Never a doubt, Bobby Ross the Atlantic Coast Conference football coach of the year. Landslide, 87 of the 99 votes cast by the writers who cover ACC sports.

"Merely a reflection and a symbol of the outstanding job our players and coaches have done," Maryland's first-year leader said.

And Maryland's junior leader on the field, Boomer Esiason, is runner-up for ACC player of the year -- beaten by Duke senior Chris Castor in a good four-way race. After catching 46 passes for an average 20.7 yards apiece, Castor drew 28 votes, Esiason 24, Clemson's all-America safety Terry Kinard 21 and Duke passer Ben Bennett 19. Yes, the Bennett who outpolled Esiason at quarterback on the all-ACC unit announced a day earlier . . .

Now, as Ross recruits his own talent, word of the Terrapin upsurge reaches Utah, where Utes' starting quarterback, sophomore Ken Vierra, aims to transfer to a more pass-minded school. "I'm out of here," Vierra says. "It looks like . . . Colorado, but there are maybe a couple of other places I'll look at." Including Maryland, adds Vierra, son of a 1950s Utah QB but only a walk-on ere leading WAC '81 in passing "efficiency" (while BYU's Jim McMahon set all the passing records) . . .

Jack Bicknell won't coach Duke; he's renewed, long-term, at Boston College . . .

In the Big Ten, Illinois has flyers out boosting for all-America senior Mike Martin, who led the country in receiving much of the fall; with reprint of a Daily Illini article quoting Martin's high school coach at Eastern, Willie Stewart: "He wanted to get out of the fast lane of D.C. and into a quieter place" . . . Purdue at its postseason banquet has named its captain: offensive guard Chris Prince, Roosevelt (D.C.) '79; and nominated Claybon Fields, senior OT from H.D. Woodson High, for Red Mackey Award (attitude, scholarship, dedication, performance); vote later . . .

California's Golden Bears were in illegal formation -- and had only nine players on the field -- when they lined up to receive the Stanford kickoff they returned, via five laterals, for the game-winning touchdown Saturday; so say Pacific-10 officials after videotape review. But Wiles Hallock, Pac-10 executive director, says the 25-20 Cal victory will stand.

Hallock says California did not have five players, as required, within five yards of the restraining line; "a fifth player was close, but he was not there in my judgment . . . the official was mistaken." The tapes revealed further that a 10th Cal player, then an 11th came onto the field during the play, and so did Stanford players, leaving their bench in the same mistaken perception that the game was over as the Stanford band, through which Kevin Moen ran the last 20 yards to score.