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Notre Dame tries to convince itself that Michigan is just another team on the Fighting Irish schedule, just one of 12 steps to a national championship.

But the past is never far away for Notre Dame, and their rivalry with the Wolverines is impossible to ignore."It kind of sits in the back of your mind, and you kind of forget about it," noseguard Oliver Gibson said Tuesday. "Then you go home and you turn on the TV and you see, `Notre Dame-Michigan. Saturday.' And you hear about all the rivalry games."

The winner of Saturday's game at Notre Dame Stadium will solidify its place as a national championship contender. The loser, more than likely, will spend the rest of the season clawing over once- and twice-beaten teams to get back into the title chase.

"If you aren't successful in a game like this, it's very difficult for Notre Dame because we're not in a conference," Irish coach Lou Holtz said. "You get up for a game like this, you realize the importance of it. It's just very, very important for us to be successful with it."

Holtz has beaten Michigan five of eight times since he came to South Bend in 1986, with a 17-17 tie two years ago.

Only twice in Holtz's eight years has the game been decided by more than a touchdown.

HUMBLE LIONS: Eighth-ranked Penn State is battling cockiness after last week's 56-3 defeat of Minnesota.

"It was a confidence booster, but we can get humbled real quick Saturday," center Bucky Greeley said Tuesday.

The Nittany Lions play their home opener Saturday against 14th-ranked Southern Cal, which defeated No. 25 Washington 24-17 last week.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno said the situation reminded him of 1991, when Penn State lost to Southern Cal 21-10 one week after the Nittany Lions embarrassed Cincinnati 81-0.

"But I think this squad is much more mature than that team," Paterno said. "I think they are aware that they have not been in a tough game yet."

Penn State edged USC 21-20 last year, holding the Trojans to 34 yards on the ground.

SCENE OF THE CRIME: The worst bowl defeat in the Miami Hurricanes' history continues to motivate them.

The fifth-ranked Hurricanes on Saturday will return to Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium, where they were drubbed by Arizona 29-0 in last season's Fiesta Bowl. This time, the opponent will be Arizona State.

"We want to go back and prove something," linebacker Ray Lewis said Tuesday. "Everybody is saying Miami has lost this and lost that, and they can't win in Arizona. We want to prove what we can do."

The sting of the Fiesta Bowl was soothed by Miami's first game of the 1994 season, a 56-0 victory Saturday over Division I-AA Georgia Southern.

Part of the Hurricanes' challenge this week will be jumping two time zones and starting the nationally televised game at an unusual time for them - 10 p.m. EDT.

"Our guys are always up studying until 1 or 2 in the morning," coach Dennis Erickson joked, "so they should be raring to go."

CHEATING ACCUSATIONS: At least a dozen current and former University of Houston football players routinely paid another player to take their math exams, the Houston Chronicle reported in today's editions.

Former players told the newspaper that defensive tackle Linton Weatherspoon, who played from 1990 to 1992, took exams for other players in exchange for small amounts of cash and other gifts.