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Stop us if you've heard this before, but the Southwest Conference is again sooooo bad that one can already dismiss the Cotton Bowl, in which the league champion plays, as irrelevant and unnecessary. Consider last Saturday's, uh, action. Other than Rice's 34-0 win over a horrible Tulane team and TCU's 35-34 squeaker over New Mexico, this is how the SWC fared: Nebraska 50, Texas Tech 27; Colorado 45, Baylor 21; Tulsa 38, Houston 24; Wisconsin 24, SMU 16. But the one that really made SWC fans gag was Oklahoma 44, Texas A&M 14.
The Sooners hadn't beaten a Top 5 team since 1987, while the Aggies had won 22 consecutive regular-season games, though mostly against soft conference competition. True, Texas A&M played without star tailback Greg Hill and four other players who were suspended by the NCAA last week because they had accepted pay for work they didn't do. Still, the Aggies were supposed to be a national power again. But Oklahoma ripped the fifth-ranked Aggies every which way, getting two touchdown passes from quarterback Cale Gundy, three field goals from Scott Blanton, 98 yards from freshman tailback James Allen and five interceptions from its defense.
Although this was the first time the teams had met on the field since 1951, the Aggies and the Sooners have clashed frequently in the recruiting wars. In 1992 Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs said, "I think Texas A&M is the only school over the last couple of years that we've encountered much negative recruiting from." When the Aggies huffily accused the Sooners of using similar tactics this year, Gibbs said, "It's comical that A&M would get all bent out of shape. They were faxing old 1989 articles about us to recruits in 1991. That's history."
The SWC is history too, at least in terms of national prominence. Clearly, new league commissioner Steve Hatchell needs to put together a deal—either a merger with another conference or an expansion—to save the ranch. One scenario has the SWC joining the Big Eight and perennial WAC power BYU to create a three-division "super" conference with a postseason playoff. Said Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum after Saturday's loss. "There probably will be people making criticisms of the conference, and it's probably justified. In this business, either you do it or you don't."
Should old acquaintance be forgot? Not in the coaching profession. Last Saturday, for example, John Robinson, beginning his second stint at Southern Cal after a nine-year sabbatical in the pros, renewed his acquaintance with Penn State's Joe Paterno, the dean of Division I-A coaches, in Happy Valley. The last time—the only time—the two coached against each other was in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl, where the Nittany Lions beat the Trojans 26-10.
This time Penn State did it again. The Lions, who led 21-7 heading into the final quarter, held on for a 21-20 victory that gave Robinson his first loss to a Big Ten school after 10 victories, including three in the Rose Bowl. Robinson didn't seem especially pleased with his team's comeback. "Comebacks don't count unless you win," Robinson said. "What it should do is make us sick and tired of losing."
The feelings were warmer in Palo Alto, where Bill Walsh, who's in the second year of his second stint at Stanford, led the Cardinal to a 31-28 victory over a San Jose State team coached by his old friend John Ralston, the former Stanford coach who has reentered the college ranks this season after 20 years in various pro leagues, including the NFL. Walsh and Ralston first coached against each other in 1956, when Walsh was in charge of the San Jose State junior varsity and Ralston coached the scout team at Cal.
After Ralston got the Stanford job in 1963, his first hire was Walsh, who stayed three years before becoming an assistant with the Oakland Raiders. Years later, when Walsh was both general manager and coach of the San Francisco 49ers, he hired Ralston as the team's vice-president for administration. Before Saturday's game Walsh paid homage to Ralston for elevating Stanford football to the point where the team won the 1971 and '72 Rose Bowls. "He brought competitive football back to life here," Walsh said. "Nobody in the United States could have done what John did here."