To the intense debate over who offers the superior brand of football, the colleges or the pros, we volunteer this: the University of Maryland is more efficient than the Dallas Cowboys; Penn State averages at least eight more minutes of action than nearly every team in the National Football League.

In all, some numbers insist that the colleges, though spending far less time at it, get off far more plays per game than the NFL. Commissioner Pete Rozelle and his thinkers have tinkered with their product quite a lot lately: additional work must be done to offer customers more for their money.

Until they began whacking one another again Thanksgiving, Division I colleges had played 1,530 games this season. Each tea mhad averaged about 72 plays (50.8 rushing and 21.1 passing) for a total of 144 per game.

Through 168 games, or before Detroit hobbled the Broncos and the Cowboys ambushed the Redskin, NFL teams had averaged 128 plays per game (72 rushes, 52 passes and four quarterback traps).

So what does a difference of 16 plays per game mean? More than one might think at first glance. It means possibly four more possessions each game: it means that the colleges seem to be 12 1/2 percent more efficient than the NFL; it means that the colleges average 7 1/2 more minutes of action.

In 11 games this season, a 9-2 Maryland team ran 819 plays. In their first 11 games this season, an 8-3 Redskin team ran 713 plays. The 7-4 Cowboys ran 773 plays; an 11-0 Penn State 886.

There are some clear reasons for the differenes; the colleges must get their plays off in 25 seconds; the pros are allowed 30 seconds - and the Redskins and some other teams occasionally find this not long enough.

Five seconds per play per game adds up to a significant difference, one the NFL would do well to consider. How much time, after all, does it take to decide whether to run Walter Payton to the right or the left?

Another difference is not so obvious: College players seem more anxious to play, more enthusiastic about their games. And indeed most of their careers are far shorter than their pro counterparts.

"Our officials might start the 30-second clock a bit quicker," said Dallas Cowboy President Tex Schramm. "That could be one area where time is wasted. But I'm not convinced that the time between when one play ends and another begins is any greater in the pros than the colleges.

"But it also doesn't take any more time for teams who send plays in from the sidelines (as the Cowboys, Redskins and some others do). (Viking quarterback Fran) Tarkenton only gets his plays off in the final two or three seconds."

Schramm insists NFL teams need more time "because the defenses are more sophisticated and so are the offenses. The 30-second clock in the stadium simply means fewer and fewer delay-of game penalties."

The NFL has considered ways to change its product even more than in recent years, but rejected many ideas so there would remain a significant difference between the college games.

"There are a lot of things, like stopping the clock on in-bounds plays in the last two minutes of a games, that would take away from the game," he said. "This would make the two-minute drill less than the exacting thing it now must be.

"Our two-minute drill is one of the great parts of pro football, because it's tough to execute, because it's unique. It's like the colleges using a kicking tee (for field goals and extra points) and us not using it.

"It's like a receiver having to keep both feet in bounds when he makes a catch instead of one. More exacting things are expected of pros."

And more efficient things ought to be expected of pros. Schramm leads the NFL defense here, but his teams always are among the most imaginative anywhere. Still, one wonder why, with so much specialization, team cannot treat each game as though it were one vastly extended two-minute drill.

"You fight two things with rules," Schramm said. "You continually try to make competition fair and right on the field. If there are too many gimmicks, you end up losing people. With that in mind, you've got to wonder if parity is good, because the super teams are the glamour teams."

And the super teams, in colleges as well as the pros, often tend to be the dullest teams, although Ohio State-Michigan yesterday was wide-open enough to merit watching for the first time in memory.

If Schramm and others in the NFL should be searching for ways to tidy up their games, he is right when he says: "You can't convert dull teams with rules." But you can prod them.