The idea of Indiana in the Rose Bowl sounds like some kind of Pacific-10 Conference prank, but it is potentially very real. The Big Ten Conference has turned upside down, or at least slightly askew, and the No. 15 Hoosiers, off to their best start in 20 years, are the reason.

The Hoosiers haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1967, when they started with a 5-1 record identical to this season's. That's the last time they beat Michigan, whom they face Saturday in Bloomington. They trail by 8-35 in the series, but this time they play the No. 20 Wolverines (4-2) as the conference co-leader.

Indiana is tied with No. 14 Michigan State (4-2) at 3-0 in Big Ten play, and has a chance to accomplish a first against the Wolverines. The Hoosiers never have beaten Ohio State and Michigan in the same season. Last week's 31-10 defeat of the Buckeyes made them look more and more like one of the powers of the conference. Their only loss was to Kentucky, 34-15, in the second game of the season.

The reason for Indiana's success can at least partly be traced to Coach Bill Mallory, under whom the Hoosiers have made quantum leaps since he took over in 1984. The Hoosiers were 0-11 in his first year, 4-7 his second season, then 6-6 with an appearance in the All-American Bowl in 1986.

Family ties will be represented in the Michigan game. One of Mallory's sons, Doug, is starting strong safety for the Wolverines; another, Mike, is a graduate assistant for the Hoosiers.

Dooley Back on the Job

Georgia Coach Vince Dooley is a man who likes his work. Dooley left the hospital yesterday afternoon after having surgery to clear two blocked arteries near his heart, and was at practice later in the afternoon. He'll also be back at work for the 12th-ranked Bulldogs' home game Saturday against Kentucky.

Dooley, 55, the coach and athletic director who has been at Georgia for 24 years, underwent the coronary angioplasty procedure on Tuesday. He had a stress test yesterday morning before checking out of the hospital at 10 a.m. "I don't do much at practice anyway," he said . . .

There are few things in college football more glamorous than a Southern California-Notre Dame game that has some significance. For the first time in a long while Saturday's does, and representatives from 12 bowl games -- including Orange, Sugar and Cotton -- will be on hand in South Bend, Ind. for the 59th annual meeting.

That is in contrast to last season, when Notre Dame struggled to a 5-6 record in Lou Holtz's first season as coach and USC went 7-5 in Ted Tollner's last. Holtz has turned around the No. 10 Fighting Irish (4-1), and new coach Larry Smith appears to making progress with the Trojans (4-2).

A total of 19 national championship teams and 10 Heisman Trophy winners have come out of the series, which began in 1926 and is led by Notre Dame, 31-23-4.

As resurgent as both teams may be, it is doubtful that the rivalry will soon return to the heyday of the mid-1960s to early 1970s. In the 11 years from 1964 to 1974 that Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian and USC's John McKay hurled top-ranked teams at each other, six of them eventually laid claim to national championships, three for each school. Five of those years represented major upsets by one or the other that affected the polls . . .

Georgia Tech was the recipient of the worst luck of the week when quarterback Rick Strom broke the pinkie finger of his throwing hand on the last play of practice Wednesday evening.

The Yellow Jackets were a tempting upset choice against No. 13 Tennessee in Knoxville until Strom was sidelined indefinitely. The Yellow Jackets have proven a difficult opponent recently for the Volunteers (4-1-1), who lost last year, 14-13, when Strom scored on a three-yard run late in the fourth quarter. They tied in 1985, 6-6. Tennessee last won in 1984, by just 24-21.

However, Georgia Tech has not won in Knoxville since 1976. The Yellow Jackets (2-4, 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) will go with reserve quarterback Darryl Gast, who has completed nine of 19 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown.

"Anytime an injury of this nature hits you this late, it has some effect," Coach Bobby Ross said. "But it doesn't change the game plan at all."

Records for Virginia

Virginia has the leading defensive back in the country in sophomore Kevin Cook. He has an NCAA-high six interceptions, and his two last week against South Carolina tied a Virginia single-game record. Both of them came on the goal line against Todd Ellis in the 58-20 loss.

Another Cavaliers record is held by Scott Secules, who has thrown for more than 200 yards in four straight games. No other Virginia quarterback has ever reached the 200-yard mark more than twice consecutively. For the season, Secules, a fifth-year senior, has thrown for 1,330 yards, completing 91 of 160 passes, and he has been sacked three times . . .

Howard University's Harvey Reed, the leading Division I-AA rusher in the nation averaging 147.6 yards a game, is expected to return after being sidelined by a sprained ankle last weekend.