Cherry Bowl officials said yesterday that Maryland's opponent for the Dec. 21 game in Pontiac, Mich., probably will be Syracuse -- one of Maryland's primary nonconference regular-season opponents over the years.

Michael Mills, the director of communications for the Cherry Bowl, said he expected both teams to accept official bids on Saturday, but that both teams already had indicated they informally had accepted.

However, Syracuse Athletic Director Jake Crouthamel denied that his school had received an invitation, saying, "We've got to be offered something before we can accept it."

Crouthamel said the only thing he told Chancellor Melvin Eggers about a bowl bid was that "the Cherry Bowl called us to find out if we were interested and as to our availability. I was told there were other teams (in the running)."

Syracuse did not play Maryland this year after 18 games in 20 years.

Maryland will play in its fourth consecutive bowl game, its first in cold weather and first indoors. The Cherry Bowl, which is the fifth highest-paying bowl game with the support of General Motors, already has sold 60,000 tickets. The take for Maryland and Syracuse in case of a sellout (of approximately 80,000) would be $1.2 million, which is higher than the Fiesta Bowl's payout of $1.1 million.

In other potential bowl matchups, the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day in Tempe, Ariz., probably will pit Michigan against the loser of Saturday's Nebraska/Oklahoma game.

Even if Michigan loses to Ohio State on Saturday, the Wolverines would go to the Fiesta. But if Michigan wins and Iowa loses (sending Michigan as the Big Ten representative to the Rose Bowl), then Iowa would replace Michigan in the Fiesta. Oklahoma State also has a chance of finishing as the Big Eight runner-up and, if so, going to the Fiesta.

Georgia and Arizona appear set to play in the Sun Bowl, which found it almost impossible to get a second-place finisher in the Southwest Conference because the league's race is so muddled.

Tennessee is most likely to win the Southeastern Conference, but Louisiana State and Alabama still have a shot to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl, probably against Miami.

Penn State, ranked No. 1, cleared the bowl picture considerably by announcing it would go to the Orange Bowl to play the Big Eight champion, either Oklahoma, Nebraska or Oklahoma State. The third-place team in the Big Eight would go to the Gator Bowl.

If Iowa wins the Big Ten and goes to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State beats Michigan, Ohio State would go to the Cotton Bowl to play the SWC champion; in a complex shift, this would send Auburn to the Citrus Bowl. If Michigan goes to the Rose, Auburn would instead replace Michigan in the Fiesta, Iowa would go to the Cotton and Brigham Young would face Ohio State in the Citrus.

Arkansas will play the Pac-10 runner-up (probably Arizona State) in the Holiday, which no longer takes the Western Athletic Conference champion. The second-place teams in the SEC and SWC probably will play in the Liberty. And a similar conference matchup -- third-place finishers in the SEC and SWC -- likely will receive bids to the Aloha Bowl. Michigan State, once considered for the Cherry, will play Georgia Tech in the All-American Bowl.