NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — In all his time as Oklahoma's coach, Bob Stoops has always found a way to navigate his Sooners around the potential trap that looms each year following the emotionally charged Red River Rivalry.
He sees no reason that should change this year just because Notre Dame — ranked No. 5 after a 6-0 start — is looming right around the corner for No. 10 Oklahoma (4-1, 2-1 Big 12).
Stoops is 13 for 13 in games that immediately follow the annual showdown with Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. That includes five victories against Kansas (1-5, 0-3), which will visit Owen Field on Saturday night in that situation yet again.
"We've got a pretty good record after Texas. Our season doesn't begin and end with Texas," Stoops said Monday. "It never has. So, in the end, we'll be ready to play."
The challenge will be avoiding looking ahead to facing the current Notre Dame team while preparing to deal with some of the former Fighting Irish: Kansas coach Charlie Weis and quarterback Dayne Crist.
"It shouldn't matter at all the team that we're going to play," safety Javon Harris said. "Kansas is going to come in here and play lights out against us. We know any team that we play is going to play to their max potential, and it's going to be up to us on what we do."
The game will be played two days shy of the anniversary of the Sooners' shocking home loss to unranked Texas Tech last season, which snapped their 39-game winning streak on Owen Field. So when Stoops was asked about the potential for a letdown because of the "enormous game" looming against the Irish, he responded: "We've got an enormous game this week."
Oklahoma was utterly dominant in a 63-21 rout of then-No. 15 Texas on Saturday, allowing just two first downs while racing out to a 36-2 halftime lead. Two of the Longhorns' three touchdowns came in garbage time against Oklahoma's backups, and the other was on an interception returned for a touchdown.
Stoops said that instead of giving out game balls to individual players, he simply awarded one to the entire offense and one to the entire defense. That's how impressed he was with the performance.
"We can take what we did in Texas and play off of it," Harris said. "We want to build off of it. We want to get better. To me, I feel like we played good but we want to be great. We're not done yet."
Harris agreed with the notion that Oklahoma peaked last season for a 55-17 romp against Texas, then didn't maintain its level of play throughout the rest of the season and lost three games down the stretch.
"I think the big thing we've learned from last year is that everything kind of affects what you're doing on the football field. It affects what kind of team and what kind of discipline you have on the team," quarterback Landry Jones said. "Last year, we had countless guys missing class, late for class, doing all those type of things and those hurt us on the field because they got suspended for practice and got suspended for games.
"Now, I think we're taking care of business off the field and I think we're playing with more discipline on the field for sure."
Jones said some of the offending parties were kicked off the team and others have cleaned up their acts.
"It's accountability and leadership. If you see somebody doing something wrong, you've got to let them know straight," Harris said.
"The little things are kind of what messed us up last year. We had suspensions, we had things going on and now we know that that hurts the team. We know that those things hurt the team majorly, guys missing class and off-the-field issues and you missing those guys on the team. The camaraderie starts to fall apart."
The Sooners already had a wake-up call this season, losing at home to a Kansas State team that has since moved up to No. 4, and handled that adversity by posting impressive back-to-back wins away from home. Jones said it was a matter of guys loosening up.
"I think you've just got to get out of your own way," Jones said. "You've got to just realize this is a game and it's supposed to be fun, and you're supposed to have fun, so why play tight? Why do all those things? Why worry about so many different things that really you can't control."
In the back of their minds are thoughts of the 2008 season, when they lost to Texas but were able to rebound and play for the BCS title. Another loss would eliminate those hopes, though.
"It's kind of the same type of situation that we're in now," Jones said. "We just have to keep this momentum, keep building on it and who knows what's going to happen? There's a lot of football left."