A backup cornerback for Ohio State has been suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules and will not play in the national championship game against LSU, the school said yesterday. Eugene Clifford, a freshman from Cincinnati, will not practice or play with the top-ranked Buckeyes (11-1) on Jan. 7 at the Superdome. The announcement was made in a brief e-mail.

There had been reports on Columbus station WCMH-TV on Wednesday night and in yesterday morning's editions of the Columbus Dispatch that Clifford and Ohio State's starting cornerback, Donald Washington, had both been suspended for a violation of team rules.

Clifford was a prized recruit last spring after receiving all-state and several national honors at Colerain High School.

Noteworthy

* Three people have been charged with robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping of three North Carolina football players.

Police said the players were attacked early Sunday at their off-campus apartment. Police said they were bound with tape before they were assaulted, and one of those charged threatened the players with a knife.

Authorities have charged Monique Jenice Taylor, Tnika Monta Washington, and Michael Troy Lewis with three counts of kidnapping, three counts of conspiracy to commit a felony and one count of resisting arrest.

Taylor and Washington are also charged with one count of first-degree sexual offense.

* Florida State coach Bobby Bowden isn't concerned the Seminoles will have to forfeit games for using ineligible players this season.

About two dozen Florida State players have been suspended for the Music City Bowl against Kentucky for cheating on an online exam. Several starters were among the players in a music history class last spring in which students apparently were given answers during an exam.

* Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum plans to return for his senior season. The third-team All-America selection had 73 catches for 960 yards, the most among tight ends in the nation.

In the Poinsettia Bowl:

* At San Diego, Brian Johnson threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and Utah opened the bowl season with a wild, 35-32 victory over Navy (8-5).

Running back Darrell Mack, who grew up in the San Diego area, scored the first and last touchdowns for Utah (9-4), which won for the eighth time in nine games.

The teams combined for 50 points in the second half. *