To envision 1982 college football we must look forward. But to understand 1982 college football we need to look Backward.

First, it is the year of the quarterback. Pitt has Dan Marino, Stanford has John Elway, Miami has Jim Kelly, Illinois has Tony Eason and Southern Mississippi has underrated Reggie Collier. They are all seniors, all reaching for the Heisman.

It is also the year of the tailback. North Carolina has Kelvin Bryant, Penn State has Curt Warner, Southern Methodist gallops from probation behind "The Pony Express" of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, and Georgia, of course, has Herschel Walker.

It is also the year of the man from way back. Grambling State Coach Eddie Robinson enters his 40th coaching season just three victories shy of 300. The nation's senior coach in years served prepares for his Sept. 4 opener against Morgan State at Yankee Stadium with a career mark of 297-98-13. Last season, Alabama's Bear Bryant got so much attention for breaking Amos Alonzo Stagg's record of 314 victories that his face turned an aw-shucks crimson; Robinson's numbers swell toward Stagg in silence.

It is also the year of the comeback. Gerry Faust, the coach anointed, then disappointed in 1981, hopes to bring Notre Dame back from 5-6, its first losing season since 1963. At Texas A&M, it will be more of a coming out for Jackie Sherrill, who has moved from the steely strength of Pitt to the agrarian aggressiveness of the Aggies.

For Southern Cal, it will be a year spent in the back without a back. The Trojans are on probation for various infractions and have lost Marcus Allen and his NCAA record 2,342 yards to graduation. Coach John Robinson says, "We've had things taken away from us, but we have a great deal left." Fan interest is probably not one of them.

And maybe -- just maybe -- it is the year of payback. Northwestern's NCAA record 31-game losing streak should stop somewhere around Weeks 2, 3 or 4 against either Indiana (which beat the Wildcats, 21-20, in 1981), Miami of Ohio or Northern Illinois. Second-year Coach Dennis Green is seeking a little recovery and a lot of redemption.

Now, let's get back to basics. The preseason rankings. They are the greatest foibles of the fall. Last year, Clemson rose to the final No. 1 position despite the nonrecognition of the preseason polls.

"This is kind of a unique feeling," said University of Washington Coach Don James, whose Huskies are top-ranked by one magazine. "But I will certainly tell the players if they enjoy it for too long, they'll lose it."

The Huskies (10-2 in 1981), who return nine starters on defense and eight on offense, defeated Iowa, 28-0, in the Rose Bowl. Sophomore running back Jacque Robinson, who gained 142 yards in the Rose Bowl after gaining just 180 yards his entire freshman season, returns to great expectations.

So do the rest of the Huskies. "Realistically, I didn't think we'd get this lofty," said James.

Naturally, the college constants will populate the 1982 rankings. Even without graduated Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott, Georgia's Dawgs (10-2) still have Herschel and that is enough.

Another Southeastern Conference team, Bryant's Crimson Tide (9-2-1), returns nifty junior quarterback Walter Lewis and junior receivers Joey Jones and Jessie Bendross. It's not enough to make you recall the days of Namath, Todd or Stabler, but the Tide has the Bear and history insists that is enough.

Nebraska (9-3 in 1981) places all-America center Dave Rimington on the marquee and running backs Mike Rozier (junior) and Roger Craig (senior) on the spot in the Big Eight. With Oklahoma coming off a year of fumbling the football and its identity, the Big Eight might be the Big One.

Graduation stole the coach from Southern Methodist (10-1). Ron Meyer has moved on to the New England Patriots. Bobby Collins enters from Southern Mississippi. Of Dickerson and James, Collins says, "Sometimes in a coaching lifetime you hope to get one great running back -- I have two."

The Atlantic Coast Conference again seems prepared for the defense of Clemson (12-0) versus the offense of North Carolina (10-2). The Tigers ranked No. 2 in scoring defense last year and return six players.

North Carolina's Bryant had 15 touchdowns and 520 yards in the first three games of 1981 before injuring his knee. His uniform number is an apropos 44. Bryant, therefore, has the same number and the same tendency as a man of a different sport: he is a Reggie-esque game-breaker.

As always, Pitt (11-1) and Penn State (10-2) will be among the leading independents. While the Nittany Lions return running back Warner and junior quarterback Todd Blackledge to an offense that offended Pitt, 48-14, last year, the Panthers have Marino.

Said Serafino (Foge) Fazio, who replaced Sherrill: "Great mind, cool, calm performer. Dan Marino is not a weakling back there."