"We'll be set back in the polls and still criticized about our schedule," Maryland split end Vince Kinney said this morning. "But I've got another year and I'll set my goals toward coming back here again and winning."

Looking ahead was about all that was left for members of the Maryland football team after they spotted Houston 21 points Saturday and went on to lose the Cotton Bowl game, 30-21.

All but the 12 seniors among the 73 players who made the trip here can look ahead to next season are not far off - the players' winter weightlifting program will start later this month.

Quarterback Mark Manges has his heart set on more postseason play, but somewhere else.

"I've got burns from the AstroTurf all over both knees and legs," he said. "I want the Orange Bowl next year because it's played in warm whether and on grass."

What may determine whether Maryland can reach that goal next season following its first loss after 15 wins is how well the coaching staff can be replace half the departing seniors: six offensive linemen.

Those men - tackles Tom Schick, Dave Conrad and John Zernhelt, and tight end Bob Raba - represented the first strong offensive line in coach Jerry Claiborne's five seasons at College Park.

Coordinated offensive lines take more time to develop than any other area of a football team, with the possible exception of quarterback. The only starter returning in the offensive line is guard Mike Yeates, the team's strongest man. He can bench press 450 pounds.

The 1977 schedule includes Penn State on Sept. 24. The Terps will have to win that game, as they were unable to do in 1975, to get a major bowl bid again.

Among the players who must mature before next season are:

Center Pat Cornelius, a freshman; tackles Larry Stewart, a freshman; Mike Simon, a redshirted sophomore; and Steve Kaisdner, a sophomore guards Paul Glamp, a sophomore, and Kervin Wyatt, a sophomore moved to offense midway in the season; and tight ends Eric Sievers, a freshman, and Scott Murphy, a sophomore who missed most of the season with a knee injury.

Another candidate at tight end is Tom Burgess, a 6-5, 220-pounds sophomore who was redshirted this season following an injury.

Four of the other six seniors - defensive tackles Joe Campbell and Ralph Fisher, linebacker Mike Miller and cornerback Kenny Roy - have experienced players behind them.

Sophomore Charlie Johnson, the No. 1 reserve at defensive tackle, suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff Saturday. He will not need immediate surgery, a team spokesman said.

Seven defensive Cotton Bowl starters will return, as will end Keith Calta and cornerback Dough Harbert.

The number of defensive returnees from this Cotton Bowl squad is large - five ends, five guards, five linebackers, six defensive backs.

These figures do not include freshmen who remained at College Park and redshirts.

Other than the line, the number of offensive returnees from the Cotton Bowl squad, also is impressive: four tailbacks, for quarterbacks, three wingbacks, two spilt ends and two fullbacks.

One fullback graduating is Tim Wilson, who blocks so well he considers himself "as guard who gets to carry the ball." The other senior is reserve split and Rick Schmaltz.

Claiborne and his family left here by plane early this morning for the Hula Bowl in Honolulu. The coach and his wife will continue to the Japan Bowl, along with players Campbell and Fulton. They will not be home until Jan. 18.

But recruiting will on at home, and Thom Park, the recuiting coordinator, said today getting two good quarterbacks for the future was the most critical recruiting need. The Terps' first signee was quarterback Dutch Hoffmann, who led his underfeated Newark, Del., team to a state championship.

The Terps, earger to get here, were delayed by plane trouble at Dulles Airport a week ago; eager to get home this morning, icy roads and runways postponed their departure about three hours . . . The Maryland band, scheduled to depart Saturday night, was stranded at the airport and stayed at a hotel overnight . . . Perhaps it was an omen that the Terps would not do well in the bowl when wives of two Maryland vice chancellors had their purses lifted at a New York Year's Eve party.