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A really one-sided rivalry

Long before Colorado became a national power, back in the days when the Buffaloes were among the little six in the Big Eight, coach Bill McCartney decided his team needed a rival everyone in Boulder could love to hate.

After all, Oklahoma and Nebraska had each other to dislike, and there were other natural rivalries between Kansas and Missouri and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Who would McCartney pick? Much to Nebraska coach Tom Osborne's dismay, McCartney chose the Cornhuskers. He had them put in big red letters on the schedule. He made it known that, forevermore, Nebraska would be the biggest game for Colorado each season.

The second-ranked Buffaloes (7-0) play the third-ranked Cornhuskers (8-0) in Lincoln today, and no big letters on the schedule are needed for everyone to know this is an important game.

It will likely decide the Big Eight championship and determine who gets the automatic Orange Bowl berth, and the winner will be in excellent position to win a national championship.

Since 1989, the series is tied 2-2-1, with the teams finishing 1-2 in the Big Eight each season. But Colorado's declaration of Nebraska as its "rivalry game" remains one-sided.

"I think they've made it pretty obvious they don't consider us a rival," McCartney said. "But we'll probably always make it a red-letter game on our schedule."

Osborne refuses to look at Colorado the same way. "For us, the big game is whoever is doing well," he said. "It's not any particular team. If they feel that way, fine. I'm not into bonfires or anti-Colorado campaigns."

"I understand why Coach Osborne doesn't want to call it a rivalry, because the great rivalries have been built over a long period of time," McCartney said. "We haven't been good for that long. I understand that. But this is a big game."

Indeed, the winner could very well vault past No. 1 Penn State into the top spot in the nation.

And the winner is: Kansas State has played both Colorado and Nebraska, losing to the Buffaloes 35-21 and to the Cornhuskers 17-6.

"They are both two great teams," Kansas State safety Chuck Marlowe said. "Colorado is more big-play oriented, while Nebraska is run, run, run. It's going to be a very interesting game, but you have to give the edge to Colorado because (Nebraska quarterback Tommie) Frazier's not playing."

Said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder: "Right now, Colorado has great balance and could be as good as any team in the country."

Rushin' Rashaan: The game could turn on the heels of Colorado junior Rashaan Salaam, who leads the nation in rushing (179.4 yards per game) and scoring (15.4 points). If he finishes the season as the leader in each category, he would become the 11th player to do so and the first to do it since Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders in 1988.

Another big one: Ohio State could be one of the last teams standing in the way of an undefeated regular season for Penn State. The Buckeyes play the No. 1 Nittany Lions in State College, Pa.

Ohio State's John Cooper has never coached against a No. 1-ranked team in his 18 seasons and is 7-14-3 against ranked teams since taking over at Ohio State in 1988. But he is 1-0 against the Nittany Lions.

How good are the Utes?: Utah's 45-31 victory over Colorado State puts the Utes in position to win the Western Athletic Conference. If Utah survives a Nov. 19 test against Brigham Young and wins the Holiday Bowl against the third-place Big Ten team, the undefeated Utes could make their claim to the national championship, just as BYU did in 1984.

"I'm not saying this Utah football team can go out there and run over everybody in the country," said defensive back Harold Lusk, who returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the waning moments against Colorado State. "But I'm saying we have the talent on our team to compete in any game. I really believe that."

Said Utah coach Ron McBride: "I would think any team that could go undefeated has to be considered for something. If we did that, how much credit we would get, I don't know."

Don't let the door hit you : Michigan State coach George Perles appears to be on his way out. Joel Ferguson, chairman of Michigan State's board of trustees, as much as said so this week.

Perles, with three years remaining on his contract, has been working this season under a threat from school president Peter McPherson that he have "an outstanding season." The Spartans are 2-5 entering today's game against Indiana.

"Under any definition, this is not an outstanding season," Ferguson said.

MSU has lost eight of its past 10 games, and Ferguson said that is the key statistic.

"He can educate kids and instill the right values, but we're doing that anyway," Ferguson said of Perles. "That's not a new variable. That's not part of the president's agenda when you talk about an outstanding season."

Said Perles: "I have a contract and I expect to honor that contract."

Quick kicks: UCLA has lost six a row for the first time since 1943. The school record is seven in a row and the Bruins (2-6) can tie it with a loss against Stanford (2-4-1) today. The Big 12 which starts play in 1996, announced its 12-year schedule, and the biggest casualty is the Nebraska-Oklahoma series. The schools will meet just six times in those 12 years.