Bobby Ross didn't sleep much Saturday and Sunday nights; coaches rarely do when they have major decisions to make.

With junior Stan Gelbaugh starting at quarterback, Maryland had won three straight games after one loss. In the loss -- to Penn State -- Gelbaugh threw for more than 300 yards.

The Terrapins' other top quarterback is senior Frank Reich, who beat West Virginia to turn around Maryland's season, and whose 64 percent completion rate put him among the nation's leaders before he was forced out with a mild shoulder separation.

Ross doesn't like starting players to lose their jobs because of injury. He has an unwritten policy: when the starter returns to health, his position is waiting for him.

That complicated Ross' decision, just as the identical situation complicated his final season as a college football player more than 25 years ago.

Ross was the starting quarterback his senior year at VMI in 1958. "I broke my damn ankle covering a punt," he recalled yesterday. "I got back for the last few games, but I couldn't get my starting job back. Who took it? Bill Nebraska. I haven't forgotten that guy."

So it was not without compassion for Reich's feelings that Ross made a major decision -- naming Gelbaugh the starting quarterback, at least for Saturday's game at Miami.

"We're somewhat on a roll, and I don't think you could ask a quarterback to do any more than Stan Gelbaugh has done," Ross said.

Gelbaugh said yesterday, "This is the best thing that ever happend to me." The only thing Gelbaugh said he would change, if he could, would be that Reich -- his roommate and close friend -- could somehow play, too.

There is no quarterback controversy in College Park. The players are not taking votes over which quarterback they want to start.

The evidence says that Gelbaugh and Reich are the two best quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And, from all indications, they are as close off the field as ever.

"You should see the two of 'em," said Jess Atkinson, the team's placekicker and fellow occupant of the Reich/Gelbaugh room on campus. "They still rush home together like two little kids from dinner every night to watch Wheel of Fortune. Frank's a machine; he always wins.

"People think 'controversy' whenever there's a situation involving a change of quarterbacks. But they never say anything about the other positions. Tommy Neal and Alvin Blount are roommates, I think. They're fighting for playing time at tailback, but nobody ever says anything.

"I can tell you this: there's not a bit of tension in our room between Stan and Frank. I know Frank's not sitting at his desk going, 'Oh, I hope Stan throws two interceptions tomorrow.' Things are just like they always have been."

Ross says the reason he couldn't go back to Reich as the starter is because Gelbaugh "has a flair, a confidence, a feeling, a rhythm that's good for us as a team. He's throwing accurately. He's got good huddle control. He can call the audibles. With Stan, we've just been in a groove and I'm reluctant to change because of that."

Consider the groove Gelbaugh is in. To start with, he came into the Wake Forest game Sept. 29 in relief of Reich and completed six of six passes for 74 yards.

In his first start, the next week at Penn State, Gelbaugh completed 22 of a school-record 48 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns.

The next week, against North Carolina State, he completed 16 of 26 for 230 yards. He followed that by completing 10 of 12 for 207 yards and three touchdowns in only one half at Duke.

And last week, at North Carolina, he completed 18 of 27 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown. In all that time, Gelbaugh has not been sacked.

Not bad for a player whose chances to play quarterback were so remote six months ago he switched to wide receiver. And when he wasn't a hit there, he moved to punter, a job he held the first four games of the season.

It wasn't very long ago, after highly regarded quarterback Ken Vierra transfered in from Utah, that Gelbaugh had doubts as to his future: "You have to wonder what the coaches really think of you as a quarterback at that point."

Ross was asked yesterday how such a player who was once so incidental could get to start for a major college football team, at its most important position, and become so good in such a short time.

"A lot of times, you may never know what a youngster can do until he gets the opportunity," Ross said. "I think that happens everywhere.

"I always felt Stan could play. But he was behind Boomer Esiason two years ago. At one point, we weren't that certain who would be No. 1. But through lack of work or whatever, he fell, sort of, back into the rest of the pack. Stan got hurt one spring, and that's when Frank moved ahead of him.

"He didn't think he'd get that much playing time at quarterback. So he wanted to play wide receiver. He played there for 15 days of spring practice, but I just wasn't satisfied."

It was then, Gelbaugh said, "that I was didn't know whether I had a future at quarterback. I was totally confused."

"He was back at quarterback by the spring scrimmage," Ross said, "and he had a fair game."

Gelbaugh, understandably, was a little "shaky," as he says, at the beginning of the games at Penn State and North Carolina.

But it's difficult for the layman to see. One of the things Gelbaugh said he would like to improve on is going to his second and third receivers. The layman can see that he sometimes stares at a receiver all the way downfield.

But his arm has been so accurate and so strong, he's completed some of those passes that perhaps he shouldn't even have thrown.

He can probably learn a thing or two about "the proper decisions" from Reich, who doesn't have the quickness or running ability that Gelbaugh has, but certainly has the knowledge of the game.

Reich, who is working on his master's degree in business administration, is as bright as he is competitive.

He is upset about not playing, but not yet ready to talk about it publicly. Reich thought he was 100 percent recovered and, by team policy, was ready to resume his starting duties.

But Ross didn't think so. And Reich grew even more upset when Ross acknowledged his throwing motion was 100 percent, but said Gelbaugh would start anyway.

"I knew Frank was 100 percent last Tuesday," Ross said, "when I saw Frank run to his right and throw to his left for about 35 yards. I saw that, but I didn't want to change with us playing so well with Stan in there.

"I explained that to Frank, and he didn't get much consolation from it. I can understand that. I didn't get much consolation when it happened to me. But it's not the end of the world for Frank. He needs to be ready, because it only takes one play for Stan to go down (to injury)."

Gelbaugh said yesterday that if somebody told him six months ago he would be Maryland's starting quarterback, "I'd have looked him in the eye and said, 'Thank you. But you're crazy.' "

He is careful to explain that he hasn't forgotten that Reich probably could have won these games also. And he adds, "We've been friends for four years -- too long to let a couple of weeks on a football field destroy it."

Then Gelbaugh ran off to practice, and he had a final thought. "This week, competing against Miami and a guy like (quarterback) Bernie Kosar, that's what it's all about, isn't it?"