Jerry Claiborne took his seat in the middle of the first row and smiled for the Maryland football team picture.

Behind the conservative grin was a coach discovering for the first time what it is to leave behind an undefeated season and start anew, with practice beginning today.

Maryland cruised through the Atlantic Coast Conference and finished with an 11-0 mark last year. Houston added a blemishing footnote by beating the Terps, 30-21, in the Cotton Bowl.

That is a touch act to follow and Claiborne's feelings about it are clearly unclear.

"Last night we had a meeting and I told the team that last year means nothing," said Claiborne.

"You can't live on past accomplishments. I enjoyed it all winter long. It was nice to talk about. But the fans want to know, what are you going to do for me today? This season is no more special than any other."

After Claiborne made it clear that last season is over, he pointed out what an important factor it is to the team this year.

"We try to use the win streak as a motivating factor," said Claiborne. "People talk about pressure, and there is pressure. But we think of it in a positive way. Somewhere the bubble has to burst. But we don't talk about losing.

"Any time you have a win streak going, people try to play their hardest against you. Our players know that anybody can beat anybody."

Claiborne was sure his players would not be overconfident. Later he wasn't as sure.

"Will we be complacent? I don't know," he said. "We don't plan to have an off year. You never know."

Yesterday was perhaps the last day that Maryland coaches and players could bask in the glory of their unbeaten season, discuss it and review it.

So the mood on the newly planted bermuda grass in Byrd Stadium was cheerful. Safety Jonathan Claiborne, the coach's son, joined the photographers and snapped pictures of his teammates. Mike Yeates, the only starter returning to the worrisome offensive line, showed off the tattoo of an eagle on his right leg. Heisman longshot Mark Manges, the Terps quarterback, offered his face to hundreds of feet of film. Everyone griped about their new striped socks.

Two players who at the end of last year planned to be here, weren't. Backup linebacker Bill Fotta, who would have figured more importantly in the Terps' plans this year, was off working on a construction job. He was married Sunday night and had decided to pass up his final year of eligibility to go to work. Reserve guard Steve Kalodner did not return to school.

Twenty-seven freshmen will join the group today, when Claiborne expects about 100 players to report.

Claibrone used his vacation time to play tennis with his 16-year-old daughter and visit relatives in Kentucky. Particularly memorable was a reunion with a sister he hadn't seen since his father's funeral in 1968. "Her first words to me," said Claiborne, "were, 'What happened in the Cotton Bowl?' Not 'Hellow,' or 'Good to see you'."

Claiborne had only begun to discover the burden of following his own act.