Sooners hope changes lead to another national title

Friday, July 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ Losing two games in a season isn't all that bad unless you're the Oklahoma Sooners one year after winning the national championship.

Sooners tight end Trent Smith got used to his national championship ring from 2000. Smith didn't like the step-down in 2001 and he thinks the Sooners are ready to step back up.

``It was a long off-season, some days were harder than others,'' Smith said Thursday at the Big 12 Media Day. ``You don't want to be in that position every year. After the good times we experienced, you don't want any more of the bad times.

``The last time I looked there was no crystal ball for the preseason No. 1. We've got the season to play and we're looking forward to the challenge to get back to where Oklahoma used to be.''

The Sooners won all 13 games in 2000, en route to the national title. But a balky offense caused them to fall off center just slightly last season with an 11-2 record that included a shocking loss to Oklahoma State.

Still, 24-2 over two seasons isn't bad.

``The bottom line is you can't lose twice and win the national championships, and you probably shouldn't,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ``If you don't lose any games, you can win the national championship. I know that first hand.''

Stoops expects off-season tinkering with the offense and more experienced quarterbacks can put the Sooners back in the title hunt.

``With the players returning on both sides, we've got a chance to have a really strong year,'' Stoops said. ``I like the changes in our offense and the running game, the maturity of our offensive line and the added experience of our quarterbacks from a year ago. All that gives me optimism.''

Oklahoma's freshman-dotted offensive line grew up last season. They're still young but now they are also experienced.

``There was a new attitude going throughout spring ball, especially in the offense line,'' Smith said. ``They are walking around with the chests stuck out. It's exciting to see those guys walking around with smiles thinking they can do something great. It inspires everyone on the team.''

Nate Hybl started 11 games at quarterback last season but he'll battle Jason White, who started two games last year before he was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Chuck Long is the new offensive coordinator, replacing Mark Mangino, who is now head coach at Kansas. He and running game coordinator Kevin Wilson have adjusted the Sooners' spread offense.

Last year's Sooners averaged 3.7 yards per carry. They want more rushing production and downfield passing.

``There are no magical formulas to playing offense or defense,'' Stoops said. ``Otherwise, we'd all do it. I don't know if you'd call it dramatic or subtle. I think there will be a big difference in the running game.''

Smith believes getting an early jump will get the Sooners moving on offense.

``Our third-down conversions fell off last year,'' Smith said. ``It seemed like we were always second and long, third and long. That limits your playbook. This season, we need more third and short so we can use our entire play book.''

Stoops plans to give Hybl and White a chance at leading the offense.

``I could avoid controversy and appoint somebody, but we don't do things like that,'' Stoops said. ``As Jason fights his way back he has got a chance.

``Nate works as hard as anybody and he led us to a number of wins. It would not be right not to give Nate the opportunity.

``In the end, the one who is consistent most of the time and makes the fewest mistakes will be the guy.''