Published: November 15, 2022

Rivalry ranked among nation’s most intense

BY KYLE ROWLAND BLADE SPORTS WRITER

In the pantheon of college football rivalries, Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, and Texas-Oklahoma are at the top of the list when considering history, stakes, and dislike of one another.

Where does the Battle of I-75 rank? Very high, actually.

According to research by Know Rivalry, a unique project spearheaded by two college professors, Toledo-Bowling Green is the fifth-most intense rivalry in the country, ahead of the Iron Bowl, Texas-Oklahoma, Florida-Florida State, and USC-UCLA.

“We have data from hundreds of rivalries and most of the time the ingredient that stands out is consistency,” said Joe Cobbs, a professor at the Haile College of Business at Northern Kentucky University. “But when I looked at the data for this particular rivalry, spatial proximity was the top-rated ingredient by Toledo and Bowling Green fans. It’s actually unusual for consistency to not come out as the highest-rated element. But in this one it reflects the fact that the proximity of the institutions means the alumni interact, the students interact, the fans interact, and the community interacts. That’s what drives this rivalry.”

Cobbs partnered with David Tyler, an associate professor at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, on the Know Rivalry project, the basis of a new documentary on the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

(Blade sports columnist David Briggs makes several appearances in the film.)

Tuesday’s meeting will be the 87th playing of the Battle of I-75. Toledo and Bowling Green have met every year since 1948, ruining each other’s seasons, punctuating great years, and establishing bragging rights for 365 days.

Located 25 miles apart, these uneasy neighbors share a mutual respect because of the daily communication between the bordering communities. But beneath the surface lies a deep distaste for the rival school.

Jason Candle has lived it for 14 years as a UT assistant and head coach. In 2009, his first season as an assistant, the Rockets lost to BGSU, and wide receiver Eric Page told Candle it would never happen again while he was playing for Toledo. It didn’t.

“That opened my eyes to it,” Candle said. “He grew up here and we’ve had so many players that have followed him from northwest Ohio. It’s a big deal and one we take very seriously.”

The sting of losing hurts worse than the euphoria of winning, coaches, players, and fans say.

“They’ve had our number the past few years,” one Falcon supporter told researchers. “BG fans talk about that a lot.”

Another BG fan said, “Toledo is THE Bowling Green rival. It’s made clear to every student…”

In 2019, Toledo sauntered into Doyt Perry Stadium as 27-point favorites over rebuilding BG. What transpired was the biggest upset in the rivalry’s history, as the Falcons defeated UT 20-7. It’s a feeling that Candle hasn’t forgotten, acting as a driving force the past two seasons.

In 2020 and 2021, Toledo outscored the Falcons 87-20.

“You just don’t want to be part of that,” Candle said. “As a staff, you don’t want to live that. I’ve had to live it twice in my time here, and, hopefully, I never have to live it again.”

A young sophomore linebacker sat in the corner of the visitor’s locker room that day and saw the pain on his teammates’ faces. The same feeling that Page experienced and Candle spoke about was coursing through Dyontae Johnson’s veins.

“It was almost like we had just lost the Super Bowl,” Johnson said. “As a young player, I didn’t think of it that deep. I just thought of it as another loss. But after I saw the reaction from the seniors, I understood how big it was.”

BG coach Scot Loeffler embraced the rivalry on Day 1. He instituted a Toledo drill in practice and even plays the UT fight song. The former Michigan quarterback became well-acquainted with the year-long focus on a single game. The Ohio State game wasn’t just another game — it was The Game. Loeffler has adopted a similar mindset at Bowling Green.

As an assistant, Loeffler has been part of the sport’s greatest rivalries — Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, and Florida-Georgia. It feels different in meeting rooms, on the practice field, and inside the stadium during those weeks.

It’s the same thing for Toledo-BG.

“It should be different,” Loeffler said. “It’s different for them, it’s different for us. That’s the way great rivalries are.”

Jakari Robinson transferred to BG from Memphis, but the center already has a feel for the game by simply watching past seasons. The energy could be felt through the screen, Robinson said, noting extracurriculars after the whistle.

“You can tell both of these teams care about this game,” he added.

The energy, level of focus, and attention to detail are heightened the week of the BG game, UT quarterback Dequan Finn said.

It’s no different in each community in Wood and Lucas Counties.

If you drive down a residential street in Perrysburg, Maumee, Whitehouse, or Ottawa Hills, chances are you’ll see Toledo and BG flags. At companies in northwest Ohio, UT and BG graduates work together side-by-side. At the dinner table at Thanksgiving, family members banter about the Rockets and Falcons.

When you share property lines, workspace, and living quarters, there’s no ignoring the gravity of a single football game.

“It’s the threat to your own identity,” Cobbs said. “The teams that you root for become a part of who you are. There are certain opponents that mean a lot more. In this case, the opponent is 20 miles down the road and you’re interacting with them pretty frequently. To have the thought that they have a higher status — and in football, you only compete once a year — it makes the one day a year mean so much because the whole year is riding on it.

“People in the community know when you lost to your rival in football.”

Contact Kyle Rowland at

krowland@theblade.com or on Twitter @KyleRowland.