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Michigan quarterback Brian Griese acknowledges the Wolverines will be under tremendous pressure both on and off the field when they face arch rival Michigan State today (12:30 p.m., ESPN).

"It's going to be tough," Griese said. "Their fans are going to be loud and they're going to be ruthless."

No. 5 Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is a 2 1/2 -point favorite. That's mainly because No. 15 Michigan State (5-1, 2-1) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 19-17 loss at Northwestern last week.

Michigan State could have an edge, however, because the home team has won the last five meetings between the teams.

On the field, where it counts the most, the teams are remarkably similar.

Michigan has a blitzing, attacking defense and the results have paid off. The Wolverines are second nationally in scoring defense and total defense, permitting 8.3 points and 207.7 yards per game.

"It's going to take the same things to win this game as it will any game," Michigan State coach Nick Saban said. "If you can't run it, you better be able to throw it well. And nobody's been able to do either of those things to this point. We're going to have to get a lot more consistent in our execution in order to move the ball against this team."

Michigan State also plays good defense. The Spartans are 12th in both total and scoring defense, allowing 12.2 points and 279 yards per game.

Trying to solve the defenses will be Spartans quarterback Todd Schultz, with help from tailback Sedrick Irvin, and Griese, with help from Michigan running backs Anthony Thomas and Chris Howard.

Schultz is 88 of 143 for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Irvin has 591 yards and five touchdowns.

Griese is 104 of 160 for 1,217 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Howard is the leading rusher with 428 yards on 84 carries.

"It's the state championship," Griese said. "Before you can go on to win the Big Ten championship, you've got to win the state championship."

In other games today involving ranked teams, it's No. 1 Nebraska at Kansas; No. 3 Florida State at Virginia; No. 7 Washington at Oregon State; No. 9 Ohio State vs. Northwestern; No. 10 Washington State vs. Arizona; No. 11 Auburn at Arkansas; No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri; No. 13 UCLA vs. California; No. 14 Kansas State at Oklahoma; No. 16 Georgia vs. Kentucky; No. 18 Iowa vs. Indiana; No. 19 Virginia Tech at No. 21 West Virginia; No. 20 Texas A&M at Texas Tech; No. 22 Purdue at Illinois; No. 24 Toledo at Bowling Green, and No. 25 Mississippi vs. Alabama.

Even though the game is at Lawrence, Kansas will be at a disadvantage when it plays top-ranked Nebraska. Jayhawks coach Terry Allen has suspended three starters from a defensive unit that will need to be at its best against the powerful Huskers.

Star outside linebacker Ron Warner, cornerback Jamie Harris and inside linebacker J.J. Johnson will be watching, not participating, when Kansas tries to avoid a 29th straight loss to the Huskers.

"We felt it had to be done, that it was very important for us," Allen said. "It's a learning situation for all of us. Most importantly for the men involved, it will be a positive experience down the road for them, it will give them an opportunity to be successful in the more important game, the big game of life."

Allen announced the suspensions Tuesday but has declined to say what the players did. He insists, however, that they were not involved in drugs or any other "extracurricular activities."

Meanwhile, Florida State has strung together 14 straight ACC victories, including a 31-24 triumph against Virginia last season.

In many ways, tonight's matchup between Florida State and the Cavaliers bears much similarity to the game two years ago. The Seminoles are dominant on both sides of the line with the nation's top-rated defense and an offense good for 452 yards per game.

"They've improved," Virginia coach George Welsh said. "And they're probably hitting their stride right now."

Alliance gives in to TV

Stay tuned for the super alliance bowl lineup on ABC next season. And then stay tuned on Jan. 2, Jan. 3 and, yes siree, Jan. 4, too.

Whatever happened to playing just on New Year's Day?

The new super alliance, which will include the Orange, Sugar, Rose and Fiesta bowls, recently released the game dates for the next four years.

The 1998 national title game, the Fiesta Bowl, will be played on Monday night, Jan. 4, 1999. The Orange is set for the night of Jan. 2, while the Rose has its normal 5 p.m. slot on Jan. 1, followed by the Sugar Bowl at 8:30 p.m.

Over the following three years, the title game will be played on Jan. 3, with a Jan. 2 game and two on Jan. 1.

When the Rose Bowl gets the title game in 2002, the traditional late-afternoon start is out and an 8 p.m. start is in.

What gives? Why spread out the games?

Ratings and more ratings.

Now that ABC has control of the four alliance games, plus the ready-to-be-really-hyped Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, the network speaks and the alliance nods its approval.

"The World Series is at night and the NBA makes sure its big games are on the right days," says Roy Kramer, head of the bowl alliance and Southeastern Conference commissioner. "We live in a world of TV, and that includes college athletics. Sports fans understand that."

Kramer said the changes eliminate an alliance game on New Year's Eve "because it's not a good ratings night," and moving the title game to a Jan. 3 or Jan. 4 "will set the national championship game apart and elevate interest."

High-octane offense

Mix Brigham Young's wide-open pass attack with Florida's Fun 'N' Gun and you'll end up with something like Andy Talley's No. 1 Villanova Wildcats.

Division I-AA's top-ranked offense features a quarterback whose high school coach worked at BYU, twin California wideouts heavily recruited by the pass-happy PAC-10 schools and an offensive coordinator who favors three-receiver schemes and quick strikes.

The combination adds up to 449.8 yards and 45.2 points a game.

"A lot of people call it the West Coast offense," Talley says. "Actually, we're much more wide-open than that."

The high-octane offense took all of one play to show that. In the season opener, Curtis Sifford caught a screen pass from Chris Boden and ran 51 yards for the touchdown. Villanova went on to batter West Chester, 64-0 -- in the first half. Lightning stopped the game after halftime.

The Wildcats have scored at least 34 points every game, including last Saturday, when Boden threw for 409 yards and five touchdowns against Richmond's previously stingy defense in a 40-29 win that gave Villanova a 6-0 record and the top ranking -- just two years after a 3-8 season.

They will need every offensive weapon in their arsenal today against No. 12 William & Mary, a team the Wildcats haven't solved in six years and have never beaten in Williamsburg.

"It's been fun to watch, fun to coach," said Talley, 82-50-1 in his 13 seasons as head coach. "I get out there and look at them and can't believe some of the things they do throwing the ball and catching the ball."

Villanova closes the regular season Nov. 15 with a home game against the University at Buffalo.

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