Officials from the Aloha Bowl said yesterday Maryland is a strong candidate to play in Honolulu on Christmas Day if the Terrapins defeat Clemson on Saturday at sold-out Byrd Stadium in a game that will be televised regionally at 12:30 p.m. by CBS.

Maryland, ranked No. 18 by Associated Press and No. 16 by United Press International, is a two-point favorite over Clemson, No. 11 in AP and No. 10 in UPI. Both are 4-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and tied for first.

Even if the Terrapins lose to Clemson, but defeat Virginia Nov. 20 to finish the season 8-3, there is a good chance Maryland would play in the first Aloha Bowl, according to Aloha officials.

"Maryland is already the Cinderella team of the year," said Mackay Yanagisawa, Aloha's executive director, from Honolulu. "They're one of the teams we are very, very highly considering. A win against Clemson makes Maryland that much more attractive."

"Maryland is very much in our picture," said Lenny Klompus, an Aloha Bowl committee member. "Their chances look very good. The Aloha Bowl would love to have Maryland in Honolulu on Christmas Day."

Klompus, a Maryland alumnus, is the president of Rockville-based Metrosports, the nation's largest independent syndicator for sports events.

Klompus also said the Aloha Bowl hopes to get another conference runner-up or third-place finisher. That team could be the loser of this week's Arizona State-Washington game, UCLA, or Oklahoma if the Sooners finish behind Nebraska in the Big Eight. Among others being considered are Stanford, Texas, Ohio State, Illinois, West Virginia and Auburn.

It appears unlikely Maryland will be invited to a New Year's Day bowl, even if the Terrapins finish 9-2 by defeating Clemson and Virginia. Scouts from major bowls are worried Maryland doesn't have the national following to merit an invitation to a major bowl.

The Aloha Bowl will be played at Aloha Stadium, which seats 50,000. The game started as the Pineapple Bowl in 1978.

Dick Dull, director of athletics at Maryland, said four bowls will have scouts present at the Clemson game: the Aloha, Liberty (Dec. 29), Sun (Dec. 25) and Tangerine (Dec. 18).

"Certainly, we are interested in the Aloha, as we are in the others who have shown interest in us," Dull said in response to a question. "But they all have been very noncommittal . . . "

Tim Treadwell of the Liberty Bowl said Sunday, "We have great interest in Maryland."

John Junker of the Fiesta Bowl said, "We had a guy who was at the North Carolina-Maryland game and he told me that Maryland had one of the most exciting offenses in the nation. That's a pretty strong statement. But he had seen Georgia, Stanford and Arizona State."

Assuming there will be more than one bowl interested in inviting Maryland on Nov. 20 (the earliest bids can be offered), Dull said four factors will determine where the school goes::

"What the players want to do comes first," Dull said. "Their input is primary. Second is television exposure in terms of impact on recruiting. Third is payday. And fourth, I have to be concerned about exams, and how a game would interfere with them."