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No Sooners 'til later in fabled Big Eight rivalry

The game used to be among the most anticipated in college football. If a national championship weren't on the line, certainly a conference title and trip to the Orange Bowl were at stake.

But the Big Eight Conference is no longer, replaced by the Big 12. And with it will go the annual Nebraska-Oklahoma game.

Of course, there has not been much to talk about in this series lately. Nebraska has defeated Oklahoma six straight times by a combined 196-54. The last two have been by 110-21. A victory today would give the host Cornhuskers the longest winning streak in series history.

Last year's 73-21 defeat was Oklahoma's worst ever.

The teams have played every year since 1928, 77 times in all, but after today the annual rivalry will cease. When the Big 12 was established, the schools were put in separate divisions. The next meeting is scheduled for 2000.

"There have been a lot of consecutive Nebraska-Oklahoma games over the last 35 years or so, and in most cases, they have been very significant games," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. "From that standpoint, it's sad to see it end."

Oklahoma leads the series 39-35-3, but Nebraska is expected to pull a game closer today. The No. 1-ranked Cornhuskers (7-0) are 37-point favorites over the Sooners (3-5).

A victory for Nebraska would be the 250th for Osborne, who is 249-49-3 in 25 seasons. The Cornhuskers already are assured of their 36th straight winning season, the best current Division I-A streak and the third best all time.

JOE GOES FOR 400: Joe Paterno has been part of the Penn State scene since 1950, when he joined Rip Engle's staff as an assistant.

A victory at Northwestern would be A victory at Northwestern would be his 400th with the school, which is 399-22-7 with a .762 winning percentage since his hiring.

Paterno's mark is .797 in 32 seasons. He is 295-74-3, including two national championships and five perfect seasons. He has had 29 winning seasons going into this year, with a 5-5 mark in 1966 and a 5-6 record in 1988.

FUTILITY BOWL: Something has to give when Illinois plays at Indiana. Both are winless in the Big Ten, with the Hoosiers' only victory against Ball State. The Illini have lost 13 straight, their last victory in overtime, 46-43 over Indiana last season.

They are the two lowest-scoring teams in Division I-A, with Illinois averaging 9.9 points and Indiana 9.75.

The Hoosiers have been outscored 168-6 in their past four games, with three shutouts. The Illini have been outscored 158-26.

"I wouldn't call it the Super Bowl," Illinois defensive back Trevor Starghill said. "It's another game for us. It's another challenge for us to try and get a victory."

Other sad numbers: Illinois ranks 103rd in total offense (278.86), just ahead of Indiana (267.25). Indiana is 90th in total defense (410.1), Illinois 102nd (444.1).

NEW TERRITORY: They aren't going to the Rose Bowl, but .500 territory is major news for Oregon State. The Beavers have a chance to get to 4-4 with a victory against Cal. Oregon State has not been .500 later than this in a season since 1970 _ the last time the Beavers had a winning record, 6-5.

"That is obviously a major goal for us and our team," coach Mike Riley said. "That would be something that would really be a factor for us to build on, not only with this team but for recruiting and all the loyalists."

AROUND THE NATION: Here is the power of having quarterback Tim Couch: In its last two games, Kentucky did not punt. How bad is the Big 12? Four teams _ Baylor (1-6), Iowa State (1-6), Oklahoma (3-5) and Texas (3-4) _ have failed to win consecutive games. More futility: In last week's Pittsburgh-Rutgers game, the conversion attempts after the first six touchdowns failed. Pitt won 55-48 in overtime. Iowa State quarterback Todd Bandhauer, after the Cyclones broke their 13-game losing streak, the nation's second-longest, with a 24-17 win over Baylor: "This is the happiest I've ever been. It feels like somebody lifted a 1,000-pound boulder off the back of my neck."

GREAT GRAB: Michigan's Charles Woodson made the most impressive interception of the season last week when he picked off a pass with one hand and somehow came down with one toe in bounds. He later intercepted a pass to set up a touchdown in the fourth-ranked Wolverines' victory.

"Honestly, that is why this kid is the best football player in this country," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "Woodson is a great football player having a great year.

"I don't have a vote, but if the Heisman Trophy is about the best football player in the nation, then certainly he deserves considerable consideration."

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.