Sooners QB might not be top athlete in house
MORGANTOWN - Landry Jones sat on a stool in one of those vast conference rooms at a Dallas hotel in late July being peppered by questions that ranged from Geno Smith to Blake Bell, from Sam Bradford to the NFL, from all the things he has accomplished as Oklahoma's quarterback to all the things he has not.
He answered them all patiently and fairly eloquently, for after all this was not Jones' first rodeo. The Big 12's annual football media event was just another function for a guy who, by the time this season ends, will have thrown more passes (and perhaps for more yards) than anyone in league history.
Yet on this day he did so while exhibiting a new, somewhat nervous habit. He just couldn't stop sliding the wedding ring on and off his finger or otherwise fidgeting with it to the point of distraction.
"Oh, I know. Whitney always hounds me about playing with this thing,'' Jones said, continuing to twist it around on his finger. "She thinks I'm going to lose it. And I find myself sitting here just twirling it in my hands and always playing with it, so I think I will lose it one day.''
Forgive Jones the preoccupation, though. After all, it had been barely two weeks since he and Whitney Hand, OU's All-Big 12 senior guard on the school's women's basketball team, had tied the knot. They were married in front of 350 friends and family in Hand's hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, took a quick honeymoon trip to Las Vegas and then returned to Norman, Okla., for school and work.
Far from being yet another distraction and something else to deal with, Jones figures marriage isn't going to complicate his life at all. In fact, it can only change it for the better.
"I definitely have a lot less stress not being engaged anymore and actually being married,'' Jones said. "She's great. She understands. She's an athlete, too, so we have a really good relationship.''
Understanding Jones and his career at Oklahoma, though, takes some doing. To say it has been up and down would be an understatement.
Consider that since taking over for an injured Bradford early in his redshirt freshman season of 2009, Jones has put up numbers that would be the envy of any quarterback in the country. Heading into Saturday's game with West Virginia, he ranks either second or third in Big 12 history in total offense, passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdowns.
Oh, and try this stat on for size: 233 of 384 for 3,044 yards. That's the number of Jones attempts, completions and yards he's AHEAD of the next guy in each of those categories among the NCAA's active career leaders.
Yet on talk radio and chat rooms in Oklahoma, some can't wait until Jones is gone. Why? Well, because in his three previous seasons as a starter the Sooners have finished 8-5, 12-2 and 10-3 with three bowl wins. Not bad, right? But not national championship level, either.
And at a school that considers that the only legitimate goal - even if 25 of the last 26 OU teams have fallen short - well, there's not much margin for error.
So you will excuse Jones if he considered leaving after last season for the NFL draft. And he almost did.
"It was day by day,'' Jones said. "One day I felt like I was leaving and the next day I was staying and the next day I was leaving again. So it kind of went back and forth for a couple of weeks there.
"I remember the day [he decided]. I was praying about it and I just kind of had a peace about staying.''
That's one of the few peaceful days Jones enjoys in the spotlight as the Oklahoma quarterback. He has the pressure to live up to the lofty expectations at the school and it hasn't gone well during his time. In his four years as OU's starter - including when he took over for Bradford and started 10 games - Oklahoma has been No. 3, 7, 1 and 4 in the Associated Press preseason poll. In those years the Sooners finished out of the poll, No. 6 and No. 16 in 2009-11 and are No. 13 this season.
Also, consider that despite Jones' lofty numbers he wasn't picked as the league's preseason player of the year, an honor that instead went to WVU's Smith.
And then there's the Belldozer factor. For the past two seasons, Jones has actually been pulled from the game as a matter of routine when the Sooners get close to the goal line. He's replaced by 6-foot-6, 245-pound sophomore Blake Bell, who more often than not blasts his way into the end zone while lining up in Jones' spot.
That's got to hurt.
"Oh, absolutely,'' Jones said. "I wouldn't be a competitor if I didn't want to finish the drive. But I get down there and almost automatically start jogging off the field.
"Blake comes in and that's great. But you absolutely want to finish the drive.''
Overall, of course, this season hasn't been much different from the previous three for Jones. Those lofty national title hopes have been dashed, although no team in the country can make a better case for merely being the victim of scheduling circumstance. OU's only losses have come against two of the three unbeaten teams atop the BCS standings, Kansas State and Notre Dame. But both were at home, matching the number of losses Oklahoma had suffered in Norman since Bob Stoops arrived in 1999.
But Jones just keeps plugging along, winning most games and setting or approaching records every week. He will likely finish his career third in NCAA history in passing yards and already owns the school record for career wins by a quarterback.
And now he even has competition as the best athlete under his own roof at home. Wife Whitney and the Sooners are No. 11 in the latest AP women's basketball poll, two spots higher than Jones and the football team. He's not sure who would win that battle.
"If we played horse, she'd definitely win,'' Jones said. "But if we played one-on-one, I think I'd get her.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.