With no starting quarterback having emerged seven practice days before Maryland's season-opener at Vanderbilt, every pass, every handoff and every block has taken on a greater significance for the three Terrapin candidates: junior Brent Dewitz, senior Bob Milkovich and sophomore Boomer Esiason.

All three are anxious for Jerry Claiborne, the head coach, and Jerry Eisaman, the quarterback coach, to determine who will open as No. 1.

"We won't be the ones who decide," Eisaman said earlier this week. "One of those three candidates will make the decision for us." The problem is that no one has clearly established supremacy.

"Really, there's not that much difference," said Dewitz. "I don't think any of us has big strengths or weaknesses over the other. I know if I mess up, both those guys are breathing down my neck."

Because Dewitz has been "messing up" less than the other two, Claiborne promoted him to the first team on Monday. Milkovich, a fifth-year senior who had practiced as No. 1 since the spring, was moved to No. 2 but he virtually splits practice time with Dewitz.

Esiason, a red-shirted sophomore who is 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds, has the strongest arm and probably more raw talent than the other two. But his erratic performances in practice have kept him a close third. He is generally acknowledged as Maryland's quarterback of the future.

"Brent has been more consistent in the last two scrimmages," said Eisaman, "and that's why he was moved up on the depth chart. But we're still experimenting. We're looking for the guy who makes a very small number of mistakes, the guy who can think and act most intelligently under fire and the guy who can read defenses. All three are right in there."

"Welcome to the never-ending saga of the Maryland quarterbacks," Milkovich said yesterday. He slightly injured his neck and bruised his head in last week's scrimmage, but said he felt fine yesterday.

"People ask me about my 'competition' and I start answering on Vanderbilt or West Virginia (Maryland's first two opponents)," Milkovich said. "Brent and Boomer are my teammates, not the competition. The quarterback situation is too important for the three of us to stand around glaring at each other or stabbing each other in the back. The final scrimmages will put us on the spot enough."

An interesting note: Maryland has won all 12 games in which Dewitz has played quarterback, including the 17-14 comeback triumph over Duke last season. Dewitz, from Orrville, Ohio, says he has never lost a game that he has started as quarterback.

Each quarterback threw a touchdown pass in yesterday's scrimmage.

Dewitz completed five of eight passes for 55 yards, including an eight-yard scoring pass to fullback Jeff Rodenberger. Milkovich also completed five of eight passes, for 76 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown throw to tight end John Tice. Esiason completed seven of nine overall (five of six with the varsity) and connected with receiver Alan Sadler on a 21-yard scoring play.