COLUMN: Jones has chance to solidify legacy at OU against Texas A&M at Cotton Bowl
While fans and sports talk show hosts spent the days following the BCS selection debacle arguing about better-qualified teams and questionable rules, No. 11 Oklahoma’s bid to the Cotton Bowl set up a better-suited finale that will allow this year’s senior class to atone for the previous disaster that occurred inside the familiar, flashy walls of Cowboys Stadium.
The hype surrounding the 2009 season opener was as thick as the line of cars that flooded Interstate 35 to see the game in football’s newly-opened, holy grail of arenas.
Former quarterback Sam Bradford — along with a slue of offensive playmakers like former tight end Jermaine Gresham and running backs Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray — returned for his then-junior stint after winning the Heisman and leading the Sooners to the national title game just a few months before the September matchup against BYU. Although Gresham was not in the starting rotation due to an injury, OU remained steady as a repeat title contender.
OU entered the game as the overwhelming 22-point favorite but soon would find itself disheveled and unraveled after BYU’s Coleby Clawson smashed Bradford’s shoulder into the turf, sidelining the starter for the rest of the game.
In sprinted a quarterback of whom few had heard, and even fewer felt comfortable calling the team’s new starter: current senior quarterback Landry Jones.
Jones unfortunately flopped on his first appearance, finishing 6-of-12 for a 51 measly yards. He kept OU in the game until BYU tacked on a touchdown with a little more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
In a matter of minutes, the Sooners watched their aspirations to return to college football’s pinnacle stage turn to fighting to keep the team’s head above .500 for the rest of the year with a guy they thought would have additional years to learn the playbook and take over once Bradford’s legacy was finished.
As if the former Heisman winner’s shadow wasn’t hard enough to replace, Jones also had to ride the momentum of 2009’s snake-bit season with an inexperienced offensive line that finished with an 8-5 record and left OU on a high from which it still hasn’t recovered.
But if the Sooners can’t play for a title, this year’s Cotton Bowl has all the right ingredients to produce another hype-laden matchup that gives Jones an opportunity to solidify his legacy in style.
Jones will make his fourth-consecutive bowl game start looking for his fourth-consecutive bowl win — a stage Bradford never was destined to confront. If he succeeds, the Artesia, N.M., native will have tied a record that hasn’t been rewritten since 1981 — the last time OU won four straight bowl games.
But Jones will have to do it in a game that may be the third-best bowl game this year behind the title game and the Fiesta Bowl featuring Kansas State and Oregon.
This year’s opponent, former-Big 12 foe Texas A&M, also touts its own dose of publicity: The flashy panache of Johnny Manziel, or ‘Johnny Football,’ who, as one of the three Heisman finalists, could very well be getting an elongated introduction before the kickoff. The No. 9 Aggies were the only team to defeat No. 2 Alabama this season — nearly knocking the Tide out of a spot in the BCS National Championship Game — and also will bring their new conference battle cry with them to the stadium.
But, with 16,317 yards, 122 touchdowns and 39 wins since his first performance, expect Jones to come out with a lot more confidence and several more passing attempts than 2009 Landry attempted on the same field before the dust settles. OU fans may end up screaming “B-C-S” throughout the month prior to matchup, but Jones and Co. will be ready to silence any critics who say the Sooners can’t hang with a team from the SEC on Jan. 4.
Tobi Neidy is a public relations senior. Follow her om Twitter at @TobiAnn.