The riverboat gambler in Texas coach John Mackovic was in full rage last week when the Longhorns renewed hostilities with Oklahoma.
Locked in a 24-24 tie, Texas had the ball on the Oklahoma 11
with nine-plus minutes left. On fourth down, Mackovic called for an option pitch from quarterback James Brown to fullback Ricky Williams.
It was a bad call because:
* Brown clearly was not comfortable with the option. Five days before the game, he called it a "wasted play." When he ran it three weeks earlier against Notre Dame, he committed a costly fumble. And although he had run the option several times this season, Brown had yet to pitch the ball.
* Sophomore Phil Dawson was waiting to kick an almost automatic 28-yard field goal. He has hit 20 of 26 career attempts.
* Williams lost 6 yards and the ball to squander the opportunity.
* Neither team scored again, and Texas had to accept a tie after blowing a 21-0 lead.
The second guessing of Mackovic began immediately. While he should be commended for having the courage to make that call, it appeared to be a case of the coach outsmarting himself. Again.
Mackovic is predictably unpredictable. And prefers it that way.
Two weeks ago, facing fourth-and-one against Rice, he ordered a pass to the tight end. It went for a 19-yard touchdown that helped break open a 37-13 win for Texas.
But the folks in Austin haven't forgotten the 1993 game against Texas A&M; when a Mackovic ploy backfired big time. Trailing by three in the closing minutes, Texas had fourth-and-two at the A&M; 2-yard line. With his two best receivers on the sideline, and a berth in the Cotton Bowl at stake, Mackovic called for a pass.
It was intercepted. So much for the Cotton Bowl.
Last year, Mackovic had to win the final three games of the season to save his job. Now in the fourth year of a five-year contract, he is out on a shaky limb once again.
Ranked 16th, Texas (4-1-1) still has a shot at the Cotton Bowl. It plays four of its last six games at home, starting tomorrow against Virginia. But Mackovic can ill afford any more dubious calls, predictable or not.
Trashing the ACC
Southern Cal wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson is hardly impressed with Florida State's 28-game winning streak in the ACC. On the topic of whether No. 5 USC can win the national title with an unbeaten season and Rose Bowl win, he mocked the top-ranked Seminoles and the ACC.
"Don't give me Florida State [as the national champion]," Johnson said. "Their straight wins in the ACC is ridiculous. The rest of the ACC is scared of them. You could take the second team in the ACC and the worst team in the Pac-10, and the Pac-10 team would beat 'em. The ACC is a very weak conference. Wake Forest [0-4, 1-6] couldn't beat Oregon State
Coming up roses
Then there was this plug by John Cooper, coach of fourth-ranked Ohio State: "I don't know if there are better teams ranked ahead of us, but I know those teams have not played a better schedule than the Buckeyes have played."
Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) has beaten five ranked teams this season. If USC and Ohio State both go unbeaten into the Rose Bowl, the
Bowl Alliance has resolved nothing.
* Army, which narrowly missed upsetting Notre Dame at the Meadowlands, hasn't beaten a ranked team since 1972 (Air Force).
* Virginia has intercepted a pass in 24 straight games, and converted 22 turnovers this season into 70 points.
* As impressive as Florida's 49-38 win over Auburn was, the Gators may have to do it again. If Auburn wins the rest of its games, including next week's against SEC West leader Arkansas, the Tigers get a rematch with Florida and a shot at the SEC's spot in the alliance.
* No. 17 Notre Dame must be ranked in the Top 10 to get the at-large bid in the alliance. Barring an upset of USC tomorrow, that appears unlikely, which could open the door for No. 6 Tennessee (6-1).
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder on the appearance of his No. 8 Wildcats and No. 7 Kansas in the Top 10: "Scary, isn't it? What are they going to do, call a state holiday Monday?"
Game to watch
No. 5 USC (6-0) vs. No. 17 Notre Dame (5-2)
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: Channels 11, 4, 2:45 p.m. tomorrow
The streak: USC has not beaten Notre Dame since 1982, a drought spanning 11 straight losses and last year's 17-17 tie. The last Trojans coach to beat Notre Dame was John Robinson -- in the final game of his first term at USC. The Irish lead the series, 38-23-5.
Political correctness: Southern Cal no longer wants to be known as Southern Cal. According to the sports information department, the university wants its athletic teams to be referred to as USC, Southern California, Troy, Trojans or Women of Troy (except for the football team).
By the numbers: The biggest difference between the two teams comes on defense, where the Trojans are second in the nation in scoring defense (9.5 points), third against the rush (81.2 yards) and 11th in total yards (281.3). The Irish give up 202.6 rushing yards and 23.6 points a game, and big plays in bundles.
Bottom line: Notre Dame needs a victory to stabilize its position in the Bowl Alliance. USC needs to win to keep its national title hopes afloat. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz says the Irish need to play "the game of our lives because I don't think there's any doubt that Southern Cal is bringing maybe the best team in the country in here."