NORMAN, Okla. – At Oklahoma, there's no feeling quite like plopping the Golden Hat trophy on your head and walking off the Cotton Bowl field with a victory against rival Texas in hand.
Even so, the 10th-ranked Sooners (4-1, 2-1 Big 12) know it can get much better than that. When Bob Stoops has his teams playing at their best, a Red River Rivalry win often means there's a championship in store when the end of the season comes.
It didn't happen that way after last year's Red River Rivalry blowout, with the Sooners scuffling through a win at Kansas that foreshadowed three losses in the second half of the season. They want to reverse that trend when the last-place Jayhawks (1-5, 0-3) visit Norman on Saturday night after this year's Red River rout.
"This year, we're not just peaking. We're going to continue to work," safety Javon Harris said. "We're not going to stop doing what we've been doing.
"I don't think that we're done. We're really just getting started."
Under Stoops, the Sooners have never suffered enough of a letdown after the emotional Texas game to lose their next time out. They're a perfect 13-0, including five wins against Kansas. But last season, the 55-17 blowout of the Longhorns ended up being the high point of the season. Losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State spoiled a promising start and Oklahoma settled for a trip to the Insight Bowl after holding the preseason No. 1 ranking.
"You can look back on that and just learn from your mistakes and learn that one game doesn't determine your season," quarterback Landry Jones said. "Each game will determine where you want to go at the end of the year."
The Sooners provided a strong response after losing to Kansas State last month, bouncing back with consecutive wins against Texas Tech and Texas. Now, they're dealing with the return of high expectations and even talk that the national championship could be a possibility if a handful of teams lose.
But will that atmosphere have an adverse effect?
"I don't know," Stoops said. "I guess it all depends on the team or the person. In the end, it shouldn't. Hopefully when you have a mature team, they understand what they're doing correct, they understand what they're not doing as well as they should, regardless of what anyone else says about them.
"Hopefully our guys will do that, continue to improve in the areas we feel we can and keep pushing for more. The mature teams do that."
Part of that maturity will be require keeping the same standard of preparation for Kansas, which has lost 15 straight conference games and 26 of its last 27, even with No. 5 Notre Dame next on the schedule.
"You can't think that now that we've had some success, we've made it and we don't have to work anymore and we don't have to go out and practice hard anymore," Jones said. "Those are the things that have got us to this point, so we have to keep building on the way we're practicing."
The Jayhawks have been pulling out all the stops to stay competitive in games, faking punts and field goals and last week replacing starting quarterback Dayne Crist with redshirt freshman Michael Cummings. With Cummings taking the snaps, Kansas scored 14 straight points and had the ball with the chance to take the lead late in a 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State.
First-year coach Charlie Weis wouldn't say who would start against Oklahoma.
"Dayne's a competitor," quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus said. "He wants to play. He doesn't want to come off the field. If he's not on the field, he'll be supportive, he'll be engaged - which he was on Saturday - and anything other than that, I would be disappointed if that was the case."
"There is a drastic difference between Dayne and Michael, there's no doubt about it, but Michael has come a long way."
Whoever gets the call will face an Oklahoma defense that came up with eight three-and-outs, three takeaways and a safety while overwhelming the Longhorns.
"They're going through a lot of different schemes, trying to find an identity and that's always going to be the case with an offense starting for the first year," Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "They show a variety of different looks. They change it week in and week out."