Working for Wire-to-Wire

NORMAN, Okla. — Very rarely is head coach Bob Stoops this bold, this outspoken, this public about national rankings, but he's sending a message to his team and national pundits heading into the 2011 season: It's time for the Crimson and Cream to bring home another crystal ball.

"Yes, I do have a feeling [this could be a special year] just because everything that they've done leading up to now has been very positive in how they work," Stoops said. "Their attitude towards working and preparing has been positive, so I expect that to continue. Just in a few days here, they've really done a, you know, an excellent job in meetings and being prepared for practice."

They are just through four practice sessions, but the first indication was the fact that the team skipped conditioning tests when strength coach Jerry Schmidt cleared them due to their excellent conditioning coming into the first session.

The next: Stoops' confidence at OU Media Day.

It's something that's trickling down to the players.

"Yeah, I mean, he just gives us confidence," said quarterback Landry Jones, last year's Sammy Baugh Award winner. "You know, hearing our coach having confidence in our team gives us confidence that, ‘Hey, we might be a pretty good team,' and, I mean, when you go out there in practice, you realize that we have some good players on the field and a lot of talent, so just hearing your coach saying that about you feels good."

Defensive end Frank Alexander said it's already produced an aura, a swagger, around the locker room.

"I just feel like everybody is assured this year," Alexander said. "You know, everybody's attitude is positive. Everybody has a positive attitude. I got a positive feel from everybody in the locker room, you know, so I just feel good about this season. You know, thinking about this season, man, just gives me the chills when I think about the season. You know, I'm real excited for it."

So is the rest of the team.

Fellow defensive end Ronnell Lewis used the word "urgency" when talking about seeking out a national title.

"Yeah, I feel it, and, you know, [linebacker Travis Lewis] expresses it every day in the locker room and out there on the field," Lewis said. "You know, we've all got a Big 12 ring. We want that big national championship ring, and that's what we've all been working for in the spring and in the summer, and I feel like we have a good shot this year. We're just going to stay positive and, you know, just keep moving forward each opponent one day at a time."

One at a time, but also Stoops wants this team to have a true wire-to-wire mentality.

"Embrace being No. 1 or you kind of shy away from it," said left guard Gabe Ikard. "And basically Coach Stoops has said, you know, ‘We need to embrace this. We need to be a team that can be able to be No. 1, stay No. 1. When it comes down to it, it's just it doesn't matter what you're ranked. It's about how you play the game, how you play in the football game itself.'"

The Sooners were No. 1 for a whole six days last year before heading to Columbia, Mo., and falling to the Missouri Tigers 36-27 in front of a College Game Day audience.

Perhaps the Sooners didn't fully embrace their role as No. 1.

"I wouldn't say we got cocky, but we got complacent," said running back Roy Finch. "We went to Missouri thinking we were the No. 1 team in the country and we could play at 75 percent and get away with it and still put out a win."

But don't expect that to happen again.

"We're not nervous," said cornerback Jamell Fleming. "We're embracing it and ready to go out there and play."

When the Sooners open up the season, they'll have the No. 1 label next to their name, but they also have a ton of confidence, instilled from the top down.

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