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Published: Friday, 12/30/2005

No split loyalties for OSU AD Smith

BY RON MUSSELMAN AND MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITERS
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, with defensive coordinator Rick Minter, is concerned about OSU's kickoff returners. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, with defensive coordinator Rick Minter, is concerned about OSU's kickoff returners.
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TEMPE, Ariz. - This week has been like a trip down memory lane for Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

The Buckeyes will square off against Notre Dame, Smith's alma mater, Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl, where he is a life member of the board of directors.

And the game will be played at Sun Devil Stadium, the home field of Arizona State, Smith's last employer before he was hired in March to replace Andy Geiger at Ohio State.

Although Smith was a defensive end on Notre Dame's 1973 national championship team, and an assistant coach when the Fighting Irish repeated in 1977, he insists his allegiances won't be torn.

He is pulling for the Buckeyes.

"I just want to beat them," Smith said. "Like these players, with a game like this and you're playing a good team on a platform like that, you just like to win."

Smith admits he used his contacts here to help secure a third Fiesta Bowl trip for the Buckeyes in four years.

"Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the board members, I had their cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses," he said. "I was working them real hard. But the players put us in a position where it was an easy sell."

Like Ohio State, Notre Dame's football program has a rich history and tradition, which makes this one of college football's most appealing bowl matchups.

"It is a great opportunity for our young men to play the best," said Smith, a Cleveland native. "Let's rock and roll and get it done."

This will be the final Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Next year's game will shift to the Arizona Cardinals' new stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

"I'm obviously not happy that it's going to leave," Smith said. "Sun Devil Stadium is the place for the Fiesta Bowl, but I understand why that decision was made. So it's going to be nice to be a part of this. Hopefully we can make it a memorable one."

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. may have slipped off the national radar a bit, but he's still a dangerous receiver/return man.

Ginn had just one touchdown every 19 times he touched the ball this season and five overall, compared to one TD every seven opportunities a year ago as a freshman with eight scores.

Still, Ginn ranks third nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 29.6 yards per return.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said the less he sees of Ginn, the better.

"Why you would ever kick to him is a good question," Weis said. "But that No. 4 [Santonio Holmes] is pretty good too. That's why. You pick your poison. You can kick to one of them or kick it out of bounds. Those are your three choices. They're both back there on punts together too. It's scary."

TOO TALL: One of the main concerns for the Buckeyes is how their defensive backs will match up against Notre Dame's record-setting - and very tall - wide receivers. Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall are both 6-5, and very good. Samardzija, a junior, was named a first-team All-American by several news services after he led the Irish in receptions (71), receiving yards (1,190) and touchdown receptions (15). Stovall, a senior, ranks second in Notre Dame history with 19 career touchdown receptions, and is fifth in receiving yards with 2,069.

They will most often line up against Ohio State cornerbacks Ashton Youboty (6-1) and Tyler Everett (5-11).

"I think we have the mentality that we've faced big guys before," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "You have to go back to other games and look at some of the things they did. Fortunately, we've got some veterans who have faced good, big receivers. They have great respect for them."

PAPA BACKER: Just a few days before Ohio State played Michigan in the final game, Buckeyes' senior linebacker Anthony Schlegel found out his world was going to change in a big way. Schlegel and his wife, Stephanie, are expecting their first child next summer. "I'm excited, but I'm not scared at all," Schlegel said. "It's a blessing."



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