The legacy of great Oklahoma quarterbacks goes beyond big numbers and pages in the record book, which explains Landry Jones' focus.
Josh Heupel, Jason White and Sam Bradford each have taken Oklahoma to the BCS title game in the Bob Stoops era, with Heupel delivering the crystal football. Jones is still waiting for his chance. With one final college season left, the motivation is clear.
"It's huge," Jones said recently. "I don't want to be just someone who has a lot of good stats. I want to be someone who gets to go play in that national title game and actually win one."
Then he could erase the doubts once and for all. To achieve his goal, Jones will have to operate behind an offensive line that lost multiyear starters to injury this summer. While the receivers are gifted, the experience is limited. Improving on last season's 10-3 finish might be a chore.
For all his productivity, Jones hasn't exactly received the kind of reverence that would normally accompany 12,379 career passing yards and 93 touchdown passes. Yes, Jones graces one of the regional covers of Sports Illustrated and is on pretty much every short list of Heisman contenders. But media voters in the Big 12 chose Geno Smith of newcomer West Virginia as the conference's preseason offensive player of the year over a quarterback who has been on the radar screen since 2009.
Jones deflected the slight, kind of.
"It is what it is," Jones said. "We were ranked No. 1 last year and didn't win a national championship."
Jones' numbers took a hit late in the season after Bowl Subdivision all-time receiving leader Ryan Broyles was lost for the season with a knee injury. Jones had one touchdown pass and six interceptions in the final four games without Broyles.
That slump also coincided with the greater use of 6-6, 254-pound backup quarterback Blake Bell inside the red zone, where he rushed for 10 touchdowns in those final four games. Bell's usage as the "Belldozer" will remain an ongoing storyline and possible source of irritation.
"I wouldn't be a competitor if I didn't want to finish the drive, instead of getting down there and automatically starting to jog off the field," Jones said. "You absolutely want to finish the drive. Yes, Blake comes in, and that's great. But as a competitor, you want to stay in the game and finish."
Jones nearly didn't return to school, admitting that he bounced back and forth for weeks between college and the NFL draft. He picked his July wedding date with Oklahoma women's basketball standout Whitney Hand because it would work best for both college and pro camps.
Finally, he prayed about it and decided he had unfinished business. Receiver Kenny Stills remembers getting a text from Jones with the news. It read: "Hey, I'm staying, just thought I'd let you know. I hope you're working hard, I'm working hard, and I'm excited for next year."
Since then, he has worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. in California, added muscle and worked on weaknesses, like throwing on the move.
Stoops said Jones has worked as hard as anybody he has coached at Oklahoma and doesn't fault him for the late-season slide.
"I know he's doing all he can to have a big senior season," Stoops said. "It only happens when guys around him are going to catch the ball and not drop it and be in the right places and those kinds of things. So we've got to make sure all that's happening."
Consistency will be a key for Jones, who threw 15 interceptions last season. By comparison, Robert Griffin III had 17 interceptions in 41 career games at Baylor.
"Landry played extremely well for a lot of games," said Heupel, in his second season as OU's co-offensive coordinator. "He would like to put 13 of them together and take us to the championship."
During the interview at Big 12 media days, Jones seemed far more at ease than in past seasons, with one exception. Once, twice, half-a-dozen times, he rubbed and pulled at the silver band on his left ring finger.
"Whitney, she hounds me about playing with this thing," Jones said. "She thinks I'm going to lose it. 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."
Jones wants to make sure that his legacy, like his wedding ring, doesn't slip through his fingers.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times