The perceptions have changed so quickly, some find it hard to get a reading on this Maryland football team, which was picked by some in the preseason as the best team in the nation.

Is it the nervous, uptight group that made so many errors against Penn State and in the first half of the game with Boston College, or the confidently efficient bunch that put away the Eagles with a second-half burst and feels so rejuvenated this week?

If Maryland's 1985 season follows the pattern of the team's previous three under Coach Bobby Ross -- and it's been true to form the first two weeks -- the perception that the Terrapins are New Year's bowl material could be the correct one.

Week 3 for Maryland has been the starting point every year for a season-long rush. In three seasons under Ross, Maryland is 23-4 from Week 3 until the end of the schedule.

The atmosphere in College Park this week, following the 31-13 victory at Boston College, is quite different from the air before the first two games.

"I feel that we're reaching a level," Ross said. "I really can't tell you why, because we don't change the things we do from week to week. I think in the previous years it was gaining experience and this year perhaps it was all the hoopla (over being ranked so high), and the pressures felt by them that we tried to play down.

"I felt they sensed a pressure on them more so in the first half of the BC game than in Penn State. I got after that game a real sense of relief and I would think it will carry over to this week."

Senior offensive tackle Tony Edwards said there was an air of tension in the Maryland locker room at halftime on Saturday, a feeling different from what might have been expected considering Maryland had a three-point lead.

"We're ahead, 10-7, and everybody was so quiet," Edwards said. "I said, 'What's everybody so quiet about? We're gonna win the game.' We were so afraid to mess up, so tight."

Ross and the players seem sure the problems ended with the Boston College game. "We looked halfway decent for the first time in that second half," Edwards said.

Ross said he senses the players are a lot more relaxed to the point where it "feels like past seasons now."

Defensive back Donald Brown said the victory against BC "took a whole lot of pressure off us. If we jump off to another 0-2 start, there would have been tight faces around here again this week."

Lenny Lynch, the senior left guard who has seen five years of slow starts (even the 1-3-1 mark in Jerry Claiborne's final season), said, "I think we're ready to take off. It's confidence, not overconfidence. The guys are finally relaxed now. It's calmed down."

Team members were hard-pressed to explain exactly what it is about Week 3 that has in recent years brought out the best in Maryland. "I don't think we're even concious of it as a team," receiver Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof said.

Last year, after an 0-2 start, Maryland went to Morgantown to upset West Virginia and win nine of its last 10 games.

The previous season, after a loss in Week 2 to West Virginia, Maryland came back to upset Pitt and win six straight. And in 1982, The Terrapins came back from an 0-2 start to win eight of nine.

Getting ready for their game at Byrd Stadium against the Mountaineers this Saturday, the Terrapins feel there's every reason to expect another such streak, especially since the passing game has yet to yield a completely productive afternoon.

"We'd look really good for three plays, then whoppo, do something to stop ourselves," said Ross. "In rushing we are about in midseason form. But the passing game has got to be better. The passing? We're going to work on it. It's going to get better, I feel confident of that."