass bowl.

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    The University of Miami equipment truck is parked on the University of Toledo campus.

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    The University of Toledo band gets ready to practice in preparation for Saturday's game at the Glass Bowl.

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Band member Ethan Jessing, a sophomore, of Delta, front, chants while playing the UT fight song during a pep rally around Centennial Mall on the University of Toledo campus.

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As the University of Toledo football team prepares for a home showdown Saturday with No. 21 Miami, school staff and officials are doing the same behind the scenes.

UT has welcomed several nationally ranked and Power Five conference foes to the Glass Bowl — and beaten several — over the years, but perhaps none of them carry the same prestige as Miami. The Hurricanes captured five national championships between 1983 and 2001, and are in the midst of a program resurgence.

Combine that with Toledo’s Mid-American Conference title last year, and tickets are selling themselves.

“It’s a huge deal; it’s great for our program,” UT Deputy Athletic Director Dave Nottke said. “We’ve had Boise State and Missouri in recent years, but it’s great to have a program of Miami’s tradition come here. There’s been a lot of anticipation for this game and the community is very excited about it.”

University of Toledo pep rally

Just 250 tickets were available as of Friday, and it’s likely all 26,248 seats will be occupied by Saturday’s noon kickoff. The Glass Bowl’s record capacity was 36,852, set in 2001 against Navy.

For the university, more people does not necessarily mean special preparation. But it does mean much more is required.

“There’s more planning and more meetings,” said Tim Warga, assistant AD for operations and events. “You’re bringing in more event staff and guest services personnel. There’s a little bit more that goes into it because there are more people to work through.”

Mr. Warga said UT is bringing in additional staff, food inventory, and portable concession stands and kiosks to accommodate the large crowd. Mr. Nottke said communication is key in the weeks leading up to any game.

Officials have been in close contact this week with food service, police, and security personnel to design a game plan.

Twice as many people than usual are expected to gather in the Koester Alumni Pavilion just outside the stadium before the game.

“We’ve made some adjustments because of the anticipated crowd sizes,” Said Dan Saevig, associate vice president for alumni relations. “In a two-hour period for an average game, we’ll get anywhere from 2,000 to 2,300 people through our doors. We’re anticipating and preparing for upwards of 4,000 people on Saturday.”

Rocket alumni and fans can enjoy free hot dogs, chips, and soda prior to kickoff. Alumni will be flying in from all over the country, including former UT quarterback Chuck Ealey — who led the Rockets to 35 consecutive victories from 1969-71 —  who is flying in from Toronto, Mr. Saevig said.

The UT Alumni Association is also hosting watch parties in Washington, D.C., and Tampa. 

The game will be televised on ESPN2, meaning the university has a chance to market itself to a national audience.

“We talk about that as a university as a chance to showcase the greatness of our institution,” Mr. Nottke said. “There’s obviously recognition with the Miami program, but also with ours. It’s a three-to-four-hour commercial for the university.”

The Glass Bowl’s press box will be jam-packed with as many as 100 media credentials granted for this game. Two Miami radio stations will call the game, with one providing the second-ever UT football game broadcast in Spanish.

Paul Helgren, associate athletic director for media relations, said 13 scouts will also be in attendance — 11 from the NFL, one from the CFL, and one from a postseason all-star game.

Parking lots open at 6 a.m. and gates open at 10:30 a.m. Mr. Warga urges fans to get to the Glass Bowl early to avoid lines and delays.

“In my 30 years at the university, there’s been more buzz about this game than probably any other I can remember,” Mr. Saevig said. “Part of it is you’re bringing in a school that’s won national championships. They are very well recognized, and when you combine that with the success of our program, I think it’s a really nice fit.”

Contact Jay Skebba at jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebba.

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