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Decline in two-point conversions; Dupree's exit

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 27, 1983



Just because the two-point conversion celebrated its silver anniversary last season doesn't mean coaches are rushing out to use it. This option to the one-point kick after touchdowns has been employed less and less frequently since penned into the rulebook in 1958.

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When adopted, it represented a viable alternative to the kicked extra point, which was nowhere near a sure thing. It also provided daring coaches an escape hatch from tie scores.

Not surprisingly, teams actually attempted the run or pass option slightly more than half the time in 1958, the first year of the two-point try. In recent years, however, that figure has declined to around 10 percent.

The play's conversion rate has hovered around 42 percent for years. What has changed is the accuracy of college kickers, who now split the uprights better than nine times out of 10. Twenty-six years ago they were on the money far less often (68.6 percent of the time).

That, however, was before the reinstatement of unlimited substitution, which has since spawned an age of kicking specialists. These specialists have not only made the one-point try after touchdown almost automatic, they have given the game a new tiebreaking tool - the long-range field goal.

Now coaches are less apt to opt for a two-point attempt if there's any hope of getting the ball back before time expires, since a few quick passes can move a team into field goal range.

Possibly no current team has provided more reason to discuss the two-point conversion than Southern Methodist, which took the riverboat gamble Saturday against Texas in a battle of unbeatens, only to see it backfire.

After a touchdown brought the Mustangs within a point at 13-12, Coach Bobby Collins decided to go for two with 2:47 left. He obviously figured it was SMU's best, and perhaps last, chance for victory over the second-ranked Longhorns, who loom as the team's chief rival in the Southwest Conference.

Collins called for a rollout (a fairly standard play under the circumstances) , but Lance McIlhenny was hurried into throwing an incomplete pass. SMU eventually got the ball back, only to be pinned in its end zone for a safety.

McIlhenny expressed no reservations about the failed try, which ended the nation's longest undefeated streak at 21 games. ''Going for one (point) would have been the chicken way to do it,'' he said.

The remark called to mind a somewhat similar situation last year, when SMU passed up a two-point try that, if successful, might have paved the way to a national championship. The decision, naturally, became a second-guesser's delight.

Having beaten Texas earlier, 10-0 SMU only needed a tie against Arkansas in its last game to win the Southwest Conference and a Cotton Bowl berth. With that in mind, Collins went for the more safe one-pointer that knotted the score at 17-all following a Mustang touchdown with 3:09 left. SMU did get one last-gasp opportunity to win, but a 52-yard field goal try fell short in the last seconds.

The Mustangs went on to beat Pittsburgh in the Cotton Bowl, yet the pollsters placed them behind once-beaten Penn State in the final rankings. Case of the AWOL superstar

Running back Marcus Dupree's recent exit from the University of Oklahoma made a dandy soap opera, but the kind the college game could do without. In retrospect, Dupree appeared to be force-fed into a big-time football limelight that he wanted, but wasn't ready for.

Some players handle the pressures of being a star better than others, and Marcus obviously didn't feel comfortable with the expectations thrust upon him after he gained 905 yards as a freshman last year.

Dupree's much-publicized problems in communicating with Coach Barry Switzer reached a climax early this month when he took an unannounced vacation, then left school and enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi. Marcus could have handled his departure more smoothly, but those who have criticized his immaturity seem to forget that college is a time of growth. Dupree is no rabble- rouser, just a young man who hasn't learned how to cope with a ''what have you done for me lately'' environment.