Sooners relaxed and confident at No. 1

Tuesday, November 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ If there's any pressure building on No. 1 Oklahoma, it doesn't show.

The Sooners (8-0) are the lone unbeaten team in Division I and are three victories away from their first 11-0 season since 1987.

Unlike the Oklahoma teams of the 1970s and 1980s that routinely were in the national championship picture, this team is loaded with young players who have helped turn around a program that struggled during much of the past decade.

This week, the Sooners play No. 23 Texas A&M (7-2), which is regarded as the last hurdle on their way to the Big 12 South Division title.

``This is another big game, and we've had a bunch of 'em,'' coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. ``Our preparation never changes. Everything that we do stays the same. I don't see any pressure. We don't see it as a team.

``This is what we do. We're supposed to play well. We're going to be prepared to play well and go about our business like we always do.''

The Sooners (5-0 Big 12) have played well in the spotlight so far. They beat then-No. 11 Texas 63-14 in Dallas, followed that with a 41-31 victory at then-No. 2 Kansas State, and two weeks later beat then-No. 1 Nebraska, 31-14.

Stoops was on the staff of some great Florida teams, including the team that won the national title in 1996, and said that experience is a benefit now.

``The teams that I've been on that have been in those situations have operated much like we have, in the same businesslike manner,'' he said. ``Be prepared to play and turn it loose and see what we can do.''

One player who has gained national recognition as a result of Oklahoma's rise is quarterback Josh Heupel, who is considered among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.

Heupel says he feels no more pressure now than he did when the Sooners played Texas-El Paso in the opener.

``The pressure I put on myself is the same,'' he said. ``I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out and play the best football I can for the people who are in that locker room.''

But with each victory, Oklahoma has more to lose. A loss in any of their remaining games likely would knock them out of a chance for the national title.

``That's not pressure,'' Heupel said. ``Pressure's being 0-8. It better be fun. If you're not enjoying it, then you shouldn't be in the game.''

Stoops said he and his players haven't gotten too excited about being No. 1 and unbeaten, but also haven't tried to hide from it.

``Like we tell the players, that's motivation,'' he said. ``Let's keep it. That's what everyone fights to be, in a situation late in the season where you're there. Let's fight to hold onto it and keep it.''

SOONER NOTES: Stoops said the Sooners will play crowd noise and band music during practices this week to prepare for the noise of Kyle Field in College Station. ``The players like it because they can't hear the coaches yelling at them,'' he said. ... Stoops was asked why tight end Trent Smith has had so few catches in recent games. ``He must not be taking Josh to dinner,'' the coach said. ... Oklahoma beat Texas A&M 51-6 last year, the third-worst loss in the program's history.