The returning starting quarterback completed only 36.8 percent of his passes. The secondary that yielded more than 20 yards per completion is back intact. The punter who had five kicks blocked also returns. The leading rusher last season was academically ineligible at the start of fall practice.

The shadow of charges by his players of scholarship irregularities, physical abuse and NCAA violations still looms over the coach's head.

So why is Floyd Keith, Howard University's second-year head coach, smiling? Why can he say, when asked what the trials and tribulations of his rookie season taught him, "It taught me that what I'm doing is right."?

He is either the world's greatest positive thinker or living in the college football coaches fools' paradise of August. The way Keith explains it, there are plausible reasons for all those negative statistics for those players from his 5-6 team of last season.

He will talk about all except what is known around the Howard campus as The Scandal. A university task force has yet to report the result of its investigation. "I've got no comment on that," Keith said.

Statistics prove that Keith already has reversed the high academic attrition rate that had cut sharply into continuity and depth. When Keith became coach, he found that 33 players needed to attend summer school in order to regain their eligibility; 18 failed to achieve it. This summer, only eight Bison attended summer school and only three of them are ineligible.

That, Keith said, does not include Greg Banes, who led Bison rushers with 668 yards a year ago but missed the start of fall practice because his summer school grades were not yet posted. Keith expects him back in time for the Sept. 13 opener at West Virginia State.

"We have good depth" Keith said. "Our season isn't going to rest on whether he lines up or not."

What the season depends on, Keith said, is a positive attitude and some linemen instead of, as the coach put it, "short, overweight sportswriters."

And those lines are why Keith has all the confidence in the world in Ron Wilson, his 36.8 percent passer; in his defensive secondary, which he says is greatly improved in depth, and in Howard Ward, the punter-placekicker with the five blocked punts.

"He's as good a kicker as there is in our league. The blocked punts? We just didn't hit people," Keith said. "Quarterback? We had the least number of interceptions in the league and were second in total pass offense. Our biggest problem was protection, simply because we had four freshmen up there. You don't have to be a genius to figure that out. I hope people think we don't throw the ball well."

Of his secondary, he said: "We didn't have a pass rush. Anytime you have more than 3.5 seconds to throw a football, you're going to have trouble."

So one of the prime objectives during the spring was improving the pass rush. He moved standout linebacker Kenneth Pimpton to defensive end and broutht in JuCo transfer James Garfield to play noseguard, the key line position in the Bisons' 5-2 defense. "We're getting what we want," Keith said of the defensive line play.

So that leaves linebacker and tight end as the biggest question marks, with star players gone. Keith's reaction to tight end, where two seniors and three freshmen are vying to start, is typical of his attitude: "I don't know if we have a tight end in Fitz Fowler's category yet-and I emphasize yet."