Ever since Ty Detmer clinched the Heisman Trophy, sportswriters nationwide have speculated on whether the BYU quarterback will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Detmer, of course, has never given the slightest hint that he might abandon BYU early. In fact, he has stated emphatically at every opportunity that he made a commitment to the Cougars and intends to fulfill it.Ah yes, say the skeptical scribes, but what about Barry Sanders and Andre Ware? Two years ago Sanders won the Heisman and told Oklahoma State he'd be back, but on NFL draft day the Detroit Lions put Sanders in their backfield.

And last year Houston quarterback Ware won the Heisman, said he'd be back to set more passing records, and the next time anyone saw him in uniform it was as a Detroit Lion.

Why, everyone asks, should Detmer be any different? He has set dozens of records, he has gotten more publicity than Madonna, and he has won college football's most prestigious individual prize - along with bunches of less-prestigious honors. Isn't now the time for him to turn pro and capitalize on all that recognition? Not according to NFL draft experts. Unlike Sanders and Ware, both taken high in the first round of the draft, the experts say Detmer is not a first-round pick.

He may not even get drafted.

"I think he would be a free-agent acquisition if he came out this year," said Mel Kiper, ESPN's draft expert. "Just like he would be if he came out next year."

Kiper said Detmer (6-foot, 175 pounds) lacks the size and strength that pro teams look for in a quarterback. "He's very light and lean and he doesn't have an NFL-caliber arm," Kiper said. "He has a good arm for the BYU system, especially considering the kind of protection they give him, but as far as pro potential, it's just not there."

"People I talk to in the NFL say the same thing," he added.

"My colleague on ESPN GameDay, Lee Corso, thinks Detmer will be a late-round pick, maybe 10th or 12th round, strictly because of the marquee value," Kiper said. "I don't agree."

Corso's reasoning is that some team will gamble on a player with Detmer's credentials, regardless of his size. If he doesn't get drafted, Corso points out, it will be the first time a Heisman winner hasn't been drafted since the draft began.

Kiper, however, says that there have been a lot of good college quarterbacks - and Heisman winners - who never made it in the pros, causing teams to be more careful about picking someone who fits the NFL profile. "Look at Major Harris," he said. "He was a heckuva college quarterback, and he went in the 12th round to the Raiders and ended up playing in Canada. And then there's the Heisman winners, like Pat Sullivan and John Huarte and Gary Beban, who never made it as quarterbacks in the NFL."

Kiper cautioned, though, that all this doesn't mean he has little regard for Detmer. "I think he should come back for another year at BYU," he said, "and win another Heisman and be known as one of the great college quarterbacks of all time."

Hal Athon, a scout for National Football Scouting, one of two major scouting combines that provide information on college players to NFL teams, also thinks Detmer should stay at BYU but disagreed with Kiper about the BYU QB's draft potential.

"Detmer's got some good qualities," Athon said. "His size is really hurting him, but he has good arm strength, good poise, good vision.

"You've gotta watch him, because he's so productive."

Athon said he has not actually scouted Detmer, because he doesn't scout juniors, but said he had seen Detmer play while evaluating BYU seniors.

"I wouldn't want to see him come out," Athon said, "because I think he could benefit from another year at BYU."

What this boils down to is that the difference between Detmer and his predecessors, Sanders and Ware, is that they left school early to sign mega-dollar contracts, while his NFL potential is considered less of a sure thing.

One more big year at BYU might mean the difference between a minimum-wage free-agent NFL contract and the money that a middle-round draft pick can demand.