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Published: Sunday, 6/11/2006

Amstutz up for challenge of playing OSU

As University of Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien revealed that UT will play two football games with national power Ohio State beginning in 2009, one question begged to be answered.

What does coach Tom Amstutz think about having to face the Buckeyes twice in three years?

Playing Ohio State - once at Cleveland Browns Stadium, once at Ohio Stadium in Columbus - is probably viewed as a form of torture for most Mid-American Conference coaches.

A big payday is no consolation for most MAC coaches when the subject of playing the Buckeyes comes up.

So what's Amstutz's take on the situation?

"They're a great program, but we'll take the challenge," Amstutz said Thursday. "I know their budget is astronomical compared to ours, but football is played on the field, player against player. Where you come from doesn't matter once you cross those white lines.

"If you're at Ohio State, you say you better not lose. If you're at Toledo, you say you have a chance to win."

Amstutz isn't trying to be unrealistic when it comes to Toledo's chances of upsetting Ohio State. The Buckeyes routed the Rockets 49-0 in 1998 in Columbus in the only meeting between the schools.

Yes, Amstutz sounded upbeat when he was questioned about the upcoming two-game series with the Buckeyes.

Can UT defeat Ohio State? On paper, no. But Amstutz pointed out the games will be played on the field, where anything can happen.

"As a coach, I know it's going to be tough. But I think it's a very good situation," Amstutz said. "Our players want to play Ohio State. All of our players watched them growing up through high school. It's an opportunity to test ourselves.

"I heard some coaches in our conference complaining about having to play an Auburn, or whatever. If a coach is complaining and miserable about it, the players will be too and your performance will be reflected by a coach's attitude toward a game like this."

UT's 2006 schedule includes games against opponents from the Big 12 (Iowa State and Kansas) and Big East (Pittsburgh).

The Rockets, who have faced Big Ten opponents such as Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State, as well as Pittsburgh, in recent years, will host Iowa State and Purdue in 2007.

"A good football schedule for teams in our conference is to be willing to play anyone at any level and have a tough game, then to have a game you should be able to win, along with the conference games,'' Amstutz said. "I think Ohio State really wants this game [in 2009]. The NCAA has pushed to have everyone play 12 games.

The Big Ten likes playing teams from the Mid-American Conference. They took advantage of an opportunity to play in a big stadium at a new location.

"It's a good set-up for both schools."

The Rockets will be underdogs against Ohio State, but Amstutz has been coaching football for a long time. He has been a part of enough upsets to know that if the Rockets believe they are beaten before they take the field, they have no chance.

In 2000 under former coach Gary Pinkel, visiting UT crushed Penn State 24-6.

"Who would have ever believed we could have lined up and played against Penn State?" Amstutz said. "You win a game like [Ohio State] and it adds a lot of credibility to your program and a lot of confidence to your players."

Amstutz is confident enough to believe his Rockets will be up for the challenge. But he's even more grateful for the rare opportunity to get Ohio State on the field.



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