It begins painlessly with "picture day," when press photographers spend an afternoon recording the final smiles of summer on the faces of college football players.

But once the area's college players have mastered the maneuver of smiling, they delve into the study of other skills - throwing, running, blocking - when two-a-day drills begin this week, officially marking the opening of practice of the 1978 season.

From that point on, smiling is frowned upon. MARYLAND

Twenty-nine lettermen return to Maryland's mystery team, which initiates a quarterback search Tuesday when drills begin. Missing from last year's 8-4 team are the departed veteran quarterback, Mark Manges and Harry Dick.

Coach Jerry Claiborne probably will make his choice from a pair of inexperienced players, long-throwing sophomore Mike Tice and senior left-hander Tim O'Hare.

Steve Atkins, Preacher Maddox and George Scott return in the backfield to anchor what probably will be a run-dominated offense.

Eight defensive starters from last year's opener have gone and Claiborne also must find a punter before the Sept. 9 opener against Tulane at College Park.

"We lost almost our entire defense, so that is a top priority," Claiborne said. "It's nice publicity that Playboy magazine picked us 12th in the country but it surprised me, since we don't have an experienced quarterback.

"If we can find a quarterback, we could be in good shape." NAVY

Navy has a brand-new mascot goat, Bill XXI, to grace the sidelines this year, but inbounds the slick passing combo of Bob Leszczynski to Phil McConkey will look familiar.

Leszczynski passed for 1,509 yards and McConkey caught 34 passes for 596 yards during last year's 5-6 journey through a Jaws II type of schedule."

Twenty-nine lettermen return when practice begins on Saturday. (The public is invited to Navy's picture day at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Bob and Phil as well as Bill XXI will be there). Because of a revised calender for the academic year, with classes beginning Aug. 28, the Mids will have more total days than last year to prepare for the 1978 opener at Virginia Sept. 16, but will have only two days of two-a-days in full pads and two in shorts.

"I'm not real happy over the lack of two-a-days, but hopefully we can overcome that with total number of days we have available," Coach George Welsh said.

Welsh has to reubuild the defensive secondary and settle the offensive line. "We have the potential to be a good football team," Welsh said, "but we will be counting on a number of players who haven't played a great deal in the past to come through for us." HOWARD

The Bison return only one senior starter to the offense, so Coach Doug Porter will be taking a good look at his young players when practice begins Friday.

Four full-time and two part-time starters are back on offense, including the senior, flanker Steve Wilson and quarterback Brian Thomas, who missed spring workouts with shoulder problems. Eight starters are back on defense from last year's 5-5 team.

"I think our defense and our throwing game will be better. Our running game will be a question mark with no senior on the line," Porter said. "In practice, defensively we want to work on fundamentals.

"We have experience at every defensive position, so our main point is to minimize our mistakes. That's what hurt us last year.

"We'll have to rebuild our offensive line. That will be the achilles heel of our whole program. We will almost have to throw more. That is dictated to us, since our receiver and quarterback are just about our only experienced players."

Porter has until a Sept. 16 opener at Maryland-Eastern Shore to break in his young squad. VIRGINIA TECH

Bill Dooley, the new head coach, is living in a hotel, and most other details still are being worked out in the renovation of Virginia Tech's football program.

Last year brought a 3-7-1 record and much unfavorable publicity when a player died following a punishment drill. Dooley comes from North Carolina and was given a bundle of money to add some class to the program.

He will also add the I formation, subtracting the old veer. Tech returns nine starters to offense and the same number to defense. To ease the pain of its many problems, the program was generous with letters last year, so 54 lettermen will be in camp when practice begins Aug. 21.

The season opens Sept. 9 at home against Tulsa, and later on there are back-to-back games against Alabama and Kentucky. VIRGINIA

Coach Dick Bestwick begins his third season at Virginia and will go to the veer offense in an effort to score more points. The Cavaliers mustered only six touchdowns and 54 points en route to a 1-9-1 season a year ago.

Four field goals led Virginia to its only victory last season, a 12-10 decision over Wake Forest. The Cavaliers, who are 3-18-1 under Bestwick, open this season at Wake Forest Sept. 9.

Chip Mark, who handled much of the quarterbacking duties last season will have competition from Mickey Spady and Phil Spencer for the starting role.

Sophomore running backs Greg Taylor and Tommy Vigorito should start for the Cavaliers. Russ Henderson, the ACC's leading punter a year ago, returns for his senior year.

The area's small-college football teams from Georgetown, Catholic, Bowie State, the University of the District of Columbia, Gallaude-t and Montgomery College-Rockville will begin their practices later this month.