No one in the sporting world had more reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving than Lou Holtz miscast as an NFL coach last season but whose Arkansas team made the Orange Bowl this year.

Holtz takes pride in his skills as an amateur magician, but he could do little with an aging New York Jet team that had failed to replenish itself through the draft. With a 3-10 record and one game left in the season. Holtz suddenly was given the chance to replace the retiring Frank Boyles.

At midweek before the last Jet game, Holtz said he would honor the final four years of his contract "because it is the moral and ethical thing to do."

The next day he took the Arkansas job.

"God didn't put Lou Holtz on this earth to be a pro football coach," he said of that drastic turnaround - and he generally refuses to discuss the matter publicly nearly a year later.

Like Fred Akers at Texas, Holtz inherited a wonderfully talented Arkansas team gone temporarily stagnant in the final years of a splendid coach. Like Arkers, he also produced a record few rational college football watchers even considered, let alone predicted, before the season.

The rule of thumb in athletics is that a man who replaces a legend as coach is doomed. Look what happened to the successors to Vince Lombardi and John Wooden. among others. And John Robinson seems to be upholding that tradition at Souuthern Cal this year.

But Holtz took a 5-5 team a year ago to 10-1. How?

Ironically, the offensive line is performing better than the one a year ago that had three players chosen in the first four rounds of the NFL draft, including ALl-America center R. C. Thielemann.

Against SMU. Arkansas ran tha ball 73 times - and averaged seven yards per carry. Also, the quarterback has been healthy the entire season. All of which means that Holtz has not been forced to pull one of his favorite one-liners out of his helmet:

"Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train."