BOULDER, Colo. (AP) _ Colorado was the feel-good story the first part of the season, opening with three straight wins after a tumultuous offseason.
But with a tough stretch ahead, starting with Saturday's game against No. 22 Oklahoma State, those feelings could go away quickly.
``This is a key game for us,'' Colorado coach Gary Barnett said.
Colorado opened the season with a last-second win over rival Colorado State, pulled out a tough road win against Washington State and routed North Texas. It was a nice start for the Buffaloes, who spent the offseason answering questions about rape allegations and recruiting practices.
But reality set in last week.
Colorado stagnated offensively and spent most of the afternoon trying to convert third-and-long situations, losing its Big 12 opener 17-9 to Missouri. One loss isn't so bad, but it could easily turn into a losing streak this week against Oklahoma State, 4-0 for the first time since 1997 and one of the best running teams in the nation.
And with Texas A&M, Texas and Nebraska still left on the schedule, the Buffaloes don't want to get rolling in the wrong direction.
``Every one from here on out will be huge for us in terms of Big 12 play,'' Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt said. ``We're not in any shape to be looking ahead of anyone right now. Oklahoma State is absolutely a tremendous ball club, so it will take our best effort of the season to beat them.''
Without a doubt.
Oklahoma State opened the season with a solid victory over UCLA, followed with routs over Tulsa and resurgent Southern Methodist, then beat Iowa State 36-7 last week to win its Big 12 opener for the first time since 1998.
A lot of Oklahoma State's success has come from a reliable, ball-control offense.
The Cowboys have just one turnover in four games _ an interception last week against Iowa State _ and has the nation's second-best turnover ratio at plus-3.25.
Oklahoma State also is fourth in the country with 297.5 yards rushing per game, and tailback Vernand Morency has gone six straight regular season games with at least 100 yards and averages 176 per game, good for third in the country.
It's a nice start, but not much of a surprise _ Oklahoma State has quietly gone from Big 12 also-ran to contender the past few years.
``We have not fell under the radar in the Big 12 conference in quite sometime _ I don't believe that there is a cloaking device that hovers over Stillwater,'' Cowboys coach Les Miles said. ``I promise you that Colorado knows who they're facing. I know that the teams in this league understand that we are a team that can beat them.''
But just like Colorado, the Cowboys' schedule doesn't get much easier. In fact, it's probably tougher than what the Buffaloes have left.
After playing in the altitude at Colorado's Folsom Field, the Cowboys face Texas A&M next week, followed by Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Get through that stretch unscathed and Oklahoma State can plan on playing in the Big 12 Championship in December.
``I guess from this point forward every game's a big game, but we're excited about it,'' Oklahoma State tight end Billy Bajema said. ``There aren't any easy opponents coming up, but we feel like we've got a team that can play with any of them. Hopefully, we can put together a great run and come out with a bunch of good wins.''