At an early season practice, before Arkansas had ever played a game under head coach Lou Holtz, the new coach held up a newspaper clipping that forecast a sixth-place finish for the Razorbacks in the Southwest Conference.

Holtz, an amateur magician, ripped the clipping to shreds, and then, before his players' eyes, put it back together.

"It's an easy trick," Holtz said.

The Razorback players have belonged to Holtz ever since.

"I'd follow that many anywhere," said safety Howard Hampton. "I believe in him."

That faith in Holtz by his players, "and mine in them," he quickly adds, is probably what gave the Razorbacks the extra lift that enabled them to humble 18-point-favorite Oklahoma, 31-6, in Monday night's Orange Bowl, and finish the season at 11-1. They were 5-5-1 a year ago.

That mutual belief could not have been more evident - or more tested - than it was this past week. Just before the team left Fayetteville for Miami, three players, including the team's leading rusher and its leading pass receiver, were involved in an incident involving a woman student.

Holtz was able to convince the woman not to press charges against the three, agreeing to take action against them himself, instead. He suspended them for one game - the Orange Bowl.

The three, perhaps not realizing what Holtz had done for them, filed for a court injunction seeking reinstatement to the team. All three are black and nine of the other 21 blacks on the team discussed a possible boycott of the Orange Bowl in support of the three suspended players.

Holtz was accused of being a racist and called countless other uncomplimentary things for his actions.

"I felt I did what I am paid to do as a coach," Holtz said. "I did what I felt was best for the Arkansas football team. All week, I had told everyone not to pay attention to the players who were missing, but to talk about the ones who were here. You don't win or lose with individuals. We have talent and pride and we overcame our troubles as a team I didn't talk to the kids about what happened last week. I just told them to concentrate on the task at hand."

The suspensions the resultant court action and the constant questions put tremendous pressure on Holtz and the team, but they kept smiling and insisting tha Oklahoma was the team in trouble.

"We knew we were up against adversity, the press and the nation," said running back Roland Sales. "We just stuck it out ourselves. A lot of people said we'd fall apart, but we're actually probably closer than we were. We were ready to play the game."

Perhaps no Razorback was more ready than Sales. A sophomore red shirt who was a defensive tackle in high school, Sales cruised through the Sooners for an Orange Bowl-record 205 yards rushing in only 23 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The whole Arkansas story of the past week illustrates why Holtz left the New York Jets after one season to return to a college job.

"When I took this job, it wasn't necessarily the New York Jets versus Arkansas," he said, "but Lou Holtz versus professional football. I'm not one to look back. The Lord put eyes in front ofyour head to look forward, not to look back.

"I prefer college coaching because I'm a teacher. I enjoy teaching and recruiting doesn't bother me. Football is still a game in college and the great value of it is that it is game."

Arkansas was ranked No. 6 nationally going into the game and Oklahoma No. 2. Both teams were 10-1, having lost only to Texas.

"It was just our day," Holtz said after the game.

"No, coach," chimed Leotis Harris, the day All-America injured guard, "it was your day."