More than a handful of teams are already being thrown around as possible national title contenders. Surprisingly, it’s a list that doesn’t include Bob Stoops and his No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners.
It’s unfamiliar territory for a team that was recently voted the No. 1 program during the BCS era.
While the rest of the nation, including ESPN’s College GameDay, will be focused on the matchup between No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson, Stoops will be left with the task of motivating a group of players who’ve looked quite lackluster thus far.
However, if the No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats coming into town isn’t enough to get the Sooners fired up, the constant criticism they’ve heard from the local media during their bye week should be more than enough to get the job done.
The Sooners came into the season with high hopes of bringing an eighth national title back to Norman. However, a depleted offensive line and a questionable run defense have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of many.
But Stoops knows that Saturday’s prime-time showdown presents the perfect opportunity to change all that.
The Sooners have won five straight against the Wildcats going back to 2003. That includes a trip to Manhattan last season for a dominant 58-17 victory over a 7-0 No. 8 Wildcats team.
However, when it comes down to conference rivalries, the past hardly matters.
Here are seven things the Sooners must do in order to come away with a victory on Saturday.
In the early years of Bob Stoops' tenure at Oklahoma, you'd be hard-pressed not to find the Sooners ranked among the nation's best in rushing defense.
However, the departure of then defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in 2003 started a steady decline for the team's rush defense. The Sooners finished last season No. 51 against the run, allowing 139.6 rushing yards per game.
This past offseason, the Sooners brought back Stoops as defensive coordinator, hoping it would address the issue.
So far it hasn't—the Sooners rank No. 50 against the run.
While these things tend to take time, the Sooners can't afford too much, as they play host to the No. 18 rushing attack this Saturday.
Led by dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats come in averaging 251.7 yards per game on the ground.
While Klein might not get the same national exposure as other dual-threat quarterbacks, such as Michigan's Denard Robinson or Ohio State's Braxton Miller, he's been just as efficient.
Besides his five passing touchdowns, Klein has also found the end zone four times with his legs.
But shutting down Klein alone won't be good enough for the Sooners.
After Klein, two other Wildcats have three touchdowns a piece—John Hubert and Daniel Sams.
It makes for a tall task for a Sooners defense that has struggled to stop just one rushing threat, let alone three.
With a week off, let's hope Stoops has his defense ready to step up to the challenge.
Over the last four seasons, the Sooners have outscored their opponents 296-60 in the first quarter at home. They're 23-1 during that span.
The Sooners will need that same burst of energy coming out of the gates this Saturday.
If they can jump out to a big lead early on, the Sooners might be able to force Klein and the Wildcats' offense to give up on the run and rely primarily on the pass.
It would be a change in strategy that would heavily favor the Sooners.
The Sooners currently own the No. 4 pass defense in the nation. It's a ranking that should only increase when you take the Wildcats' No. 104 passing attack into consideration.
It serves as a perfect obstacle to determine whether Klein is deserving of the early Heisman considerations he's been receiving.
With all the talk of the Wildcats' rushing attack, many seem to forget about the Sooners' rush dominance.
In fact, the Sooners come in with a higher-ranked rush offense at No. 12.
Backup running back Damien Williams has a lot to do with that.
After a solid showing against UTEP in the season opener, Williams exploded against Florida A&M the following week with 156 yards and four touchdowns on only 10 carries.
It was a performance that may have just won him the starting spot.
Before Williams burst on the scene, the rush attack was supposed to be anchored by senior Dominique Whaley.
After beginning 2011 with 627 yards and nine touchdowns in the first six games, Whaley fractured his ankle against the Wildcats and missed the remainder of the season.
Although the side effects still appear to show, Whaley has been proficient, totaling 117 yards on the ground along with a touchdown on 21 carries.
Together the two backs have combined to help the Sooners to a 7.1-yards-per-carry average, good for third in the nation.
While the Wildcats may be successful running the ball, they've also been successful at stopping it.
Coming into the game, the Wildcats are No. 19 against the run.
Something's got to give on Saturday.
There's not a better way to put a damper on an opposing team's momentum than a turnover.
They can drive all the way down the field, but a goal-line interception or fumble recovery is just as effective as a three-and-out. As far as momentum goes, it's better.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, it's a department that they're currently lacking in.
The Sooners currently rank No. 80 in turnover margin, with only one turnover gained opposed to two turnovers lost.
Those aren't the type of numbers that will get it done against a Wildcats defense that has already forced five turnovers.
Klein comes in having already thrown two interceptions. If the Sooners' secondary can get to him, it could be a huge turning point in the game.
In a matchup between two evenly matched teams, there's a pretty good chance that whoever wins the turnover battle is more than likely going to win the game as well.
Just like a turnover can deflate an offense, a converted third down has the same effect on the defense.
There's nothing worse than putting all the effort into stopping a team for two downs, only to watch them convert for the first down on the next play.
The Wildcats come in No. 7 on third downs with a 58 percent mark. The Sooners are No. 36 at 46 percent.
On the other hand, the Sooners are ranked No. 6 in third-down defense, only allowing opponents to convert six of 32 opportunities (18.75 percent). The Wildcats rank No. 51 at 35.51 percent.
In a matchup between two top-15 teams, field possession and time of possession will be critical.
The longer the Sooners can keep the ball, the better chance they have of opening up the Wildcats' secondary to a Landry Jones aerial attack.
The longer the Wildcats can keep the ball, the better chance they have of exposing an already vulnerable Sooners rush defense.
Third-down conversions will be huge for both teams on Saturday.
Quarterback Landry Jones has got to like the matchup against the Wildcats' passing defense.
The Sooners rank No. 33 through the air while the Wildcats rank No. 80 against the pass.
However, Jones won't get a chance to take advantage of the mismatch if he's constantly hitting the turf.
After allowing only 11 sacks in 2011, the Sooners have already allowed six in two games. It's a number that's likely to increase with a Wildcats defense that has already recorded seven quarterback takedowns.
While the loss of two senior offensive linemen is hard to replace, the Sooners will need to find a solution fast.
They won't be able to utilize their effective rushing attack if they're constantly in long-yard situations.
Since Bob Stoops took over at Oklahoma in 1999, a home game has been as close to a sure thing as you could possibly get. The Sooners are an amazing 77-3 at Norman under Stoops.
In fact, the better of a team you are, the worse chance of victory you have.
Believe it or not, the Sooners are 14-0 against ranked opponents at home.
In that impressive stretch, the Sooners have outscored opponents by an average margin of 28.2 points.
Only one team has come within single digits of the Sooners at home.
Yup, you guessed it—the Wildcats in 2001.