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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Amstutz hates losing, but race is far from over

Tom Amstutz is a little testy this week.

His University of Toledo football team lost to Central Michigan for the first time in 11 years last Saturday.

And it was the first time Amstutz tasted defeat against a Mid-American Conference school from Michigan in 15 games.

Worse yet, the Rockets also lost ground in the wild and wacky West Division.

It s knuckle-gnawing time for UT, which no longer controls its own destiny in the conference race.

Amstutz loathes losing.

I don t like it very much, he said, understating his true feelings.

Thankfully for Amstutz, he hasn t had to deal with the pain of losing a whole lot Toledo is 42-17 in his five seasons as coach. Better yet, the Rockets are 11-2 following a loss.

However, when Amstutz does lose, Teddy Bear Tom becomes Terrible Tom.

The first thing my wife makes me do is go outside and clean the garage and get all the anger out of my system, Amstutz said, jokingly.

He quickly goes back to work on Sunday and tries to clean up his team s mistakes.

No one enjoys losing, but that s part of our business, Amstutz said. As a coach, you just have to focus on what you need to do and improve on it.

This week that task is tougher than usual. The Rockets have one fewer day to cram for their Friday night frolic against Ohio on ESPN2. It is a critically important game.

The Rockets are just 14-14 on the road under Amstutz, and the Bobcats are 3-2 this season, and one of four teams tied for the lead in the East.

Toledo, which has beaten Ohio nine consecutive times, can t afford a second straight misstep.

The Rockets need to run the table in their last three games, which also includes dates with Northern Illinois and rival Bowling Green.

Even then, it may not be good enough.

Central Michigan, by virtue of its 21-17 victory over Toledo five days ago, holds the upper hand in the West, although both teams are 4-1.

If the Chippewas win out they have games remaining with Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Ball State the Rockets would be frozen out of a return trip to the MAC Championship game.

Let s not forget, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan are each 3-2, so the chase for the championship might get even tighter. The Huskies could wrap up the West with a 3-0 finish. The Broncos, meanwhile, would have to win out and have Toledo lose two of its last three.

In the muddled MAC, eight of the 12 teams have winning records and are in contention.

There is a lot of hope for a lot of teams, Amstutz said.

For the fourth time since the MAC split into two divisions in 1997, one champion will have at least two league losses. That could be a good omen.

Amstutz has never had a team lose more than two conference games in a season. Three times, the Rockets have won the West and advanced to the MAC title game. Twice, they have finished 7-1 in league play.

UT can still duplicate that record with a strong finish.

But should the defending MAC champions stumble, Amstutz may be back cleaning out the garage again.

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