Oklahoma half-back David Overstreet said the Sooners - kept telling each other to hold onto the football, hold onto the football, but it just kept squirting loose.

The football squirted away from the Oklahomans nine times yesterday and Nebraska recovered six times and went on to upset the Na. 1-ranked Sooners 17-14.

Oklahoma probably fumbled away a lot more than just this game.

The defeat will almost certainly cost the Sooners the Big Eight championship, a trip to the Orange Bowl and the national championship.

They went into the game with a 9-0 record, meeting only a victory yesterday and a win over Oklahoma State next week to set up an Orange Bowl showdown with Penn State for the national championship New Year's night in Miami.

That went up in smoke, and suddenly the Cornbuskers, losers only to Alabama in their corner, could emerge with the national title.

Penn. State, with its 19-10 victory over North Carolina State yesterday, is the only unbeaten major-college team left. The Nittany Lions, ranked second last week, will be ranked No. 1 now. Nebraska was No. 4 last week.

Penn State has one game remaining, in two weeks against Pitt, while Nebraska will play Missouri next week in its last regular-season game.

The Big Eight champion is the host school in the Orange Bowl and, with yesterday's victory over Oklahoma, the Huskers are assured of at least a tie for the title. They are expected to get the Orange Bowl nod even if they should lose next week.

Nebraska parlayed two Oklahoma fumbles into touchdowns, then Oklahoma stopped itself with two fumbles in the game's final nine minutes, both deep in Nebraska territory and both by the Sooners' wunderkind, Billy Sims.

A 44-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a 30-yard TD scamper in the third period, both by Sims, tied the score at 14.

Nebraska went ahead, 17-14, on a 34-yard field goal by Billy Todd with 11:51 to play. That marked the first time since 1971 that Nebraska had scored in the fourth period against Oklahoma.

The Sooners bounced right back, however, as they moved the ball to the Nebraska 22. But on first down from there, Sims, running into the middle of the line, lost the ball and Derrie Nelson recovered it for Nebraska with 8:10 left in the game.

Oklahoma got the ball back with 6:11 to playand this time drove to the three before Sims was hit by Jeff Hansen and fumbled once more. Jim Pillen recovered for Nebraska with 3:27 left and the Cornhuskers ran out the clock.

"I just fumbled. What can I say?" asked Sims, who went into the game as the nation's leading rusher with 1,400 yards and was going after an NCAA-record fourth straight 200-yard rushing day. He finished with 153 yards, but remembered his fumbles more than any of the yards.

"It was carelessness on my part," Sims said. "ON the last one, I thought I could get in and the ball just slipped out of my hands. I blew it."

The fumble came after Sims had run 17 yards and was trying to squirm into the end zone.

"He made that extra effort to get to get to the three," Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer said. "If he holds onto the ball we win it, but he doesn't and we lose.

"I thought we had it won. Two drives! Two drives! Right down the field in the fourth quarter and we fumble it," Switzer said. "I wish now they would have stopped us and made us kick field goals. If they had, we'd be in the Orange Bowl."

A lot of people put us out of the picture when we lost to Alabama," said Nebraska quarterback Tom Sorley. But we knew that if we just took each game one at a time and played hard every week, we'd still have a chance to win the national championship.

Turnovers told the story yesterday Oklahoma quarterback Thomas Lott fumbled the ball away at the Nebraska 11-yard line in the first quarter with the Sooners on top, 7-0.

Lott then made a bad pitch to half-back Jimmy Rogers early in the second period and Nebraska recovered at its 43-yard line. Nine plays later, Rick Berns, who rushed for 113 yards for the day, scored on a five-yard run. Todd's extra point kick tied the game at 7.

Early in the third period. OVerstreet fumbled at midfield and Nelson recovered for Nebraska. This time it took Nebraska six plays to score, with I.M. Hipp getting the touchdown on an eight-yard run.

For the day. Lott, Overstreet and Sims each fumbled twice. Some were the result of bad ball-handling but others were the result caused by wicked hits by the Cornhuskers.

"They just haven't been hit like that before. I guess," said Nebraska linebacker John Rudd.

"You can't turn the ball over as much as we did today and expect to win," said Lott. "If we had, we would have been the luckiest team in the world. Nebraska is a good football team, but we killed ourselves.

"Fumbles are something you just don't know about. They are hard to explain. They can come from hard hitting, lack of concentration and a bunch of things. It's just part of the game," Lott said.

If the fumbles hadn't done in the Sooners, their predictability might have. Nebraska mixed its plays, gaining 250 yards on the ground and 111 in the air on eight completions in 20 passes.

Oklahoma was 0-for-two passing.

Nebraska used a 33-yard pass from Sorley to tight end Junior Miller to set up its second touchdown and a 21-yard Sorley-to-Frank Lockett aerial to set up the winning field goal.