By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- A BCS berth is the bare minimum for what is acceptable at Oklahoma.
This year, however, a spot in the national title game is a legitimate goal for the top-ranked Sooners as their season begins Saturday night against Tulsa.
Coach Bob Stoops has guided Oklahoma to eight BCS bowl appearances since arriving in Norman in 1999, winning the title in 2001 and losing in the championship game on three occasions. Once more, expectations are high after Oklahoma went 12-2 last season and rolled past Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl to end a five-game losing streak in BCS contests.
The players have no problem embracing the lofty goals.
"Who doesn't want to be No. 1? Who doesn't want to be in first?" cornerback Jamell Fleming said. "There is a little nerve-wracking thing about it but we just try not to think about that.
"We're always expected to be high regardless. Year after year, that's how it is. We're not nervous. We're just embracing it and going out there to play."
Oklahoma's offense is led by the potent tandem of Heisman Trophy candidates Landry Jones at quarterback and Ryan Broyles at wide receiver. Jones threw for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns last season to lead a passing attack that ranked third in the FBS. He is seven passing yards shy of overtaking Jason White (7,922) for second all-time at Oklahoma
Broyles is the NCAA leader among active players with 266 receptions, 35 touchdown catches and 3,429 receiving yards after a standout 2010 season. He set single-season school records with 131 catches for 1,622 yards while matching the mark for TD receptions with 14.
Kenny Stills is also back at receiver after making 61 catches for 786 yards and five TDs. Sophomore Brennan Clay will get the first crack at succeeding 1,200-yard rusher DeMarco Murray, while fullback Trey Millard may see an expanded role.
The Sooners return seven starters on defense, but the absences of linebackers Austin Box and Travis Lewis will be noticed. Box died May 19 due to an overdose of prescription painkillers, and Lewis - the team's leading tackler last season and Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year - has a broken bone in his foot that will sideline him eight weeks.
Stoops is counting on sophomore Corey Nelson, who had 21 tackles and a blocked punt last season, to help stabilize the defense while Lewis heals.
"There's no way around it. It's an incredible blow to us. I'm not going to deny that," Stoops said of Lewis' injury. "Travis is a great player, so it definitely makes a difference, but Corey's a guy that has the kind of ability to step up and play there and play well for us."
While Oklahoma is firmly entrenched among the nation's elite, Tulsa's goal is to become a perennially ranked team. The Golden Hurricane closed last season on a seven-game win streak, a run that included victories at Notre Dame and the Hawaii Bowl and gave them their third 10-win season in four years and first Top 25 finish since 1991.
"You've got guys that finished the year with confidence that are still here. So, we don't have to go through that learning curve of trying to learn how to win again," said first-year coach Bill Blankenship, promoted from quarterbacks coach after Todd Graham left for Pittsburgh.
"These guys know what it's like, they know what it tastes like, and they know what you have to do to accomplish it."
The program taking a big step forward this season might be a lot tougher without Damaris Johnson, whose Tulsa career is in jeopardy after he was charged with one count of felony embezzlement Thursday. The versatile receiver had been suspended indefinitely after being questioned by police last week following his girlfriend's arrest on an embezzlement complaint.
Johnson is the NCAA record holder in all-purpose yardage and return yards. Last season, he totaled 872 receiving yards, 560 rushing and a combined 1,196 on punts and kickoffs.
His absence leaves quarterback G.J. Kinne without one of his biggest weapons. The fifth-year senior thrived last year in Tulsa's no-huddle attack, throwing for 3,650 yards and 31 TDs while rushing for 561 more as the Golden Hurricane ranked fifth in the FBS in total offense and sixth in scoring.
The Sooners' 36-game home winning streak - the longest current run in the nation - started with a 31-15 victory over Tulsa on Sept. 1, 2005, and is 13th in NCAA history. Jones threw six TD passes in a 45-0 win over the Golden Hurricane in the most recent meeting Sept. 19, 2009.
Tulsa has not beaten Oklahoma since September 1996.
Updated September 1, 2011