Sooners Address Heavy Expectations

DALLAS — When the Sooners open up the 2011 season, there won't be a shortage of expectations.

Heck, they're already through the roof.

The Sooners were voted the unanimous Big 12 favorite, rattling off 41 of 43 first place votes and a total of 428 points in the recent preseason media poll.

Texas A&M was the next closest with 362.

Not only that, OU is pegged as an early favorite by many publications to make an appearance in the national championship game and possibly win it.

They're labeled as the No. 1 team in the nation by a number of experts.

So, to say the expectations are high would be an understatement.

But the Sooners are taking those with a grain of salt.

"Apparently somebody's telling us we're ranked pretty high," joked linebacker Travis Lewis. "So, I don't know about all that nonsense, but we're ready to play some football."

"We know that the ranking doesn't matter until the end of the season," said slot receiver Ryan Broyles. "So, we really don't pay too much attention to that. I feel like we have a great group of guys that are ready to prepare and lay the foundation like we have over the last couple months to be as best as we can be."

One of the reasons they are able to do that so well is because they have grown accustomed to these heavy expectations year-in and year-out.

"We play at Oklahoma, so it's not far off," Lewis said. "We're circled every week. Everybody sees us with a target on our chest, so it's a little added pressure. But as long as your team remembers the process and that it takes hard work to get where you want to and you need to win the first and the last game and every game in between, we don't see it as a problem."

Broyles said more of the same.

"I always feel like we're No. 1," Broyles said. "I feel like we always have a target on our back. We really look forward to the challenge."

But it's a challenge that definitely won't be easy.

After all, only one team in the new millennium has gone wire to wire with the No. 1 ranking to win the national title.

Although they've since had to vacate it, the USC Trojans did so back in 2004.

The difficulty of that and necessary good fortune as a result is something the Sooners understand.

"Yeah, a lot has to [happen], a lot of ifs," said OU head coach Bob Stoops. "You've got to, as much as anything, stay healthy. You got to put the work in. You know, will the attitude be there? You know, there's a lot of intensity and focus going into each week to be ready to meet the tough challenges, so you know, that's got to happen. I don't take it for granted that the team's always mentally tough enough to do that, you know, to come in with that intensity and focus and be ready for it.

"And you get the right bounce here or there. You know, you get the right turnover at the right time or you avoid the turnover, you know, on the road when you really had to take care of the ball, so you got to--so there's a lot that goes into it."

As Stoops alluded to, though, a team largely impacts its fortune by practice habits and the ability to translate that into game situations.

"Yeah work, I think that's where the consistency we have had as a team gets back to our work, the attitude, the work ethic of the players, us as a staff, the demands," Stoops said. "You know, we haven't changed how demanding we are and our practices and our, you know, our conditioning, the way we compete against each other in practice, and that's what it's about, earning it and we talk about it all the time.

"So, our guys are very aware of that that there's a lot of challenges right now in front of us, and we got to be competitive with one another to get ourself ready for it."

Still, however, quarterback Landry Jones said the lofty goals not just internally but nationally are something to look forward to.

"It's exciting to see what our chances are," Jones said. "And it's exciting for everybody to be like, ‘Okay, Oklahoma's a good team,' and obviously playing really well last year and being two games out of the national championship, just knowing that you're on a good team, it's exciting to go into the year like that."

As cliche as it is, though, Jones broke it down into a common phrase.

"So, with saying that, you kind of have to take it down a little bit and kind of water it down and be like, ‘Hey, we've got to take it one game at a time, you can't just think we're going to the national championship and have a team sneak up on us and not be prepared to play,'" Jones said. "So, it's kind of like you have to take it one game at a time really."

OU will do so when it opens up the season Sept. 3 against Tulsa at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

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