The Washington-area fan with a hearty appetite sees an enormous smorgasbord before him this season, no single team or no single player demanding undivided attention but enough variety to provide a satisfactory fall.

And we offer one morsel for thought before the first serious play from scrimmage, a post-season entree that would settle what ought to be a serious debate by mid-November: the best college team in Maryland.

For the first time in recent memory the best semi-amateur team in Maryland might not be Maryland. It might well be Navy, with that 9-3 record a year ago and the players and the schedule for a similar performance this season.

Why not at least consider matching the Terps and Mids in an end-of-season game, say in Memorial Stadium, which happens to be Coltless every weekend except one, in December. Or at least think about it for some postseason soon.

It mgiht be the best way for each school to maximize what it covets most: money.

Maryland's major problem is image. It might be the best team in the country with the fewest rabid fans, the one team big-bowl backers secretly hope plays just badly enough to avoid a bid.

Annually, the Terrapins offer everything but pizzaz, wonderful runners and throwers, blockers, tacklers and kickers. And splendid coaching. Except that Jerry Claiborne cannot inspire potential customers the way he inspires linebackers.

Or so it seems. Or perhaps the area refuses to be inspired until Maryland beats Penn State.

Whatever, the Terrapins have no-where near the enthusiastic following the quality of their teams would seem to merit. Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Cal and two dozen other teams go to war each week. Maryland still plays games.

I was in Austin one year when the winner of the Texas-Arkansas game had a fine chance at the national championship. There was a sea of Longhorn orange on one side of the stadium and thousands of crazies wearing red plastic pig snouts on the other.

Nobody seemed to be having fun. I mentioned this to a rather large woman, whose pig snout was perched atop the puffiest hairdo imaginable, and a second or so later she had me pinned against a hot dog stand.

Three times she screamed at me: "Whoooooo, Pig, sooooooie." Then she lowered her voice to merely loud, offered a smile as plastic as her headgear, and said: "Now, does that look like I ain't havin' any fun?"

There might be 10,000 more Arkansas fans equally rabid. There might be 1,000 Marylanders inclined toward such devotion.

This might well be a healthy sign of the emotional sophistication locally. But it frustrates Maryland officials anxious to sell tickets -- and generate the sort of national attention they covet.

Navy has managed to overcome most of the problems that led to its being one of the nation's most pathetic teams in the late '60s and early '70s.

The Mids are attracting better players and playing easier teams than during the four-year period when their record was 8-34. They have national appeal, but lack major-bowl clout for the same reasons that helped make them winners.

Navy ought to be winners because it has enough Citadels, Connecticuts and William & Marys to balance the Pitts and Notre Dames.

Still, until Navy beats Notre Dame or Michigan or Arkansas it is not likely to attract any bowl more prestigious than last season's Holiday Bowl in San Diego. And Navy is not yet on a recruiting par with any of the factories, including Maryland.

Both Maryland and Navy will be quite good; both also need the money and attention that bowls provide: both are limited, for the moment at least, in the quality of bowls they can attract.

It is time they at least considered that sometimes their most interesting -- and profitable -- bowl game would be against each other.