NORMAN — Oklahoma is 6-4 over its last 10 games, dating back to last season.
Last Saturday's 24-19 loss to Kansas State meant Bob Stoops' Sooners have lost as many contests at home (two) in their last five games as they did in Stoops' first 12 seasons in Norman.
“I think we're a tough enough team,” Stoops said after the Kansas State loss.
“What I don't think is we're a good enough football team.”
Among the countless explanations for OU's struggles, one that has become more prevalent since a lackluster 2012 season opener at UTEP is a decrease in talent.
But what does that really mean? It's difficult to quantify, but perhaps the strongest evidence in support of the theory is the lack of a top-notch, elite player, a la Adrian Peterson or Tommie Harris.
Over its past four recruiting classes, Oklahoma has brought in 43 freshmen rated by Rivals as four- or five-star prospects out of high school. Fourteen of them aren't on the 2012 roster, and only one of those players — Ronnell Lewis — left to enter the NFL Draft before his eligibility ran out.
Over that span, the Sooners have inked only two five-star prospects. Running back Brandon Williams transferred to Texas A&M after his true freshman season, and receiver Trey Metoyer is finally a Sooner after academic problems forced him to spend the fall of 2011 in military school.
“I think the normal talent is the same as it's always been,” said Josh McCuistion, recruiting editor for the Rivals network site SoonerScoop.com.
“The difference is the elite guys. I don't see them right now.”
Oklahoma is chock-full of good, talented players, but doesn't seem to have the type of game-changers usually needed to compete at the highest level nationally.
“You don't need a roster full of those guys, but you need three or four that can make that play that can beat the elite teams,” McCuistion said.
Metoyer is a player with game-changing potential, but his impact has been minimal through three games in 2012.
The biggest area of concern, though, seems to be on the OU defensive line; seniors David King, Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee, R.J. Washington and Casey Walker have been mainstays, but aren't the kind of top-notch athletes like those found on Alabama's and LSU's defensive fronts.
Walker missed the first two games of 2012 because of an undisclosed personal issue, and McGee remains indefinitely suspended for violating a team rule.
When those four are gone, who will be there to replace them?
“You see Jordan Phillips and you think, ‘OK, maybe,'” McCuistion said. “But the rest? I don't know that you see anybody else that just screams out to you, ‘That guy's a difference maker.'”
Phillips, a 6-foot-6, 318-pound redshirt freshman, has been touted as extraordinarily talented but still raw. True freshman ends Michael Onuoha and Charles Tapper are also still developing, but have played some so far this season.
“The problem Oklahoma finds is the perception of the Big 12,” McCuistion said. “It's great for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, but it's hard to sell a defensive tackle on the Big 12.”
Four-star defensive tackle Justin Manning, from Dallas Kimball, attended Saturday's loss to Kansas State, as did OU's defensive end commitments, D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon.
Stoops said he isn't going to change the things he's done to build Oklahoma into a national power over the past 13 years, and that all programs go through ups and downs. He also said the recruits in attendance Saturday weren't swayed one way or another by the loss.
“Half of them just came off a loss themselves the night before,” Stoops said. “They understand you're not gonna win every single game. We had great visits with a lot of great recruits. They were all very positive leaving, and we had contact with them.”
Three Sooners who could become difference-makers
Through three 2012 games, Oklahoma has lacked a game-changing, elite playmaker with clear NFL potential.
That doesn't mean there aren't players on the OU roster who could get there, though.
Here are three young Sooners who could eventually become that type of difference maker.
TREY METOYER, FR., WR
Metoyer was a five-star prospect out of high school in 2011; he joined the Sooners in January after spending last fall at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Metoyer wowed fans in April's spring game and was expected to be an instant superstar, but so far hasn't reached that level. He's caught 10 passes for 90 yards, but is clearly still adjusting to the college game.
JORDAN PHILLIPS, RFR., DT
Phillips was an Under Armour All-American out of Circle High in Towanda, Kan., and Rivals ranked him as the fourth-best DT prospect in the country.
Coaches and teammates have heaped praise on Phillips for his high ceiling and immense talent, but the 6-6, 318-pounder is still pretty raw.
GARY SIMON, FR., CB
Simon (6-1, 180), was rated at three stars by Rivals, and has seen some limited playing time so far as a true freshman.
“I've been at this for about 12 years, and he's the best corner I've seen OU sign,” said Josh McCuistion, recruiting editor for the Rivals network site SoonerScoop.com.
“It's just a matter of finding him playing time.”
Coaches — especially defensive coordinator Mike Stoops — and OU's starting corners, Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin, have spoken extensively of the raw talent Simon has shown in practice. He's currently listed as Colvin's backup at right corner on the Sooners' depth chart.
Four- or five-star prospects who've left the Sooners
Oklahoma has signed 43 incoming freshmen rated by Rivals as four- or five-star prospects in its last four recruiting classes. Of those, 14 are no longer on the roster.
2009: Kevin Brent (4-star DB), transferred; Justin Chaisson (4-star DE), quit team because of personal issues; Ronnell Lewis (4-star LB), drafted by Detroit Lions after junior year; Jonathon Miller (4-star RB), transferred; Marcus Trice (4-star DB), transferred.
2010: James Haynes (4-star DB), transferred; Austin Haywood (4-star TE), transferred; Eric Humphrey (4-star DT), transferred; Justin McCay (4-star WR), transferred.
2011: Dylan Dismuke (4-star OL), gave up football due to injury; Kameel Jackson (4-star WR), dismissed; Max Stevenson (4-star TE), gave up football due to injury; Brandon Williams (5-star RB), transferred.
2012: John Michael McGee (4-star OL), quit during fall camp because he didn't want to play football anymore.