How quickly football fortunes can change.

At the start of this season, Jim Wacker was a man in limbo. As coach at Texas Christian, Wacker was entering the final year of a seven-year contract, a deal under which he had failed to produce a winning season. Now, five weeks later, he's the toast of Fort Worth as the Horned Frogs are 4-1 and fresh off a 54-26 pasting of defending Southwest Conference champion Arkansas.

After the win -- the Horned Frogs' first in Little Rock since 1951 -- the team was met at the airport by 2,000 fans, including Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolin.

Wacker was given the contract after leading TCU to an 8-4 record and a Bluebonnet Bowl berth in 1984. But in September 1985, it was discovered that illegal inducements had been provided to seven players by boosters. Wacker dismissed the players, but the NCAA nonetheless slapped the Horned Frogs with three years of sanctions. The team lost 30 scholarships over two years. The result: records of 3-8, 3-8, 5-6, 4-7 and 4-7.

"They took the scholarships away and made us keep playing," Wacker said. "SMU got the dead death penalty, we got the living death penalty. It would not have been so bad had the NCAA continued to go that way. Boy, that was going to be the big thing, taking scholarships away. Now, it's become a joke."

But that has been forgotten in the last five blissful weeks. Now, TCU is 2-0 in the SWC and contending for its first Cotton Bowl berth since 1959. Even better, Wacker said, is that 42 of the 66 players are either freshmen or sophomores.

The airport scene "was fun and all that," Wacker said. "But you don't want these kids to continue to read about how wonderful they are." Vive La Difference?

While nationally ranked teams piling up huge point differentials -- such as Virginia (257-66), Nebraska (205-29) and Florida (162-52) -- get most of the attention, the teams on the other end of those lopsided scores often are forgotten. Suffering the most are Morgan State, which has been outscored by 256-29, including 138-0 in its last three games, and Murray State, which has allowed 191 points while scoring 24. Amazingly, the Racers have a win, 14-10 over Eastern Illinois. . . .

With Notre Dame football a religion in South Bend, it's almost blasphemous that a player from another team would be the favorite player of an entire Notre Dame dormitory. On closer inspection, however, it makes sense that the girls from Howard Hall have adopted a fullback from Clemson. His name? Howard Hall.

On the subject of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish's loss to Stanford Saturday was their first at home in 20 games, their first at home as No. 1 since 1954 and Coach Lou Holtz's first to a Pac-10 team. The road win was the Cardinal's first since 1987.

Notre Dame promoted last weekend as its "Weekend of Champions." But not only did Stanford beat the Fighting Irish in football, it beat them in men's and women's tennis and swimming. In volleyball, Notre Dame lost to Hofstra, Oklahoma and LSU without winning a game. Cynics had renamed it "Weekend of Humiliating Defeats." . . .

Last week's most shocking score was undoubtedly Northern Illinois 73, No. 24 Fresno State 18. Going in, the Bulldogs were ranked eighth in scoring defense (8.0 points per game), while Northern Illinois was coming off a 17-point loss to perennial patsy Northwestern.

The problem was, Fresno State had no idea how to defense the option. As a result, the Huskies' Stacy Robinson set an NCAA record for a quarterback by running -- amok -- for 308 of the Huskies 733 rushing yards. He scored five touchdowns.

"I felt that they would have trouble with the option because they don't play against it," Northern Illinois Coach Jerry Pettibone said. "But never beyond my wildest imagination did I dream that it would be like this."

The game raised the Bulldogs' points allowed average to 18.8. After a No. 24 ranking last week, they received zero votes this week. . . . Trojan Horse

USC sophomore Mazio Royster rushed for 203 yards on 34 carries in a 30-17 win over Washington State. Royster, making his first start, had a better debut than the Trojans' Heisman Trophy-winning tailbacks: Mike Garrett (11 carries, 58 yards), O.J. Simpson (17-94), Charles White (23-136) and Marcus Allen (20-105). . . .

Michigan's No. 1 ranking marks the earliest a team with a loss has held the top spot. . . . Syracuse freshman Marvin Graves (Carroll High) is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency (142.8). Virginia's Shawn Moore (169.2) is second.