Maryland has always wanted to be here. Any bowl game was good enough for the Terrapins, still eager to show Maryland football should be taken seriously.

Players for Washington, the No. 1 team in the nation the first seven weeks of the season, are still asking themselves, "Why aren't we in the Rose Bowl?"

Two major questions have persisted throughout this week of sun and surf: is 16th-ranked Maryland capable of competing with one of the best teams from the West? And, is there any incentive for No. 9 Washington to play well, after trips to the Rose Bowl the last two years?

The answers will come when they play in the inaugural Aloha Bowl Saturday at 7 p.m. EST (WDCA-TV-20, ESPN Cable, WMAL-630). Oddsmakers rate the game even.

Aloha Stadium, which seats 50,000, may be one-third empty because many here object to a football game being played on Christmas afternoon (2 p.m. Hawaiian time).

For the Terrapins (8-3), a victory would probably push them into the top 10 in the final wire service polls for the first time since the 1976 season, when they were undefeated before losing to Houston in the Cotton Bowl.

"It's something that could give us some national prominence," said senior Gurnest Brown, a starting defensive tackle and team leader. "We want to be in the top 10 badly, so we must win."

"Getting into the top 10 is important to this program," said senior Dave Pacella, a starting offensive tackle. "We (the seniors) would like to leave something to build on."

But Maryland Coach Bobby Ross has tried to temper the significance of the game. "The fact that we're here is very satisfying," he said. "We don't go down in quality if we lose. We've got a lot of work to do either way."

Washington Coach Don James hasn't had to temper his team's enthusiasm because the Huskies haven't shown much. Washington is a veteran team; 17 seniors start and 36 are on the team. They are playing their fourth consecutive bowl game.

Several Washington players have said privately that although they want to win, the game doesn't mean that much to the program. Many players feel let down after late-season losses to Stanford and Washington State, Pacific-10 also-rans, cost them a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

James was asked about his team's reputation for partying this week.

"Well, we didn't land anybody in jail," he said, jokingly.

James is more concerned about how his offense will handle Maryland's wide-tackle-six defense, which made the Terrapins among the top five teams in the nation against the run most of the year.

Washington has been criticized for being too run-oriented and not using quarterback Tim Cowan and receivers Paul Skansi and Anthony Allen enough.

Tailback Jacque Robinson rushed for 926 yards this season, but was sluggish at times and played at more than 200 pounds much of the year. James said he is prepared to throw more against Maryland.

"I don't want to get into predictable signal calling and give the defensive front a chance to tee off on our backs," said James.

"We get into ball games and think we're going to let it all hang out," he said, "but it often doesn't work that way, especially if you have bad field position or if the defense is playing well."

Ross has compared Washington with Penn State, Clemson, Miami, West Virginia and North Carolina. What may distinguish Washington from those other teams the Terrapins have played is better overall team speed.

"You always hear that West Coast teams are faster," said Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason. "So that's something we'll have to look for in the first few minutes of the game."

The game should also showcase two of the best kickers in the nation: Washington's Chuck Nelson, who made 25 of 26 field-goal attempts this year, and Jess Atkinson, who was all-Atlantic Coast Conference.

"For a first-time bowl," said Brian Baker, a Maryland defensive end, "it won't be a bad matchup."

Two other games are scheduled today. The Blue-Gray all-star game is scheduled for Montgomery, Ala., at noon, followed by North Carolina trying to make amends for a 7-4 season in the Sun Bowl against Texas (9-2) at 3. Both games will be televised nationally by CBS (WDVM-TV-9, WBAL-TV-11).