For the first time in four years, the University of Maryland opened football practice yesterday as something other than the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Predictably, many of the media people who flocked to last year's picture day stayed away, and the implication of their absence did not escape Coach Jerry Claiborne.

"It's just my luck," said Claiborne, "that on our picture day, George Allen has just gotten fired."

Claiborne made a polite plea for publicity for his 1978 team, which has been rated to finish third in the ACC behind Clemson and defending champion North Carolina.

"I told our players I hope being picked third in the league would get their dander up," said Claiborne. "I know it's made me work harder."

Even on the first day of practice, when the most difficult assignment of the day is sitting according to jersey numbers for the team picture, one could notice the difference from last year's event.

Last year, news people were photographing te Heisman Trophy candidate - quarterback Mark Manges.

This year, they didn't bother asking about a Heisman Trophy candidate. They asked, who is the quarterback? And they were directed to four different players.

Claiborne does not have a letterman at the position, and he said yesterday his priority in practice is picking his top two quarterbacks from among Tim O'Hare. Mike Tice, David McAfee and Bob Milkovich.

One of the chosen two probably will be Tice, a 6-foot-7 sophomore. After posing for his proper share of photographs. Tice talked about a difference in the team mood heading into the season.

"Last year our first day back, it was likt - ugh, let's count the days until its over," Tice remembered. "This time, every is smiling. Everyone is psyched. This year everyone is excited and it makes me feel good."

Tailback George Scott noticed a similar attitude. "You can feel it," he said, "the good feeling."

Sparingly photographed last year, Scott returned as the star of the 1978 show, holder of the school's single-game rushing record (237 yards) and also on the early track to the starting tailback position for the Sept. 9 opener against Tulane.

Claiborne said yesterday that the junior Scott will start ahead of seniors Steve Atkins and Alvin (Preacher) Maddox, who combine with Scott to form the strongest group at any position this year.

"Scott will be our starting tailback the first day of practice," said Claiborne. "He's the one who finished up for us."

Scott said that makes this year "not really scary, just different." He's looking forward to today's first workout of the year.

"After just kind of sitting around and going to summer school," said Scott, "this will be a nice change of pace. Summertime is nice, but you don't play football in the summer."

Field goal kicker Ed Loncar missed his ride to school yesterday, but is expected at practice today. Dale Castro, the prime candidate to replace punter Mike Sochko, is with a Minnesota Twins' farm club and has not yet decided whether to return for football or continue in baseball.

Linebacker Lyle Peck and running back Tim Brown, both used sparingly last year, did not return this year. Linebacker Dewey Raymond, another seldom-used player, transferred to the University of Connecticut, near his home in Norwalk.

Wingback Don Dotter will be out of action for about 20 days after suffering a severe calf injury during a basketball game at Ocean City. Several of the Terrapins are returning from offseason surgery and will be watched carefully.

"A lot of our success will depend on how we come back from all our injuries," said Claiborne.

The head coach's other main concerns are:

Sorting out the quarterbacks and kickers.

Filling holes at linebacker and defensive guard.

Finding depth in the defensive secondary and defensive ends.

Deciding on backup help for windback Dean Richards and a starter at split end.

The Terps' first workout in pads will be Friday morning. Two-a-day drills begin today with physical examinations in the morning and a workout in the afternoon. Two-a-days continue through Tuesday with classes starting Wednesday, Aug. 23. CAPTION:

Picture 1, Quarterback candidates for the University of Maryland this season, none a letterman, from left, senior Time O'Hare, freshman Mike Tice, junior David McAfee and sophomore Bob Milkovich. Coach Jerry Claiborne says filling the slot is his top practice priority., By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne finds team rated third in ACC., By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post