NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday the No. 3 Sooners have shown some early signs of mimicking his championship-caliber teams of the past.
``It's similar to those great ones we've had. Now, it's too early to say they're like that. I'm just saying to this point, they have been very good that way,'' said Stoops, whose teams have played for the national title three times since 2000.
``Everyone wants to get to the end of the year. We're two games into it. They have exhibited a great maturity to them in how they're handling everything and how they're getting ready. It has to keep happening, and we'll see if it's like some of our better years.''
Oklahoma (2-0) followed a 79-10 rout of North Texas with a 51-13 blowout of Miami and this week faces Utah State (0-2) in its third straight home game. Since the Sooners have only six seniors in their starting lineup, Stoops credited the team's attitude to a significant number of juniors in key roles.
That class, which arrived on campus immediately after Oklahoma had lost back-to-back BCS title games to LSU and USC, includes six players on offense who are third-year starters. Four defensive starters are also members of the class.
Those players experienced an 8-4 record in 2005 that was the Sooners' first single-digit win season since 1999 - Stoops' first year at Oklahoma - and dealt with the dismissal of quarterback Rhett Bomar due to NCAA violations, a controversial loss at Oregon and a stunning overtime defeat to Boise State. They've also lost back-to-back games to rival Texas.
``There's some things I think that's got this team well-grounded, well-centered and driven,'' offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. ``I think they realize you work real hard in our sport, their days are few and they're priceless out here on this game field. ... There's a significant investment for very few opportunities, and I think they've seen some opportunities slip out of their grasp.''
Stoops said players in the junior class have grown more mature naturally as a result of the playing time they've received. Many of them stepped into starting roles as freshmen after Oklahoma had 10 players taken in the 2004 NFL draft.
``Being here that long with someone, you trust them out on the field,'' said tight end Brody Eldridge, a redshirt sophomore who's another member of the class. ``You know that they're going to make their plays, and you want to win for your teammate.''
Junior receiver Malcolm Kelly said the team grew stronger last season when players felt they'd been written off following the losses to Texas and Oregon and after star tailback Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone.
``We came through all that, so now going into this season we know we have all the pieces to the puzzle, so we know we can come out this year and just have a lot more confidence this year than we did last year,'' Kelly said.
After winning the Big 12 title in spite of that adversity, the Sooners have a new attitude that's noticeable in the locker room.
``You can feel it a little bit,'' Eldridge said. ``It's a little different than my freshman year, and a little different than last year too.''
Stoops also said the Sooners have benefited from depth that has made players realize ``if you're not playing to the level we feel you're capable of or that we need, then maybe another guy needs his opportunity.''
``But I think more than that,'' Stoops said, ``there's just a pride factor, and we've developed some really positive habits of going through the week and how we compete and how we get ready.''