All the components for a rare and memorable season appear to be in place for the University of Maryland.

If Maryland could pick the situation in which it would be ideal to challenge for the national championship, it would be with a team of experienced players returning from winning a bowl game.

The Terrapins' coaches probably would want a senior quarterback with experience in critical situations, a game-breaking receiver who is nearly impossible to cover one-on-one, a brutish fullback and at least one halfback with breakaway speed. And, of course, an offensive line with at least four seniors.

The defensive front would be agile and strong, the cornerbacks fast and cocky, the linebackers smart and slightly reckless.

Maryland would want to be two-deep at as many positions as possible for insurance against a schedule that would be so tough and attractive alumni and supporters would get fighting mad over ticket requests being denied.

And the school would want to entrust all of this to a coach who would be daring and unpredictable, and such a proven teacher and technician that half the teams in the country wanted to hire him away.

Consider it done.

Maryland is certainly no sure bet for a national title, or even a spot in the top 10. The Terrapins are breaking in a new center and field goal kicker. And the schedule may be a little too tough. But for the most part, the ingredients are there.

It doesn't appear unreasonable to think the Terrapins could justify preseason forecasts that have them ranked as high as No. 1.

And it's not unreasonable for Maryland to expect its best team since the glorious early '50s, or at least 1976, when Jerry Claiborne took an undefeated team into the Cotton Bowl.

"It's been a long wait, but it's worth it," fifth-year quarterback Stan Gelbaugh said recently. "It's impossible to say just how good we're going to be. But let's face it: If we had to go back four years and think ahead, this is where we'd want to be. If we could have picked a spot, this would be it."

Scott Schankweiler, a senior linebacker, said. "We can't go into this thing saying, 'We can't lose.' But we should be a very good team."

Maryland's offense, which averaged 39.6 points per game the last seven weeks of 1984, could be even better this year.

Gelbaugh, sprint receiver Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, amazing tight end Ferrell Edmunds and a trio of super running backs (Rick Badanjek, Alvin Blount and Tommy Neal) -- operating behind an offensive line that averages 6 feet 4, 272 pounds -- give the Terrapins uncommon flexibility and balance.

The offense was sixth in the nation last year in yards per game; even so, it expects to be better.

The defense doesn't have a truly dominating player like Oklahoma nose guard Tony Casillas. Last year, the Terrapins allowed nearly 30 points per game in the final five contests.

It appears Maryland should be able to stop people this season. The backs -- Al and Keeta Covington and Donald Brown -- have the speed to cover opponents. The defensive front has a possible all-America in Bruce Mesner, as does the linebacking unit in Chuck Faucette.

If Maryland can hold opponents to 21 points per game, it's difficult to imagine the Terrapins losing more than once or twice, even with the schedule they're playing (provided the offense continues to be strong).

Many Maryland supporters are sorry their best team in years will play what is being called one of the country's five toughest schedules.

Badanjek has no regrets. "Why not play the good ones?" he said. "Brigham Young didn't play that tough a schedule last year and got bad publicity. I'm glad we're playing the teams we are (including Penn State, Boston College, West Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Virginia). If we do win, nobody will be able to say we're a fluke."