THE PRO SCOUTS can't say it aloud, since they are banned from enough campuses as it is, but many of them agree that it will take an influx of some marquee underclassmen to inject quality into next spring's college draft.
Most of the scouts couldn't identify the players who would be among the top six or seven players taken if the draft were held tomorrow.
"Todd Lyght, the Notre Dame cornerback, would be one," says a scout for an NFC team. "Reggie Barrett, a wide receiver from Texas-El Paso, would be another. But after them it's a mystery.
"There are a lot of seniors who are good second- and third-round players, but there aren't many first-rounders."
The personnel director of an AFC team disagrees slightly: "There are always good players and this year is no exception. The difference is that nowadays we are too tough on kids. We are too analytical toward them. The reason is the big money. No one wants to make mistakes on a player his employer is going to pay millions for.
"What takes away from this draft is that there are no glamour quarterbacks, no glamour wide receivers and no glamour running backs."
The personnel director adds Nebraska linebacker Mike Croel, Colorado defensive end Alfred Williams, Tennessee offensive tackle Antoine Davis, Michigan State guard Eric Moten, Iowa running back Nick Bell, defensive tackle Russell Maryland and linebackers Maurice Crum of Miami and Keith Traylor of Central Oklahoma State to the premium list.
Indiana's Mike Dumas, the best safety in the country, would be in the premium list except that some teams reject him because he weighs only 175 pounds.
Traylor is a 6-2 1/2 , 250-pound linebacker with 4.62 speed from a school that never sent a notable player to the pros. He was at the University of Oklahoma when the Big Eight ruled he had to sit out a year to become eligible after transferring from Coffeyville, Kan., Junior College. The big guy from Malverne, Ark., didn't want to sit, so he enrolled at Central.
"We hear from a number of NFL scouts he's probably going to be drafted in the first round," says a Central spokesman. "He's already been invited to play in the Blue Gray Game and the Senior Bowl."
The scouts seem more certain about Traylor than they do about three Notre Dame stars, nose tackle Chris Zorich, linebacker Mike Stonebreaker and running back-wide receiver Ricky Watters.
The pros concede that both Zorich and Stonebreaker are great college players, but Zorich mystifies them because of his lack of height -- he's just slightly over 6 feet -- and his short arms. He could go anywhere from Round One to Round Four.
Stonebreaker -- 6-1, 230 -- is considered too small to be a high pick. The Notre Dame coaches say Watters should be a wide receiver, but the pros see him more as a running back or a third-down role player, something like the Bills' Don Smith.
Most scouts agree that should Rocket Ismail leave Notre Dame with a year's eligibility left, he will be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Lou Holtz held a team meeting recently and requested that any of his players who planned to enter the pro draft declare themselves immediately. No one did, but that doesn't mean they won't.
By declaring themselves now, they probably would be dropped from the squad before the Orange Bowl. Holtz's words, reportedly, did not im-press his players. They know their coach has been a gypsy himself, moving from North Carolina State to the New York Jets to Arkansas to Minnesota to Notre Dame. They also know he may end up with the Minnesota Vikings by next season.
Coaches who jump contracts can't expect blind loyalty from players. When Fresno State coach Jim Sweeney became a serious candidate for the Phoenix Cardinals' job last winter, his star linebacker, Ron Cox, declared for the draft. Cox is now a Chicago Bear.
The Rocket's decision whether to stay at Notre Dame or leave for the pros likely will be made by his mother. Mama runs the Ismail show.
Likewise, if Southern California quarterback Todd Marinovich leaves school with two years eligibility remaining, it will be the decision of his father, Marv, an ex-Raider.
"It would be a mistake to come out. Todd is far from ready for the NFL," says an NFL executive who knows the Marinovich situation well.
"For that matter, his father isn't prepared to make a rational decision about his son and he may never be."
Kosar speech a plus
Bernie Kosar's post-game speech last week about the state of the Cleveland Browns' psyche might have been one of those things that tears apart a team for good, except that Bernie cleared it with four team leaders before he spoke.
One of the four was Michael Dean Perry, who is an important figure among his teammates.
Kosar, popular with his teammates, said a lot more to the players than he did when he spoke to the press about the same subject -- player attitude.
What may have triggered the speech was the sight of star receiver Webster Slaughter flat-out quitting on a Kosar pass which was intercepted by Miami. Slaughter, considered a malcontent by some Browns, didn't even make an attempt to tackle the interceptor.
Kosar's criticism is said to have had a positive effect on the Browns.
Buffalo's exotic defensive game plan against the Oilers surprised a lot of NFL people, considering that the Bills were without three of their best defensive backs -- Kirby Jackson, Mark Kelso and Chris Hale.
Warren Moon, Houston's quarterback, told friends that the Oilers "were astonished" at the Bills' defenses. Moon said that on one play, which broke for big yardage, he looked up from the line of scrimmage and thought Buffalo had just 10 men on the field. The next day on the films he saw that there were 11, "but the way they were spread out, it looked like 10 men."
The Oilers also claim that the Bills didn't make an adjustment until the eighth minute of the fourth quarter.
The balloting for the Silver Anniversary Super Bowl team is going mostly as expected, i.e. Joe Montana at quarterback with Franco Harris and Larry Csonka the running backs. There are some surprises, however.
For instance, sentiment overcame all available evidence with Vince Lombardi the runaway choice for coach while Chuck Noll, the only coach to win four Supers, trails in fourth place.
The leaders at defensive end are L.C. Greenwood and Too Tall Jones while Richard Dent, who won the Most Valuable Player award, and Jones' teammate, Harvey Martin, who shared an MVP, are up the track. Chuck Howley, the only losing player ever voted MVP, is fourth among outside linebackers. Jake Scott, the only defensive back ever to win, is fourth among safeties.
Stouffer a stiff?
Kelly Stouffer, an idea whose time never came, isn't even dressing for Seattle games despite quarterback Dave Krieg's erratic season.
Stouffer was the Cardinals' No. 1 draft choice in 1987, but he sat out the entire season rather than sign with them. Phoenix then traded him to Seattle for a No. 1 and two fifth-round picks.
"He hasn't done a thing," says a member of the Seattle organization. "We're dressing Jeff Kemp instead of Stouffer because Kemp can hold for place kicks."
By the time Sam Wyche finished lavishing praise on Indianapolis after the Colts upset his Bengals Sunday, you would have thought they were the Colts of Johnny Unitas and Gino Marchetti.
Sam has a way of distracting attention from the fact the Bengals lost to an underdog for the fourth time this season, the third time in the last four games.