The fifth-year senior will make his 50th career start when the 12th-ranked Sooners face 10th-ranked Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic at Cowboys Stadium. In an ironic twist, his college career will end where it began on Sept. 5, 2009. Jones’ wife, Whitney Hand, reminded him of that when the Sooners received the Cotton Bowl invite earlier this month.
“She said how interesting it was to see how I’ve come full circle here,” Jones said.
The circle is wider than most. Seasons as the Sooners’ quarterback can fly by in days or stretch on like decades, depending on the outcomes. Jones’ career has been like a roller coaster no engineer could possibly sign off on. The peaks have been high and the valleys have been low.
The peaks are easy to remember. Jones went 3-0 as the starter against Texas. With a victory Friday night, he’ll finish his career a perfect 3-0 in bowl games. This season, OU won its second Big 12 championship with him under center. Every completion on Friday will extend Jones’ records as the Big 12’s all-time passing leader.
Yet, Jones has never achieved the level of esteem among OU fans that Sam Bradford (2007-09), Jason White (2001-04) or Josh Heupel achieved (1999-2000). Jones never won the Heisman Trophy like Bradford in 2008 or White in 2003. The Sooners never reached the national championship game like Bradford (2008) or White (2003 and 2004). They certainly didn’t win one like Heupel did in 2000.
It’s far from a secret that Jones turned down a first-round grade a year ago to return for his senior season. The main reason was to do some of the things Bradford, White and Heupel did.
Didn’t happen. There’s a segment of OU’s fan base that will never let him forget it. Jones is OK with that.
“We both have extremely high standards,” Jones said. “For our fans, it is either national championship or we wait for next year to start playing again. That is the typical feel around here, but that’s OK. You would rather have that than say, ‘OK, if we win five games we are happy.’ Our fans are great and they have always supported us.”
But will they ever truly appreciate him? Only time will tell. Unfortunately, most don’t see the true value in something until it’s no longer around.
His teammates know what they’ve had at quarterback for the last four years and consider themselves lucky that Jones exhausted his eligibility at OU.
“He’s a guy that’s not a selfish football player and not a selfish guy,” center Gabe Ikard said. “He came back to help us go after a national championship. He came up a couple of games short. He had a great year and I think two games in a row he threw for 500 yards. It’s just when he has time, he can put it on the money anywhere on the field. In my opinion he’s had a great year. We’ve had a lot of guys go down and a lot of guys miss some time. For playing behind an offensive line that was all spatted up besides me, it was one of those things where he’s done a lot for this team.”
The prize is returning to the site that got Jones off on the wrong foot with OU fans. His first appearance was in relief of an injured Bradford in the 2009 season opener against BYU. Jones went 6 for 12, playing all of the second half in a 14-13 upset loss.
Most forgot the only experienced receiver OU had that season was Ryan Broyles. The offensive line was in the foundation phase of a rebuilding project. Offensively, the Sooners just weren’t very good that year.
Four years later, they have one of the most explosive offenses in college football. Jones is the biggest reason. Yet in quarterback billing he’s still second fiddle to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. No one understands more than Jones how the Heisman Trophy changes perception.
The Sooners, however, know how important Jones has been the last four seasons.
“People outside of our building can’t appreciate what he brings to the building every single day,” said Heupel, who is now OU’s offensive coordinator and Jones’ position coach. “What he brings to the table with his approach, his mentality and focus in the meeting room, I’ll even take it for granted sometimes. He has an ability to make adjustments to game plans on the fly because of the time on task and because he has such a great command of what we’re doing. He sees things very similar to what I do. He’s on my page and speaks my language. Those things don’t happen overnight.”
Jones’ career didn’t either. It’s been longer than any quarterback who has ever played at OU. There are great moments and ones all would like to forget. Longevity has that effect.
OU coach Bob Stoops won’t rank it. He just appreciates it.
“Landry has had a long and great journey,” he said. “It started here out of nowhere when Sam Bradford got hurt, and he genuinely could not wait for his opportunity to go out and play. Through the year he did a great job in tough circumstances with the other guys around him that were hurt. He has grown and developed through the years. A great worker, a great talent, and you look at the records and the championships; it has been special. He has been a great QB for us.”