The Sea World Holiday Bowl is trying to match up Oklahoma State with the Western Athletic Conference champion.

Failing that, the Holiday Bowl will gladly take Oklahoma or Nebraska.John Reid, the Holiday Bowl's executive director, said Wednesday he has talked with Big Eight Conference officials about the possiblity of a three-bowl tie-up - Orange, probably another New Year's bowl like Florida Citrus and Holiday - for that conference's marquee teams, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Big Eight champion goes to the Orange Bowl, with the runner-up also expected to go to a New Year's Day Bowl (probably Citrus). That leaves a very attractive team for another bowl.

What makes Oklahoma State a marquee team this year is running back Barry Sanders.

Sanders, a 5-8, 195-pound junior, has become one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. Should front-runner Troy Aikman of UCLA falter in the next three weeks, the trophy could be Sanders'. Through seven games, he has averaged 210 yards rushing. He has twice topped the 300-yard mark, and now has an outside chance to break Marcus Allen's single-season rushing record.

His 37-carry, 320-yard effort against Kansas State last week gave him 1,476 yards this season. To surpass Allen's 2,342 yards, Sanders would need to average about 216 yards in the final four games.

The 12th-ranked Cowboys have the highest scoring offense in the country, 48.1 points per game. As it stands now, they would meet another group of Cowboys, undefeated and 10th-ranked Wyoming, which is third in the nation in scoring at 45.3 points per game.

Whether or not Oklahoma State is San Diego-bound may depend on their game this Saturday with rival Oklahoma. "If they lose to Oklahoma, I think we've got a real good chance at them," Reid said. If the Cowboys beat the Sooners, however, then they will be in contention for the Orange Bowl berth and no determination on their status can be made until the Nebraska-Oklahoma game on Nov. 19.

If the Holiday Bowl can't get one of the Big Eight teams, then it's looking at Indiana, the winner of the Washington-Washington State game or Oregon, Reid said.

If Wyoming beats UTEP this Saturday in Laramie, the Cowboys clinch the automatic WAC berth in the Holiday Bowl. They would have only one conference game remaining and since they beat BYU, they would get the bid in the event of a two-way tie.

However, if Wyoming loses to UTEP, and those two schools and BYU tie for the WAC crown, BYU would go to the Holiday Bowl. The team that last went to the Holiday Bowl (Wyoming) is eliminated from consideration and since BYU defeated UTEP, it would go.

The chances are slim, but how would a BYU-Oklahoma matchup in the Holiday Bowl strike you, BYU fans?

*** Speaking of the Cougars, they remain a longshot for a New Year's Day (actually Jan. 2, since Jan. 1 is a Sunday) bowl. The Florida Citrus and Hall of Fame bowls are the possibilities, but if the Citrus Bowl works out a deal with the Big Eight Conference then the Cougars are eliminated from that bowl since the Atlantic Coast Conference champion gets one of the berths. Jim McVay, Hall of Fame Bowl executive director, said the Cougars are still on that bowl's list, even though officials have not scouted them this year.

Looking more likely as the bowl for the Cougars this year is the Liberty Bowl, held Dec. 28 in Memphis. That bowl tried to get the Cougars in 1985 when BYU went to the Citrus Bowl and played Ohio State.

Bud Dudley, the Liberty Bowl's executive director, said the bowl hopes to get a team from the Big 10, probably Indiana or Iowa, for one of its berths since Big 10 teams bring a lot of fans with them. "If we got BYU and Indiana, I think it would be a sellout," he said.

The Freedom Bowl in Anaheim would also like the Cougars, but it's doubtful it could wrest them away from a bowl like the Liberty Bowl, which pays almost twice as much.

The Peach Bowl in Atlanta is another possibility for BYU. "I'd like to think if we wanted them, they'd be interested in us," that bowl's executive director, Robert Dale Morgan, said this week. While the Holiday Bowl is trying to work out a deal with the Big Eight and two other bowls, the Peach Bowl is exploring something similar with the Southeastern Conference.