Billy Sims took the pitch and started to his right -- the classic sweep -- with the defense in pursuit. Suddenly, instead of turning upfield as he has done so many times, the 1978 Heisman Trophy winner turned and flipped the ball behind him.

It wasn't a reverse. It wasn't a flea-flicker. It was a joke. Sims had flipped the ball to Wendell Moseley, an assistant coach who took off the other way with the entire Oklahoma defense and several other assistant coaches in pursuit.

The empty stadium was filled with laughter, whoops and hollering. Thanksgiving Day practice was over and even with The Game against second-ranked Nebraska 48 hours away the Sooners were loose and happy.

"There's not really any kind of pressure this week," Coach Barry Switzer said. "I feel a lot more pressure playing the games that set this game up. If you're goin' to lose you want to lose to Nebraska, not Kansas.

"I'm just delighted to be 9-1 and playing for the (Big Eight) championship."

The atmosphere here is in contrast to that 600 miles north in Lincoln. There, the Cornhuskers (10-1) are grimly aware that most of their fans consider those 10 wins exhibitions.

In fact, Coach Tom Osborne admitted yesterday that he couldn't gauge his team's success until after the Oklahoma game.

Osborne is as somber and quiet as Switzer is loose and gregarious. "Tom's probably more on guard talking to people than I am," Switzer said today with a laugh. "Course I'd probably be smarter if I was more like that."

Switzer isn't about to be more like Osborne anytime soon, nor is Osborne about to become Switzer-like in the near future. Ironically, these two men, poles apart in personality and outlook, have had remarkably parallel careers.

Both are 42 and both became head coaches for the first time in 1973 after becoming full-time assistant coaches at their respective schools in 1967. Each has been to six straight bowl games as a head coach and had his team ranked in the Top 10 every year.

But the similarities end there. Osborne is what you would expect a coach in America's heartland to be: an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes who doesn't smoke, drink, swear or raise his voice to children. He is wary of the press and would never be heard criticizing a future opponent.

Switzer is as candid as any coach in college football, admits he picks up a cigarette sometimes -- "but only after two or three drinks" -- and points out that OU's graduation rate may not be as high as Nebraska's because so many of his players go on to the pros after four years and don't come back to get their degrees.

While Switzer isn't one to downgrade his abilities as head coach, he sees other factors in Oklahoma's success. "We win because we're right next to the state of Texas, and there's more good football players there than anyplace in the country," he said. "Heck, we'd do even better if we were located down in Marletta near the state line.

"Don't think having mommy and daddy be able to get to games isn't important in recruiting. Anybody who tells you the decision is all the kid's is a liar. It just isn't that way and everybody knows it."

On the dominance of Oklahoma and Nebraska in the Big Eight, he says: "We're both like magnets. Success draws success. Kids want to play at a place where they're going to be in a bowl every year and on television two or three times.

"People want to play for a winner. They want to play in the big time. We're the big time."

On his 6-1 dominance of Osborne and his Cornhuskers, Switzer is matter-of-fact. "We've won because we've had the edge in talent, no other reason. There wasn't any whammy like people said. Last year we had nine fumbles and they won. Whammies don't protect you from fumbles."

Switzer smiles when he speaks as often as Osborne appears to grimace. There are some lines in his face now and just a few flecks of gray in his sideburns.

Does he feel the pressure of the constant demand for success by the fans in the state?

"The pressure beats the alternative," Switzer said laughing. "There was a time when I returned all my phone calls. Now I can't because I'm knee deep in them. But that's better than having no one pay attention to you.

"Sure our fans expect a lot. They think we should go undefeated every season. Well, it's not going to happen. They should be delighted when we go 10-1 or 9-2 because I guarantee you there's gonna come a year where we're going to be 8-3. It has to happen. No matter how good you recruit, it happens sooner or later."

With Switzer it will be later. In his first six years at OU his record was 62-6-2, including two national championships, two undefeated seasons and at least a share of the Big Eight title every season. This year, with what he describes as "an inexperienced team," the Sooners are ranked seventh in the nation and are again playing for the conference title.

"It really is remarkable to realize they lost 11 players who have made it to the pros off of last year's team and are still 9-1," Osborne pointed out.

"I knew we wouldn't be as good as last year," Switzer said. "But I also knew in the end it would be Oklahoma and Nebraska for the title again. We've got the two best teams. And we'll continue to have the two best teams until the other schools start doing some things to get better."

Some call Switzer's attitude cocky. He calls it candid. Nebraska players talk about Oklahoma's "arrogance," their seemingly boundless confidence, and their willingness to talk about their taalents.

But the OU players merely are a mirror of their coach.

According to friends, the coach Osborne admires most is Penn State's Joe Paterno. Switzer's friends say the coach Switzer admires most is Switzer. The Nebraska players talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys as teams they try to emulate. Oklahoma players talk about previous Oklahoma teams.

When they meet here Saturday, it will be a battle between Nebraska, a team with an excellent offense that is known for its defense, a team with few stars but eight All-Conference performers, and Oklahoma, with the nation's biggest star in Sims, who after a slow start has 1,251 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns and back-to-back 200-yard games.

Oklahoma is the girl in the low-cut dress whom everyone notices. Nebraska may be equally stunning but fewer people notice because she dresses so conservatively.

And, while rumors about Osborne leaving Nebraska to escape the pressure crop up at this time every year, Switzer's name is never linked with another job.

"I don't want another job," Switzer said. "I don't want the pros or anything like that. Most pro coaches would like to have my job.

"The only way I'm gonna leave here is when they run me off and that'll happen. Bear Bryant's the only coach who'll ever retire. The rest of us leave when we're told we're being retired."