Oklahoma finished the season with a mediocre 6-5 overall record and in fourth place in an eight-team league. The Sooners have a lame-duck coach, Gary Gibbs, who resigned last month under pressure. They own an offense that has struggled to score all year and to make matters worse, they will be forced to start a quarterback that has completed one pass this season for a grand total of four yards.

Unranked Oklahoma, a casual observer might believe, won't stand a chance against No. 18 BYU Thursday night in the Copper Bowl.But, despite all the obstacles the Sooners are facing, they are actually favored to beat the Cougars by two points.

The reason? History.

Oklahoma is one of the most tradition-rich football schools in the nation, and it seems the Sooners tend to be at their best when bowl time comes around. The Cougars, well, let's just say they tend to struggle in the postseason.

Oklahoma has been to 31 bowls. The Sooners have a 20-10-1 record in those games for a .661 winning percentage - the second best mark in the nation.

BYU, on the other hand, has been to 17 bowls, posting a 5-12-1 mark. The Cougars haven't won a bowl game since 1988. Enough said.

Defense has been the key for the Sooners in their bowl success. They routinely face high-powered offenses but hold them well below their season averages. Last year, for example, the Sooners played Texas Tech, a team averaging 475 yards of total offense, in the John Hancock Bowl. The Red Raiders could manage only 315 yards in the bowl game, however, and were blown out 41-10.

Two Sooner bowl games ago Oklahoma played Virginia in the '91 Gator Bowl. The Cavaliers entered the game averaging 400 yards of offense, but produced just 243 in a 48-14 loss. Outstanding defensive bowl games have become a Sooner tradition (see chart).

"The key thing about Oklahoma is that they have outstanding athletes," BYU coach LaVell Edwards said. "They're extremely tough defensively. They certainly have one of the best defenses we've seen in two or three years. They're very quick and very mobile."

To be sure, bowl games aren't the only time Oklahoma plays tough defense. The Sooners have just one senior starter on defense and were depleted at times by injuries this season, but showed promise in spurts, particularly toward the end of the year. After allowing 24.8 points per game during the first eight contests, the Sooners gave up only 13.3 points in the final three games of the year. In the regular season finale, Oklahoma surrendered only 13 points (in a 13-3 loss) to No. 1 Nebraska.

The Sooners have an outstanding pass rush. They collected 33 sacks on the year, including a team single-season record 14 by 6-4, 288-pound junior lineman Cedric Jones. The linebackers are led by sophomore Tyrell Peters, who had 101 tackles this year, while the top Sooner in the secondary is left cornerback Darrius Johnson, who is an all-American sprinter on the Oklahoma track team. Johnson picked off four passes this season and had 41 tackles.

Another bad omen, perhaps, for BYU is that Oklahoma's defensive coordinator is Tom Haynes, who was the assistant head coach at Texas A&M in 1990 when the Aggies trounced Ty Detmer and the Cougars, 65-14, in the Holiday Bowl. Haynes was also the defensive coordinator at UCLA when the Bruins downed BYU in 1983 and 1986.

Offensively, the Sooners have struggled, especially running the football. Oklahoma gained 2,004 yards on the ground, the second-lowest total in the past 27 years at OU. Turnovers have also been a problem. The Sooners lost the ball 30 times in 11 games - with 16 lost fumbles and 14 interceptions.

Quarterback Garrick McGee set several school passing records this year, but he won't play Thursday because he is still recovering from a viral infection.

Back-up Terence Brown, a sophomore, will get his first collegiate start at QB Thursday night. Brown has thrown three passes this season, completing one for four yards. He has shown he's a quality athlete, however, catching eight passes for 107 yards this season in spot duty as a receiver.

"The perception is that we'll run the ball more with me in there," Brown said. "I'm hoping people will think that way, because I know I can surprise them by passing the ball."

The Sooners have a pair of running backs who rushed for more than 500 yards during the regular season in Jerald Moore (658 yards) and James Allen (542). Albert Hall is the team's leading receiver. Hall caught 36 passes for 515 yards in '94.

As a team the Sooners are averaging 356 yards of total offense and 20 points, compared to BYU's 457 yards of offense and 29.5 points per game.

GAME NOTES: For the first time in four days it didn't rain in Tucson Tuesday. Forecasters say a rain storm could hit the area Thursday just in time for the big game, however.