No. 1 Oklahoma Staying Focused

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Fans go wild after OU's victory over Nebraska Saturday.

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — These are heady times at Oklahoma, which is No. 1 for the first time since 1987.

You'll have to pardon coach Bob Stoops if he doesn't lead the cheers.

``It's not one of our goals to be No. 1 partway through the year,'' Stoops said Sunday. ``It has no bearing on anything we're doing.''

The Sooners moved up from No. 3 in the Associated Press poll after a 31-14 victory over then-No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday. They became the first team to beat Nos. 1 and 2 in consecutive games, and Stoops acknowledged that it would be tough to find a team more deserving of the top spot.

The publicity that goes with being No. 1 ought to help with recruiting, Stoops said. But otherwise — at this stage, at least — the rankings are little more than a conversation piece.

``I don't mean that I don't care about it. Obviously, it means you're doing well,'' he said.

``But what's special to me is the fact we're 7-0 and undefeated in our conference because that's what's important to me first — being able to win the Big 12 South and represent the South Division in the Big 12 championship game.''

Like their coach, Oklahoma's players seemed to take the return to No. 1 in stride.

``We're going to go about our business like we always do,'' quarterback Josh Heupel said. ``We're going to go out there and practice as hard as we can during the course of the week, get ourselves prepared, and go out and play great football on Saturday.''

The victory over Nebraska capped a stunning October for the Sooners.

On Oct. 7, while ranked No. 10, the Sooners beat then-No. 11 Texas 63-14. That victory bumped Oklahoma to No. 8 in the poll heading into an Oct. 14 game at No. 2 Kansas State.

Heupel threw for a season-high 374 yards and the Sooners won 41-31 to move up to No. 3 and set up the most-anticipated game in Norman in years.

The Cornhuskers looked like the top-ranked team early, gaining 169 yards and scoring 14 points on their first 11 plays. But they totaled 169 yards over the next 53 minutes and didn't threaten again.

``It's probably as good a defensive performance as I've seen,'' Stoops said. ``I don't know when they've been held down like that offensively in a long, long time.

``The reason I appreciate it so much is I understand how difficult and complex their offense is,'' he said. ``It takes great, great discipline to play against them. They're not just a physical team, they make you really think. Our players were just excellent.''

The quick start by Nebraska stunned the sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium, but Stoops said he felt sure it was simply a matter of time before his defensive players settled down and the offense got going.

The Sooners went 74 yards for their first touchdown, a drive that included completions of 18, 16 and 19 yards by Heupel and a 21-yard scramble as well.

That started a run of four straight point-producing drives by Oklahoma, which took a 24-14 halftime lead and scored the final points on a 31-yard interception return by cornerback Derrick Strait.

The goal post in one end zone was brought down afterward by fans who ran on to the field to celebrate. Just three years ago, Oklahoma lost 69-7 to Nebraska. In fewer than two seasons, Stoops has transformed a team that had won a total of 12 games in the three years before he arrived.

But the work is far from finished, he warned.

``To me, the most important part of the schedule is coming up now with four Big 12 South games,'' he said. ``Our players understand that.''