Woody Hayes isn't saying who his quarterback will be - returning two-year starter Rod Gerlad or freshman passing whiz Art Schlicter - and he has held closed practices for the last 2 1/2 weeks in preparation for Ohio State's season-opener today against Penn State (WJLA-TV-7, 1:45 p.m.)

That has caused all sorts of specualtion in his land of three-yards-in-a-cloud of dust.

The rumbling is that Hayes has finally been made to see that a football is designed as it is to make it easier to throw. If Hayes has indeed made that discovery, then Ohio State, which seems to always have everything needed to be a national champion except a passing attack, could be in the race for top honors this season.

The Buckeyes are still smarting from the 35-6 smacking Alabama gave them in the Sugar Bowl, and it is that same Crimson Tide that is currently No. 1.

After defeating Nebraska in its opener two weeks ago, Alabama was idle last week, but goes back to war today against giant-killer Missouri of Columbia, Md. the upstart Tigers humbled defending national champion Norte Dame, 3-0, last Saturday.

Penn State also has its sights set on a national championship and today's affair with Ohio State could be its biggest obstacle in that quest.

Penn State has already played two games - unimpressive victories over Temple and Rutgers - and Coach Joe Paterno and Hayes are bantering over whether or not that gives the Nittany Lions an advantage over the Buckeyes, who have yet to play a game.

"It's a tremendous advantage," Hayes said. "First games are somewhat of a shakedown. We'll probably make a lot of first-game mistakes while they should have that out of their system by now."

"We have had the advantage of playing two games, but they have some advantages, too," said Paterno. "We haven't the slightest idea what they're going to do, who's going to play quarterback, what kind of offense they are going to have or anything."

"That's precisely why we have had closed practices," Hayes said. "We'll try to balance off their two games with the element of surprise."

Before the season started, Paterno, uncharacteristically, stuck out his neck. Because of an explosive offense, he said his team would score a lot of points on everyone and that his team was good enough to win the national championship. But in the first two games, the Lions scored only three touchdowns and have had to rely on kicker Matt Bahr to score 17 of their 36 points.

"I don't know what's wrong with the offense," Paterno said. "It's a lot of little things. We're just not very good. It's very disappointing because we don't have the kind of football team we expected to have."

Penn State's weak offensive show so far is probably largely because Paterno hasn't wanted to show any more of his offense than was absolutely necessary in an attempt to save as much as he could for Ohio State.

The main offensive weapons for Penn State are quartback Chuck Fusina, fullback Matt Suhey and split nine Penn State passing records, already has been intercepted twice this year, and has thrown only one touchdown pass.

The Ohio State defense is led by All-American linebacker Tim Cousineau and the offense by tailback Ron Springs, tight end Jimmy Moore and Gerald. The Buckeyes have 14 returning staters, seven on offense and seven on defense.

Springs, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior from Williamsport, Va., rushed for 1,166 yards last year. Gerald led the Buckeyes in total offense last season with 1,462 yards, but has reportedly been bothered by a sore leg this season.

The word here is that Hayes wants to move Gerald to flanker and go with the freshman phenomenon, Schlichter. But he first wants to be convinced that Schlichter can handle the job.

Schlichter is a 6-3, 190 pound 18-year-old who led Trace High School of Miami, Ohio, to a 29-0-1 record and threw for 6,041 yards in his high school career. Last season alone, he completed 108 of 190 passes for 1,794 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Schlichter made it known when he was being recruited by practically every major school in the country that he wanted to go to a passing team. The fact that he is now a Buckeye says something about what Hayes plans to do.

The last time Penn State and Ohio State met was in 1976 and the Buckeyes won, 12-7.

Missouri shocked Notre Dame with a strong and quick defense in Coach Warren Power's first game as coach but Alabama's Bear Bryant isn't about to get caught by surprise.

"I'm glad Missouri beat Notre Dame," Bryant said. "It should get the attention of our players. We didn't have a very good week of work last week, but maybe this will perk us up.

Alabama is the only team left that runs exclusively from the wishbone, and quarterback Jeff Rutledge and halfback Tony Nathan are the heart of it. The Tide also has the nation's longest winning streak at 11.

Missouri's offense is still a question mark. The Tigers run the veer and are wide open, but could not put any points up against Notre Dame except Jeff Brockhaus' 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

In other games today involving nationally ranked teams, highly-touted Arkansas will make its season debut in Little Rock against Vanderbilt, UCLA is at Tennessee and Oklahoma hosts West Virginia.