LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ The last time Coach Tom Osborne had such a talented, veteran quarterback, senior Turner Gill led the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers to a 12-1 season after thrashing Penn State 44-6 in the Kickoff Classic.

Osborne has senior Steve Taylor, a two-year starter at quarterback, to guide the 1988 Huskers into the Aug. 27 Kickoff Classic against Texas A&M, starting what Osborne believes could be a challenging season. After A&M comes Utah State, UCLA and Arizona State on the early schedule.

Still, the 15-year Husker head coach, says ''on paper this figures to be a good team.''

That's about how Osborne assesses each of his teams, yet Nebraska has never won fewer than nine games, lost more than three or failed to finish in the top 10 in one or both major college football polls in his 15 years. Not even Oklahoma's Barry Switzer or Penn State's Joe Paterno, the only active coaches with a better winning percentage over that period, can say they have been as consistent.

Osborne, 10-2 with losses only to Oklahoma and Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl last season, doesn't predict a national championship run in 1988, or even a Big Eight Conference title against the likes of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but he does say a good start could make a difference.

''If we beat A&M, Utah State, UCLA and Arizona State, we're off and running,'' Osborne said. ''We've got a lot of things going for us.''

It is reminiscent of the 1983 season of stardom when All-American Gill, Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier and All-American wingback Irving Fryar led Nebraska to a 12-0 season before a 31-30 loss to Miami for the national title in the Orange Bowl.

Taylor was a third-team All-American a year ago and his fleet feet will ignite an offense that returns regular players Tyreese Knox and Ken Clark at I-back with redshirt Terry Rodgers, speedsters Dana Brinson and Richard Bell at wingback, Morgan Gregory at split end and Todd Millikan at tight end. Fullback fill-ins Sam Schmidt and Bryan Carpenter also possess power, speed and talent behind one of the more veteran lines Nebraska has had in several years.

''The offensive line is a pretty good one,'' Osborne said. ''Bob Sledge (tackle) is a good player. Andy Keeler (guard) is a good player. Jake Young (center) is a good player. John Nelson (guard) is a fine player, too. And, of course, Doug Glaser will start at the other tackle.''

Seniors Sledge (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) and Keeler (6-3, 265) and junior Young (6-5, 260) were starters a year ago when Nebraska averaged 373 yards rushing, 489 yards in total offense and 38.5 points per game.

Depth in the line and at tight end seem to be the only questions marks for Nebraska on offense, Osborne said.

Unlike the 1983 team, which had few stars on defense, the 1988 version has several players who stand out, according to Osborne.

''At outside linebacker, Broderick Thomas is kind of like Taylor. This is it for him. He's not going to get any better physically or mentally for us,'' Osborne said. ''We're hoping he will have a great year and he should.''

Thomas, junior Jeff Mills, senior Jon Marco and sophomore Mike Croel give what Osborne calls ''probably the best overall group of outside backers since I've been here.''

At strongside linebacker will be senior LeRoy Etienne, the team's leading tackler in 1987. But he lost his No. 1 job in spring drills to junior Randall Jobman, while sophomore Pat Tyrance, junior Chris Caliendo and sophomore Kenny Walker battle for the weakside spot.

''The secondary wasn't bad last year but we're hoping it can get better this year,'' Osborne said. ''At strong safety, in terms of pure ability, we have one there as good as we have had there in a long time in Reggie Cooper.''

End Adv Wed AMs Aug 17