The Sun Bowl has a history of being a place for coaches to say goodbye.

This year, West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen's future is being discussed as much as Oklahoma State all-America Thurman Thomas' running.

Nehlen wants to talk about whether his team can defeat the Cowboys today in El Paso (WUSA-TV-9, 2:30 p.m.). Others want to talk about whether the game will be Nehlen's last with the Mountaineers. Nehlen, an Ohio native, has had his name linked most often with Ohio State, which has been looking for a coach since it fired Earle Bruce last month.

In Christmas Day's other bowl game, UCLA (9-2) is favored by a touchdown to defeat Florida (6-5) in the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu (WJLA-TV-7, 3:45 p.m.), even though the Bruins' star running back, Gaston Green, will miss the game because of a pulled thigh muscle. The annual Blue-Gray all-star game starts the day's activities at noon in Montgomery, Ala. (WJLA-TV-7).

Nehlen and Arizona State Coach John Cooper are being mentioned as the finalists for the Ohio State job. Nehlen says he won't talk about it until after today's game.

Last year, Ray Perkins repeatedly said during Sun Bowl week he was not considering a job in professional football. Soon after his Alabama team defeated Washington, 28-6, Perkins had a new team -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In 1977, immediately after coaching Stanford to a 24-14 Sun Bowl victory over Louisiana State, Bill Walsh was named head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. And in 1941, the Detroit Lions hired Bill Edwards after his Western Reserve team defeated Arizona State.

West Virginia junior tailback Anthony Brown said the Mountaineers seemed concerned about the rumors surrounding their coach "up to the point when he {Nehlen} made it clear that he hasn't been contacted by them."

However, West Virginia Athletic Director Fred Schaus said this week he had received a request from Ohio State for permission to speak to Nehlen, and had agreed to it.

Nehlen's discussions about the game have centered around Thomas, the nation's third-leading rusher this season, with 1,613 yards. But Nehlen also said he is worried about Oklahoma State quarterback Mike Gundy, who passed for a school-record 2,106 yards this season; wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, who is at least five inches taller than anyone in the Mountaineers' secondary, and Barry Sanders, the national leader in kickoff returns and runner-up in punt returns.

Oklahoma State Coach Pat Jones said he has his own concerns.

"We're certainly aware of what kind of competition they are," Jones said, disregarding his team's 9-2 record and West Virginia's 6-5 mark.

The Cowboys have lost only to No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Nebraska, but four of West Virginia's losses have been by five points or less.

Green, UCLA's career rushing leader, pulled a thigh muscle in the Bruins' regular season finale and has not recovered sufficiently to play against Florida.

Most attention leading to the game concerned Green and quarterback Troy Aikman facing freshman sensation Emmitt Smith and quarterback Kerwin Bell of the Gators.

Green said he is confident in his replacement, Eric Ball, who rushed for 227 yards in the Rose Bowl two years ago.

"I think our team can play at the same level with Eric as with me," Green said. "He's always been able to take up the slack. He always ends up scoring at least three touchdowns."