This has been a troubling season in college football. Until the weekend, nobody seemed capable of winning the Heisman Trophy, the No. 1 ranking was being shuffled and old reliable Maryland was stumbling against, of all things, fellow ACC teams.
But sanity, we are happy to report, has returned to the land of the Saturday afternoon hero. When the final fumble was recovered Saturday night on the West Coast, this much was clear:
Maryland has rebounded enough from its awful start to determine its course in the ACC. If the Terrapins sweep their last three conference games, they have to finish in at least a tie for a record fourth straight league crown.
Texas and Michigan, both winners Saturday, have edged ahead in the battle for the national championship. The Longhorns, playing in a much more balanced conference, have the much tougher remaining schedule. Michigan has to concern itself only with Ohio State.
Texas fullback Earl Campbell, sidelined by injuries last year, is probably the current front-runner for Heisman honors. He's the best player on the second ranked team and no one from Michigan is having a better season. And most of his other serious rivals are either injured or are being hurt by the poor records of their teams.
Even Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne's postgame comments are returning to normal. "We didn't play that well," he said yesterday, something he said often last year. But his team did enough to mangle Wake Forest, 35-7, and square its record at 3-3.
Ahead the next two weeks are games against Duke and league-leading North Carolina. Maryland probably will be favored in both as the Terrapins shoot for an 8-3 mark, respectable considering what's happened to them.
Carolina is 2-0 in the league, but the Tar Heels have to play the Terrapins, Clemson and Duke. The challengers - Maryland, N.C. State, Clemson and Duke - also are involved in a semiround robin so it would be possible for Maryland to win the title outright.
"It's like it," said Clairborne. "We can determine our fate. We don't have to rely on anyone else."
The Maryland offense was as he likes it against Wake. The Terrapins threw the fewest passes (13) for the fewest yards (114) in a game this season but they scored the most points. That was because the defense picked off five passes and tailback Steve Atkins finally resumed being the ball-control weapon Claiborne's offense loves to exploit.
"The biggest thing about Steve," said Claiborne, "was that he got a lot of yards after he was hit. He was doing it on his own, something he hasn't been doing this season."
Claiborne wants to exercise ball control against Duke on Saturday. The Blue Devils can be explosive, especially if quarterback Mike Dunn is allowed to run his reckless option plays.
Howard put its offense in fear Saturday, using Virginia State as medicine to cure its football blahs. The Bison gained 344 total yards in the 33-0 victory, ending a two-game losing streak.
"Homecoming is the time to snap out of a losing streak," said Howard coach doug Porter.
Navy, figured to be 4-2 instead of 3-3 at his juncture, warms up for Notre Dame by taking on William and Mary on Saturday. If the Mids can get their offense to racked they're got a fair shot at winning at least three more games, to finish above 500, a welcome mark at any service academy these days.
Watch for Pitt to start climbing in the rankings. The Panthers are 4-1-1 and with quarterback Matt Cavanaugh regaining his sharpness, they should be 8-1-1 going into the Penn State finale Nov. 19.
But any chance Pitt. Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma or USC have at moving into the No. 1 spot will depend almost entirely on how Michigan and Texas play from now on.
Campbell, a darkhorse Heisman candidate when the season began, has gained 687 yards in five games now is the SWC's all-time career rusher. He's averaging 6.5 yards a carry and 137.5 yards a game. And he's already had one good showing on national television (188 yards Saturday gainst Arkansas) with at least one more tube visit scheduled (against Texas A&-M on Nov. 26).
With BYU quarterback Gifford Neilsen injured and Notre Dame defensive end Ross Browner obscured by the Irish's lackluster start, Campbell's major competition may be Oklahoma State rusher Terry Miller. But Miller's team is only 3-3 and that will hurt him.
Another running back, Jerome Heavens of Notre Dame, had the most significant game from a historical standpoint Saturday. He picked up 200 yards to break the school's single-game rushing mark of 186 yards set in 1948.
Reporters rushed to Heavens after the game and breathlessly told him of his achievement. "You broke Emil Sitko's mark," they said.
Said Heavens: "Emi Sitko?" Who's that?"
Who said Notre Dame's football ghost never die?