Top-ranked Penn State formally accepted a bid yesterday to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night.

Oklahoma's 27-7 victory over No. 2-ranked Nebraska clinched at least a tie for the Big Eight Conference championship, and the Orange Bowl committee used its prerogative to choose the conference representative in case of a tie. The Sooners can win the title outright by beating Oklahoma State Saturday.

Nebraska then accepted an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl to play Big Ten runner-up Michigan, and Oklahoma State will play Florida State in the Gator Bowl.

With most of the bowls being set unofficially after last week's games -- including the Maryland-Syracuse matchup in the Cherry Bowl on Dec. 21 in Pontiac, Mich. -- the major question marks still remaining yesterday were decided on the playing field.

Of the 18 bowl games, the lineup for only one -- the Aloha -- is not clearly in focus, and Virginia can put itself into strong contention for that game if it upsets Maryland on Friday, an Aloha Bowl spokesman said last night. He said his bowl expects to invite Alabama -- unless it unexpectedly ends up in the Sugar Bowl -- to play Southern California, West Virginia, Colorado or Virginia.

As expected, Miami, going to its third straight major bowl, accepted a bid to play the Southeastern Conference champion in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night. Tennessee needs to defeat Vanderbilt Saturday to clinch that berth. Alabama and Louisiana State are still in the running.

Should Tennessee lose -- and earn a consolation prize of playing in the Freedom Bowl against Washington -- Alabama could tie LSU (4-1-1 in the league) by defeating Auburn on Saturday in Birmingham.

Those teams tied in the regular season, but the choice in case of a tie rests with the Sugar Bowl committee, anyway. Mickey Holmes, executive director of the bowl, said, "We haven't even talked about it yet. We'll talk about it this week and set up options for the weekend."

The early commitments left the Sugar Bowl in the position of taking Miami, a team with two games to play, including last night's 24-3 win against Colorado State and a regular-season finale against Notre Dame.

Holmes said it would have been nice to wait and avoid a gamble, "but with everybody making moves after last week, we had to go ahead."

The Cotton Bowl ended up with Auburn, the result of a complicated four-way deal, to play the winner of the Texas-Texas A&M game for the Southwest Conference championship. The loser of that game is expected to play Air Force in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

Iowa clinched the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth with its 31-9 victory over Minnesota, and the Hawkeyes will play UCLA despite the Bruins' 17-13 upset loss to Southern Cal.

UCLA would have clinched the Pacific-10 championship with a victory. Instead, the Bruins had to await the outcome of last night's Arizona State-Arizona game. Arizona won, 16-13, denying the Sun Devils the Pac-10 title..

Arizona State likely will play Arkansas in the Holiday Bowl, which for the first time will does not automatically take the Western Athletic Conference champion as its host team.

Penn State received its formal Orange Bowl bid little more than an hour before taking the field against Pitt, then proceeded to beat the Panthers, 31-0.

Maryland's bid to the Cherry Bowl represented the Terrapins' fourth straight postseason appearance and the Terrapins' 11th in the last 14 years.

The formal extension of the bid took place in the office of Maryland Athletic Director Dick Dull promptly at 6 p.m. in Cole Field House. Since Maryland did not play yesterday, it could not receive a bid until that time.

Syracuse defeated Maryland, 23-7, last season, and the long-time rivals did not play each other this season.

"I think we became really excited when we saw it was going to be Syracuse," said Maryland Coach Bobby Ross, who has directed the last three bowl appearances. "I think it's kind of a natural rival for us."

The Cherry Bowl has guaranteed Maryland $1.25 million and has already sold 64,000 tickets in the 80,000-seat Silverdome. It is the fifth-largest financial guarantee of all the bowls, and that could rise to $1.4 million if the remaining tickets are sold.

Of that money, Dull said Maryland will take $400,000 off the top to go to expenses, with the next $100,000 split among the seven other schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Everything above the first $500,000 will be split 50-50 between Maryland and the rest of the conference.

Maryland (7-3) can win the Atlantic Coast Conference title outright by beating or tying Virginia Friday at 2:30 p.m.