When that huge ball slowly descends to that roof in New York City, a successful year ends for a number of popular recording artists. More important, though, when "1978" lights up the cold sky and Times Square's crowds go bonkers, some other performers will have reason to feel optimistic. Here are my candidates for 1978, based on 1977 evidence.

KARLA BONOFF ("Karla Bonoff," Columbia PC 34672): Long recognized as an exceptional writer, Bonoff revealed solid singing potential in her first album; and help from Linda Ronstadt and her band didn't hurt, either. She is vocally thin in spots and needs a bit more excitement in her arrangements, but there's plenty of room on the scene for female talent - especially one as lyrically intelligent as Bonoff.

ELVIS COSTELLO ("My Aim is True," Columbia JC 350357): His rather bizarre American television debut on "NBC's Saturday Night Live" notwithstanding, Costello was still one of the most exciting new acts this year and promises to be even bigger next year. So much has been written about him recently, it seems superfluous to say anything beyond that he is witty and driving - a good combination.

PLAYER (Player," RSO Records RS 1-3026): The band behind one of the best singles of 1977 recently put on a tight live performance at the Cellar Door and needs only some maturing and exposure to go over the pop top. "Baby Come Back" sounds a lot like vintage Hall and Oates, but the album shows there's more to the group than formula hits.

ROOT BOY SLIM AND THE SEX CHANGE BAND (No album): On one hand, this may be seen as playing local favorites; on the other, I personally have never gone for the Root's act. There's no denying that he has dynamite band, a top producer in Steenly Dan's Gary Katz, and a stage act that must be seen to believed. He also has a Warner Brothers album due soon, with some heavyweight promotion. I'm still not sure about Root Boy's commercial viability, but he, his band and the Rootettes will certainly be something to listen for.

ROBERT GORDON ("Robert Gordon With Link Wray," Private Stock PS 2030): Like Root Boy Slim, Robert Gordon is a local act, unlike Root Boy, his work is based in the rockability tradition of Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins. Besides being one of the best premieres of the year musically, the album is also an orgy of vitality. Add the fact that rockabilly's coming back in updated but clearly recognizable styles and you have a possible trend-setter waiting for his moment in 1978.

EDDIE MONEY ("Eddie Joney," Columbia PC 34909): Money has two very positive advantages: a pure rock'n'roll sensibility and Bill Graham's production arm, Wolfgang. Right now, Money's material is too derivative and this initial record's production too pat, but the talent is there. Also, he puts on an energetic live so that's bound to win converts and woo some skeptics.

JANE OLIVOR ("Chasing Rainbows," Columbia PC 34917): All Jane Olivor needs is to find her audience and to stop talking and phrasing exactly like Barbra Streisand. Olivor has all the ingredients to be a pop/middle-of-the-road star and she's doing the right thing playing small clubs and appearing on mass-appeal outlets like the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows. America needs a new Streisand and, right now, Olivor is the top candidate.

MEAT LOAF ("Bat Out of Hell," Epic PE 34974): That's his name, folks, honest. Also, he gets support from Edgar Winter, some of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band and Todd Rundgren's Utopia entourage. A growing cult now (he sold out a weekend at New York's Bottom Line in a matter of hours), Meat Loaf could well break through to a larger audience in the coming year.

THE SEX PISTOLS ("Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols," Warner Brothers BSK 3147): I don't like the Sex Pistols; but a growing number of peopke do and the coming year should be theirs. (If it's not, kiss them good-bye). For one thing, their premier American release should pick up in sales when the band tours here in a few months, and it's that tour that will determine the Pistols' fate.