The way Miami mutilated Notre Dame on Saturday, gleefully hacking away until the score was 58-7, wasn't just cruel and unsightly.

It was stupid.

It won't help Miami win the national championship. To the contrary, it was a public relations nightmare that will hurt Miami in its battle for the hearts and minds of the AP and UPI voters.

The most piddling thing a team can do is run it up. The Hurricanes not only ran it up, they ran it up on a lame-duck coach who couldn't have appeared any more forlorn had his wife run off with Adam Carrington. ("If it had been me on the other side, rather than Faust, there wouldn't have been a word said about it," groused Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson.)

Compounding the problem, Miami had the poor taste to do this on national TV, with millions watching. The last thing you want in that setting is for the network commentators to speak disgustedly of you; judgments like that hang in the air like nooses. Johnson's neck was stretched on CBS by Brent Musburger, Pat Haden and Ara Parseghian (who acknowledges that his historic ties to Notre Dame make his criticism of Johnson a "sensitive issue"), and on ABC by Jim Lampley. Haden went the furthest, asserting that Johnson was "bush."

Johnson may well have the best college football team in the country, but in his obsession to impress the AP and UPI voters, he came across as a cold-blooded marauder.

Bad career move.

He had proven his point by the end of the third quarter, when the score was 37-7. Across the field he had in Gerry Faust a poor soul evoking one last blush of sympathy. Forget kind -- had Johnson been savvy, he'd have recognized just when to say when. By keeping the ball between the tackles, he'd appear to treat Faust with compassion and charity, however contrived.

Instead, Johnson played the knave by encouraging his team to score late in a game that was already sealed, by allowing his offense to pass for a touchdown with 6:11 left, by permitting a reverse with just 70 seconds to play, and by justifying his behavior by saying, "We'll run our offense no matter what the score is."

"The issue isn't the total score," Parseghian said by phone yesterday, "but how the scoring was done. I think Jimmy Johnson could have controlled the clock by running the football. You can't tell your kids not to play hard, but you can let them wrestle on the ground. Run dive plays, don't pass. I said on the air (Johnson) should have kept it on the ground, and that he could have been more charitable. I stand by those."

It is said that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone, and a quick look at the Notre Dame record book reveals that Parseghian's teams beat the breath out of rivals: 69-13 over Pitt, 64-0 over Duke, 62-3 over Army. "But I never ran it up," Parseghian said. "My feeling was it was open season for the first half. . . . But many times I ordered my quarterback not to throw a pass in the second half. I know what I did. There was compassion in my heart."

Compassion in his heart, 60s on the board. How do you quantify compassion? Johnson said there was compassion in his heart, too. Not that you could glean it from his whoop-de-dooing on the sideline, but after the game, Johnson said of Faust: "I feel for the man. I sympathize with him." Maybe you think that's not much, but it reads like Mother Teresa next to what Miami defensive end Kevin Fagan said: "I'm glad we did it. I don't feel sorry about it, and I don't feel sorry for (Faust) either."

You can mount a case for 58-7. It begins in the Big Eight, where as a young coach, Johnson learned what running it up was all about. The Big Eight is people like Tom Osborne edging Minnesota, 84-13, and Barry Switzer nipping Utah State, 72-3. ("Nobody apologized to me when Oklahoma did it to me," Johnson said, referring to Switzer's 63-14 squeaker over Johnson's Oklahoma State in 1980.)

It continues with Johnson being the coach who took a 31-0 lead into the second half against Maryland and lost, 42-40, in the face of the greatest comeback in college football history. And it concludes with Johnson fuming, justifiably, at AP and UPI voters who ignore Miami's convincing 27-14 victory over Oklahoma -- at Oklahoma! -- and continue to vote the Sooners No. 2 and the Hurricanes No. 4. Its self-serving summation is argued by Miami flanker Michael Irvin: "Oklahoma has been pouring it on everybody. We thought about Oklahoma, and knew we had to impress everybody watching this game. I think we did."

But at what cost?

Notre Dame's players quit early in the second half, rolling over with their eyes closed, their bellies up. But Miami's ecstasy at what became seal-clubbing was unseemly. Somewhere down the way, this will come back, like a boomerang, and hit Johnson and Miami, and just or not, the hurt will be applauded.

Meanwhile, you will find no better argument than this game for a playoff to determine the national champion. You shouldn't have to humiliate your opponent to impress the polls. If the polls weren't the last word, you wouldn't have to.