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October 28, 2011Oklahoma's matchup with Kansas State will be a season-defining crossroads for this 2011 team. Even though the Sooners enter this game as a two touchdown favorite, anyone who witnessed last week's lifeless effort against Texas Tech, knows this team is more than capable of careening out of control in Manhattan.
Expectations were higher than this heading into the season. But it's not as if Oklahoma has nothing left to play for this season.
Although any talk of jumping back into the national title race is comical until this team proves it deserves to be mentioned as a Big 12 contender first.
For the Sooners, Saturday in Manhattan will either be a re-birth of their season, or the ugly truth hinted at by Bob Stoops earlier this week - that this team was overrated from the beginning.
So how have the Sooners prepared this week heading into this weekend as the stand out the corner of hope and despair?
"You know, the coaches, it's been a lot more constructive than you'd think," Gabe Ikard told SoonerScoop.com earlier this week. "You can't do anything about it now. We can't go back and correct the mistakes we all made - defense, offense, special teams - but we can learn from it, we can get better from it.
"They've taken a really proactive attitude toward the whole situation and I think that's going to pay off for us. We're not all down in the dumps, we just have to practice better and play better."
Even after the loss, co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell praised Bob Stoops for the way he handled the team in the post-game locker room.
"I thought Coach Stoops was fabulous after the game," he said. "You really find out the quality of a coach when something bad happens. The way that he handled the team and talked to them, I thought it was outstanding."
Stoops started building the foundation for a win in Manhattan as soon as the Red Raider loss was over. But now it's up to the players to respond.
It's time to find out what this version of the Sooners are made of. Stoops has a history of bouncing back after tough losses like these.
"Our players are prideful and we have character," said Norvell. "We recruit character. We recruit kids that have character and we feel like we make them do the right things here in this program. If they don't have character they don't survive. They don't make it here. That's why."
But the question remains: Is this team underachieving, or were expectations just too high.
A year ago, it took losses at Missouri and in College Station before this group started to put things together. Wins over Oklahoma State on the road and against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game legitimized the 2010 Sooners.
The road to legitimacy begins Saturday in Manhattan, with Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all ready to chip away at the Sooners' preseason reputation.
If OU can't get it done in Manhattan, this crossroads suddenly turns into a potential freefall of losses.
"We've just got to look at the film and get some things corrected and sort some things out and really just take a look at ourselves and how we practice and what we're doing," said Ikard. "We still have a lot to play for."
Even though Oklahoma is unsettled in their secondary with Jamell Fleming being up in the air, even tough Casey Walker may not be available on Sunday and even though Oklahoma has had it's struggles on offense and in the redzone, this is a team who will have no excuses if they lose a second straight game.
Preaseason expectations will place the overrated tag on this team if they can't out with the win.
But it's not the first time an Oklahoma team has been in this position.
Backs against the wall.
"You constantly deal with how you handle prosperity as well as how you deal with adversity and when you've been humbled," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "So that's the part as leaders, you know hopefully, that's a strength for us and I think that through the course of time when we've been in these situations we've responded accordingly."