Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger, who has had his eligibility taken from him three times this season, yesterday regained it for a third time. The NCAA reinstated him on appeal one day after it suspended him for taking a free hunting trip on a private plane. However, Burger still faces several penalties, one of which is that he not start in the sixth-ranked Tigers' game Saturday against No. 10 Florida.

Burger and offensive tackle Jim Thompson were declared ineligible for the season by the NCAA on Wednesday for accepting a ride on a plane owned by an Alabama alumnus. Because an Auburn alumnus indirectly set up the Oct. 11 trip, it technically violated the extra benefits rule. Auburn immediately appealed the penalty and yesterday the NCAA said both players could be reinstated if they pay for any extra benefits they received on the trip -- roughly $150, Auburn Coach Pat Dye said.

But Burger, the third-leading passer in the country, will receive additional penalties because initially he did not cooperate with the school's investigation, Dye said. With the fifth-year senior not starting against the Gators, sophomore Reggie Slack will take the opening snap. However, Burger can be used any time thereafter.

"I don't know what I'm going to do yet," Dye said. "I could use Reggie for one play, and then bring Jeff in, but I don't know that I'll do that."

Burger originally denied to school and Southeastern Conference officials that he and Thompson accepted the trip from a family friend of Thompson's. Burger is required to send letters of apology to Auburn President James Martin and SEC Commissioner Harvey Schiller. He also must perform 40 hours of community service by Dec. 23.

Dye said he was not surprised the NCAA restored Burger's eligibility this time, and that Burger had practiced all week for the Florida game.

"I never thought it wouldn't be," Dye said. "He's tough as nails and he's had a great year. You could see he was carrying the burden, but he was practicing the same as always . . . He's been a victim of circumstances, because of who he is and where he is."

Picturing Jan. 1

Scouts for the major bowl games are looking at a dwindling number of teams in national championship contention and a great favorite among all of them is Syracuse. The eighth-ranked Orangemen (7-0) appear a lock to go unbeaten if they defeat Pittsburgh Saturday. They will have only Navy, Boston College and West Virginia remaining, and 11 bowl scouts will be in Pittsburgh, including those from the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls.

Syracuse's presence among unbeatens muddles the picture for the Orange Bowl, which is jockeying for a national championship game similar to last year's Fiesta Bowl. The Orange Bowl gets the winner of the game on Nov. 21, the day the bowl invitations go out, between No. 1 Oklahoma (7-0) and No. 2 Nebraska (7-0). No. 3 Miami (5-0) would be a logical opponent, except for one problem.

The Hurricanes have their two toughest games after the invitation date. They play No. 9 Notre Dame on Nov. 28 and No. 19 South Carolina on Dec. 5. Meantime, Syracuse will have finished, presumably with an 11-0 record.

The Sugar Bowl is angling for the second-best game in the country, with Louisiana State looking like the potential SEC champion, and in positon to finish 10-0-1. The Sugar would like nothing better than another unbeaten team to meet its SEC team -- like Syracuse. Barring that, the SEC champion's opponent will probably be the Oklahoma-Nebraska loser, or perhaps, Notre Dame. Then, there is the stranger possibility of what might happen if Auburn (6-0-1), can remain unbeaten. In that case, the Sugar could have an SEC-SEC matchup.

The bowl game with the least drawing power is the Cotton Bowl. Because of the poor state of the Southwest Conference (there are no SWC schools in this week's top-20), the Cotton will try to gain an attractive opponent for its host team. Notre Dame is the favorite in Dallas because that is the hometown of the Fighting Irish's Heisman Trophy candidate, Tim Brown. The Cotton has had a habit in recent years of getting the Heisman winner, like Doug Flutie, with Boston College in 1984, and Bo Jackson, with Auburn two years ago.

Uzelac Deflates Heisman

Navy Coach Elliot Uzelac doesn't think much of Heisman Trophy hype, even when it involves Notre Dame's Brown. He might think differently after the Midshipmen (1-6) meet the Fighting Irish (5-1) Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

"To me, if you're honest about it, I think it's very difficult to say 'Hey, that's the best football player in the country.' It's a media hype thing and it's good for football, so that's fine. And this young man {Tim Brown} may be the best football player in the country, but you know there might be a lineman that is better than everybody, including this guy, at what he does best. But that guy will never win it." . . .

South Carolina (5-1) debuts in the polls at No. 19 just in time for this weekend's game against North Carolina State. That is not necessarily good news for the Gamecocks, because the Wolfpack (3-4) has a 3-0 record against ranked teams under second-year coach Dick Sheridan. The latest upset was last week's 30-28 victory over then-unbeaten Clemson. Last season, North Carolina State's upsets of ranked teams included wins over North Carolina and Clemson. The Wolfpack also knocked off South Carolina, 23-22, with a touchdown pass with no time left on the clock.

Army Loses 4th Quarterback

Army quarterback Bryan Babb will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for removal of a cancerous tumor, the U.S. Military Academy announced yesterday. The junior from Carmel, Ind., had the operation Tuesday at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Babb is the fourth Army quarterback to be sidelined. Fourth-stringer Morrell Savoy, a sophomore from Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., has a sprained ankle, but may play Saturday against Temple.

Army will start fifth-string freshman Brian McWilliams Saturday.

Bison Fans Love a Winner

Howard's 5-1 record and its appearance in the Division I-AA poll this week for the first time ever, at No. 20, has paid off in attendance. The Bison show a steady increase in ticket sales over the last three years, from an average of 10,000 to 12,000 to roughly 14,000 this season. They expect a crowd of 16,000 at Greene Stadium Saturday, when they host Norfolk State (3-3), and regularly have had overflows in the bleachers.

A main draw has been senior tailback Harvey Reed, the nation's leading rusher in both Division I-AA and Division I-A, who is averaging 148 yards per game. Reed, who so far has 3,520 yards in his career, needs just 98 to become No. 10 on the all-time I-AA rushing list.