Directors of Gannett Co. may approve plans this morning for publication of a Washington-based, general-interest national daily newspaper.

Officials of the Rochester, N.Y.-based communications firm are in Washington for annual meetings with top executives of the company's 85 daily and 54 Sunday newspapers. Chairman Allen H. Neuharth is expected to unveil plans later for the new national daily, which would be printed starting next fall.

Although Gannett officials were mum yesterday on what decision is expected at a regular board meeting here, newspaper industry analysts said their assessment adds up to approval. "I think Al Neuharth wants to do it . . . and that will determine it," said analyst John Morton in the Washington office of Lynch, Jones & Ryan.

Another Wall Street analyst, who asked not to be identified, said "Gannett would be crazy to do this . . . it's ridiculous." Except for The Wall Street Journal, with a specialized business audience, and the relatively small Christian Science Monitor, no other publisher has attempted a national daily in this country, although national papers are dominant in many nations. The New York Times also is expanding with regional printing operations but is aiming at an elite audience.

Gannett's Monday-to-Friday paper, to be called USA Today, would be sold on newsstands throughout the country. A Washington-Baltimore edition of USA Today would be printed on the modern presses of Army Times Publishing Co. in Springfield.

Army Times already publishes the five suburban daily Journal papers here, but officials of Gannett and Army Times have emphasized that no combined circulation of the two daily newspapers is contemplated. Virtually all circulation of the Journals is by mail delivery, while Gannett plans no home circulation.

A communications satellite dish has been installed here so that news copy can be sent to other Gannett newspaper plants in various regions of the country for printing in multiple locations--a strategy already successfully employed by Dow Jones & Co. for its Wall Street Journal. The Journal is printed at more than a dozen locations, including Silver Spring for the greater Washington region.

According to Gannett officers, the company would not be going forward with plans for a national daily unless management thinks it can achieve a daily circulation of between 1 million and 2 million, generate annual revenues of $250 million and become profitable--all within three to five years. For the last 12 months, Gannett officials have been conducting reader and advertising surveys about the proposed daily; two prototype editions, each with 40 pages, were printed and distributed last June.

Gannett recently leased 220,000 square feet on 11 floors of a new office building in Rosslyn, to house its new Gannett Satellite Information Network (Gansat) as well as the USA Today staff.

Some analysts have estimated that Gannett would have to invest up to $100 million to produce a national daily, but company officials have declined to comment on the potential price tag. The existence of so many printing plants with ample time available to print the new daily would greatly reduce costs, analysts noted.

As now contemplated, USA Today will focus on sports and national business news, as well as feature stories from all parts of the nation. The goal is to appeal primarily to travelers who may prefer USA Today to the local newspaper where they are visiting.