<
>

OU ready for No. 1 burden

Linebacker Travis Lewis wants to make sure his Oklahoma teammates remember one important number heading into this season.

Five.

"Travis makes it like stone in our minds," defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said of the number.

Five is the number of days the Sooners held the No. 1 spot in the BCS standings last season. And OU seemed ill-prepared to carry the burden.

"I felt like last year, we got complacent," running back Roy Finch said. "I think we felt like, 'Hey, we're the No. 1 team in the country. We can play 75 percent and get away with it.' "

They were wrong.

The Sooners suffered a 36-27 loss at Missouri, marking a quick end to their status as the nation's top team and dashing their dreams of a berth in the BCS championship game.

"We were only No. 1 for five days ... and we just weren't ready," cornerback Demontre Hurst said.

Being No.1 can be both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing for the fans and on the recruiting trail. With OU considered one of the favorites to battle for a national title, it gives the program plenty of national attention and Sooners fans get plenty of bragging rights.

Yet the top ranking can be a curse, with opponents taking their focus and intensity to another level when the nation's top-ranked team appears on the schedule.

"It's talked about, but we don't hold it on a pedestal at all," running back Brennan Clay said. "It brings, somewhat, more negative attention than positive. We don't really like that pressure, we'd rather be three or four because it puts that 'X' on our back."

The X on their backs and the pressure that comes with it are amplified by history. It's rare for a team to begin the season at No. 1 and go on to win a national championship.

In the past five years, several of the nation's top programs have tried -- and failed -- to go wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 team. Ohio State (2006) lost to Florida in the BCS title game, USC (2007) finished the season 11-2, Georgia (2008) finished 10-3, Florida (2009) went 13-1 and Alabama (2010) went 10-3.

The 2004 USC Trojans were the last team to open the season at No. 1 and win the BCS championship, knocking off OU in the title game, but the Trojans recently were forced to vacate that BCS title due to NCAA violations involving standout running back Reggie Bush.

The 1999 Florida State Seminoles were the first team to go wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 team.

This season, the Sooners must learn to embrace the attention that comes with being ranked No. 1, or risk going from BCS favorite to forgotten.

"There's definitely a lot of hype, there's no way around it," linebacker Tom Wort said. "But we expect to win national championships at Oklahoma, that's why I came here."

Sitting atop the rankings is nothing new in Norman. The Sooners can count 97 weeks when they have been first in the AP poll, which leads the nation.

But holding the No. 1 ranking is somewhat unfamiliar territory for this group of Sooners.

Heading into the Sept. 3 opener against Tulsa, OU's senior class will have taken the field as the No. 1 team (BCS or AP poll) only four times during their careers. The Sooners were No. 1 in the AP for two weeks in 2008 and were atop the BCS rankings after Week 16 in 2008 and during Week 6 last season.

That's why the Sooners are hoping last season's loss to Missouri was a learning experience, thus giving this year's squad a better understanding of what it is like to carry the target of being the nation's top-ranked team.

"We've got to experience that and its better off for us," safety Tony Jefferson said. "Now we know we can't do that, teams are ready to knock us off."

And the Sooners could have an ace in the hole.

Bob Stoops is familiar and comfortable in the role, with his teams having spent 24 weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll and a nation-leading 20 weeks atop the BCS standings heading into his 13th season as head coach at OU.

"You either embrace being No. 1 or you shy away from it," guard Gabe Ikard said. "Coach Stoops has said we need to embrace this, we need to be a team that can be No. 1 and stay No. 1."

Focusing on their day-to-day responsibilities has been the goal for this Sooners squad, so they will be ready to carry the No. 1 ranking on their back throughout the season.

"We know the number doesn't matter unless we lay the foundation to go all the way through," receiver Ryan Broyles said. "It's not going to be handed to us."

Lesson learned.

"We aren't worried about being No. 1," Hurst said."We are worried about ourselves, knowing we can be one of the best teams in the country this year. We have the talent, the coaches, but we have to focus on the process."

Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation.

Follow SoonerNation's coverage on Twitter: