- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Oklahoma and Notre Dame met last year in Norman, one team walked off the field with the privilege of possibility, the ability to dream big.
The Sooners were not that team. Their second loss virtually eliminated them from national title contention and ensured that another season beginning with a top-5 ranking would end in some degree of disappointment. Running back Brennan Clay still believed the Sooners had a title shot -- "Some team went down late in the season," he recalled -- but he might have been the only one.
Notre Dame gained the validation that day, and the Irish went on to play for the crystal football.
There's no telling whether Oklahoma will do the same Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. But the Sooners have the authority to heighten expectations. They earned that right with a 35-21 victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
"No doubt in my mind," Clay said, "that we're a national championship-type of team."
There have been plenty of doubts about Oklahoma, more so than in previous seasons.
The Sooners came in at No. 16 in the AP preseason poll, the first time since 2000 that they entered the season outside the top 10. They had question marks at quarterback and with a defense that had been quite un-Stoops-like in 2012, finishing 50th nationally in points allowed, 89th against the run, 70th in sacks and 112th in tackles for loss.
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBlake Bell had a complete performance in his first start on the road, against Notre Dame no less.
Oklahoma might not have been in rebuilding mode. But few viewed the Sooners as championship material, either.
Now they're 4-0 after a definitive win against last year's national runner-up. Bob Stoops and his players won't look ahead, but you can. Oklahoma faces two teams that have underachieved to date (TCU, Texas), a weak Kansas squad and Texas Tech at home before visiting Baylor on Nov. 7 in a game that could decide the Big 12 title.
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