Gauntlet has changed for OU

No doubt OU's three-game swing of Notre Dame, TCU and Texas is crucial. But now the Sooners will enter each game as favorites.

Before the season started everybody pointed to this three-game stretch coming up as what would make or break Oklahoma's season.

It made sense at the time. A road showdown at Notre Dame, who physically dominated the Sooners in Norman last season. Combine that with a home contest with TCU and the annual Red River Rivalry against Texas, and it felt like some tense times for OU fans.

But as we conclude the first full month of the 2013 season, the three-game gauntlet has taken on a new meaning. OU is expected to win all three games.

That's what happens when Notre Dame, originally ranked No. 14, gives up 40 points to Michigan in a loss and has two nail-biting victories against Purdue and Michigan State.

That's what happens when Texas, originally ranked No. 15, loses to BYU and Ole Miss and replaces its defensive coordinator.

That's what happens when TCU, originally ranked No. 20, loses to LSU and Texas Tech and has quarterback concerns of its own.

That's how three very evenly matched games quickly become three games that OU is going to be favored to win. But OU coach Bob Stoops dismisses any thought that this trip to South Bend, Ind., is going to be less of a challenge.

"How could going to Notre Dame be easy? At the end of the day, that's ridiculous," Stoops said. "They're incredibly tough and physical. They're a good football team. They have great quarterback play, so they're tough.

"It will be a huge challenge. In our eyes anybody can beat anybody. You've just always got to be at your best."

But when it comes down to it right now is if OU is at its best, it should take care of these three opponents and start to move up in the conversation in BCS polls. If it does so, the next month will get incredibly interesting for OU fans.

To do so OU will have to win the battle in the trenches, specifically the offensive line. OU rushed for 15 yards on 24 attempts in last year's loss to the Irish.

"The most important thing from last year was who controlled the line of scrimmage and that was obviously them," senior center Gabe Ikard said. "We didn't run the ball well at all. They started to wear us out. That's our focus now. Establishing and controlling the line of scrimmage."

The task won't be any easier, but the first month of the season should give OU as much confidence heading into its first road game and to set the tone for the rest of the season.

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