Maryland comeback a highlight of surprise-laden college season

About the only time anyone has been able to make heads or tails out of the current college football season is during the pre-game coin toss. Whereas other years have witnessed quirkish developments, this one has the unexpected as the norm.

Just look at some of the nobody teams that are suddenly somebodies. You can start with No. 2 South Carolina, and add No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Texas Christian, and No. 19 Virginia to the list. Even the presence of Brigham Young, troubled Florida, and Louisiana State among the writers' Top 10 must be considered something of a surprise.

Off the charts, but enjoying good seasons for a change, are Rutgers (6-3), Army (6-2-1), and Kentucky (7-2).

Meanwhile, such traditionally strong schools as Pitt, Michigan, Alabama, and Notre Dame have been struggling.

The most startling single result may have occurred last Saturday, when Maryland and Miami basically played two games in one. Miami's defending national champions cruised to a 31-0 halftime lead, but Maryland pulled a Clark Kent at the intermission and stormed to a miraculous 42-40 triumph. The turnaround was the greatest in major college history.

Terrapin Coach Bobby Ross said he didn't resort to any fiery, locker room orations. But he did threaten the team with a Saturday night practice session when they got back to College Park if more effort wasn't expended in the second half. Apparently a lot of players had hot dates.

Maryland, which has won six of its last seven games and is now 6-3, obviously has a reasonably good team, but nothing out of the ordinary. For 30 minutes, though, the Terps were touched with greatness.

Everything went their way. Quarterback Frank Reich came off the bench to throw for three touchdowns, including the 68-yard, go-ahead score on a tipped pass. On the ensuing kickoff they recovered a fumble at the Miami 6-yard line and cashed in with another TD. Finally, with the Hurricanes attempting to tie things in the last minute, a 2-point conversion attempt failed.

The play of the Maryland defense shouldn't be overlooked. It manacled one of the nation's most explosive offenses during the second half, and on a day when sensantional Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar was on target (30-of-50 for 363 yards).

At this point, top-ranked Nebraska is the leading candidate to become the new national champion. That in itself is an interesting twist. This, after all, was supposed to be a rebuilding year, at least offensively with the departure of last year's dream backfield. Then, too, it's not often that a team that loses to Syracuse contends for the national title. The Cornhuskers were demoted from No. 1 when Syracuse upset them in late September, but have regained the spot Washington held until its defeat in last week's battle for the Roses against Southern Cal.

With a victory over Oklahoma Saturday, Nebraska would secure its fourth straight Orange Bowl berth, and a possible date against South Carolina in rare post-season matchup of Nos. 1 and 2. The 'Huskers have already secured at least a share of Big Eight title, but Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who meet Nov. 24, are looking for a portion as well.

With Fullerton State's loss to Nevada-Las Vegas last week, South Carolina and Brigham Young are the only undefeated, untied teams left in the major college rankings.

South Carolina is an interesting, no-stars team that utilizes an unusual defensive philosophy: every player must run to the ball, even if the whistle has blown.

Brigham Young, of course, is the scourge of college football's Rodney Dangerfield league, the Western Athletic Conference. BYU has gotten only limited respect by winning the WAC for the ninth straight year, and is given only an outside chance to ascend to No. 1.

The Cougars, who now own the longest-in-the-nation winning streak of 21 games , still must face in-state rivals Utah and Utah State before fulfilling their obligations in San Diego's Holiday Bowl.

Maybe the the season's best Cinderella story belongs to Texas Christian University, which is enjoying a dramatic turnaround. The Horned Frogs were a miserable 1-8-2 last year, but are 8-1 and could wind up in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1959.

In Kenneth Davis, TCU has a running back that any school would love to have. He's run for over 200 yards on three occasions, something no other Southwest Conference player, including Earl Campbell, has ever done.

The team's big test comes Saturday, when TCU hosts Texas at Forth Worth's Amon Carter Stadium. The Longhorns, who had been treading on thin ice recently, were handed their first loss last Saturday by Houston, dropping them into a tie with Texas Christian for the Southwest Conference lead. How The AP rates the football teams

The top 20 teams in the Associated Press college football poll, with first-place votes and records in parentheses (total points based on 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc.). 1. Nebraska (37) (9-1) 1,14811. Ohio State (8-2) 636 2. South Carolina (11) (9-0) 1,10412. Texas Christian (8-1) 567 3. Brigham Young (11) (10-0) 1,09613. Boston College (6-2) 412 4. Oklahoma State (8-1) 94914. Miami (Fla.) (8-3) 347 5. Florida (7-1-1) 89215. Georgia (7-2) 321 6. Oklahoma (7-1-1) 87016. SMU (6-2) 311 7. Southern Cal (8-1) 80517. Florida State (6-2-1) 219 8. Washington (9-1) 75418. Auburn (7-3) 203 9. Louisiana State (7-1-1) 69319.Virginia (7-1-1) 167 10. Texas (6-1-1) 64320. Clemson (7-2) 102

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