The three-game stretch with Notre Dame, TCU and Texas in successive weeks loomed large for No. 11 Oklahoma at the start of the season.
Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) dispatched some of the program's demons by winning 35-21 last Saturday at then-No. 22 Notre Dame. Now the Sooners want to avoid a letdown Saturday against TCU (2-2, 0-1), which has struggled at times after entering the season being considered as a top conference contender.
This would seem to be a classic trap game - a game against a potentially potent foe, right after one of the biggest wins in recent years and just before the always-emotional showdown with archrival Texas. But Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops says it won't be hard for the Sooners to focus on TCU.
"We don't play four games," Stoops said Monday, during his weekly news conference. "We didn't set the whole season up and work all year round to beat Notre Dame. It's part of the cycle. We've got another game this week, an important one. They're all Big 12 games coming. No one around here is ever satisfied with beating one team. That's not how it works. Maybe some other places, but not here. We've got to win this week and then the following week and the following week. Next game up."
Even though Stoops has tried to downplay the significance of the win at Notre Dame, it was only the second time in 11 opportunities that Oklahoma has beaten the Fighting Irish and the first time since 1956. The win provided evidence that Oklahoma might well be the team to beat in the Big 12 race, especially with TCU and Oklahoma State each having already lost a conference game.
In fact, considering the early season issues of both TCU and Texas, the argument could be made that Oklahoma's toughest stretch could be back-to-back games at home against No. 20 Texas Tech on Oct. 26 and at No. 17 Baylor on Nov. 7.
Oklahoma's players aren't ready to dismiss TCU - which dealt Stoops one of the more embarrassing losses of his 15-year tenure, a 17-10 win in Norman in the 2005 season opener - as a legitimate Big 12 contender. Linebacker Corey Nelson - who returned an interception for an early touchdown against Notre Dame - called the matchup against the Horned Frogs "the biggest game of the season so far."
"This focus this week has to be 10 times better than it was, compared to last week," Nelson said. "We have to be even more focused than we were against Notre Dame, because we can't let TCU come in here and beat us, you know. We have to keep that intensity and continue to remain humble and hungry in everything that we're doing. So the focus this week has to be at an all-time high, because we have to win this game to not have another letdown."
Offensive tackle Daryl Williams said the Notre Dame win "was just one game. We still have a lot more to go and a lot more to reach our goals. We celebrated it. It was good. We won. Time to move on."
That said, Stoops said he thinks the way the Sooners won - jumping to a quick lead, holding off a Notre Dame comeback, scoring a key fourth-quarter touchdown and being able to run out the clock over the final 5:39 - should pay dividends the rest of the season.
"To go into a good environment against an excellent football team and play like we did should give them confidence," Stoops said. "Hopefully it gives them a hunger to want to do it more and better. More than anything, that's what I'd like for it to do.
"The better teams get better as you go throughout the year. Playing well like we did in a big setting on the road give you more hunger. The mistakes our players will see today when we're with them as so obvious that we can be better. What we have to keep pushing for is to clean up some of those to even be better. That's what we're after."