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Oklahoma's Landry Jones Chases National Championship
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent


NORMAN, Okla. – For some Oklahoma fans, the problem with Landry Jones is that he isn't Sam Bradford.

The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner is a native son and one of the most popular Sooners in recent memory. Jones is from New Mexico and as a redshirt freshman was pressed into duty – and performed admirably – when Bradford's 2009 swan song season was sidetracked by two shoulder injuries.

In two full seasons as a starter, Jones has set 13 school passing records and led the Sooners to the 2010 Big 12 championship. Like Bradford, he could have left a year early for the NFL Draft but decided to return for his senior season. That loyalty and dedication hasn't won over the OU fans who chirp on talk radio and in chat rooms.

"This place demands a lot of things," said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who led the Sooners to the 2000 national championship. "They want you to win championships, compete for championships, and obviously when you don't do that, as the quarterback you're going to get a fair share of the blame."

Jones needs four victories to become the winningest quarterback in school history. His 12,379 career passing yards are the most in school history. But the critics often focus on who Jones isn't and what he hasn't done.

"You have to leave everything else off to the side and focus on what you can control," Jones said. "Other outside deals, what other people are saying, you just have to control your emotion and how you react to things."

Last season without its top rusher and top receiver, Oklahoma struggled to a 3-3 finish to a season that had started with hopes of playing for the national championship. When Ryan Broyles, the NCAA career leader for receptions, was lost to a knee injury, Jones struggled to find a reliable receiver. Over the last three games, Jones had no touchdown passes and threw five interceptions.

"Everybody (said) Landry struggled," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "No, he didn't. The offense struggled. He had more dropped passes in the last three games – we couldn't even keep track of how many. We didn't run the football as effectively as we needed to at all. All of that goes together.

"To me, it's more of an issue of the offense and the offense around him than it is him."

Oklahoma fans who aren't satisfied with Jones have another rooting interest. To boost the offense in short yardage and red zone chances – especially after leading rusher Dominique Whaley was injured – the Sooners used Blake Bell at quarterback. The 6-6, 245-pound sophomore led the team with 13 rushing touchdowns last season and also had an impressive spring game as a passer.

Should Jones have a poor game, some OU fans will no doubt be wondering if Bell should be the starter.

"For me, it's going after that national championship," Jones said of his final season in the crimson and cream. "We've had some stumbles that have kept us from getting to that big game. So that's the stepping stone I want to take. That's the way I want to end my career here."

Oklahoma Sooners
Coach: Bob Stoops, 14th season.
2011: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Big 12.
Bowl: Defeated Iowa, 31-14, in Insight Bowl.
Returning starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense.

Key players: Senior QB Landry Jones, senior RB Dominique Whaley, junior WR Kenny Stills, senior C Gabe Ikard, sophomore QB Blake Bell, junior RB Roy Finch, freshman WR Trey Metoyer, junior LB Tom Wort, junior S Tony Jefferson, senior CB Demontre Hurst, senior DE David King, sophomore K Michael Hunnicutt, senior P Tress Way.

Information, please: Oklahoma is ranked No. 4 in both the USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press (media) preseason rankings. … With the loss of starters Ben Habern and Tyler Evans, Oklahoma's offensive line when from 102 career starts to 43. Habern and Evans had a combined 59 starts. … Receiver Justin Brown transferred from Penn State and will be eligible this season. At 6-3, he gives the Sooners a tall receiver with NCAA experience. … Over the summer, Jones married Whitney Hand, a senior and four-year starter on the Sooners basketball team.

Numbers to note: Since Bob Stoops took over as coach in 1999, Oklahoma has lost 21 conference games, allowing an average of 33 points in those games. In last season's three losses, the Sooners allowed 41, 44 and 45 points; they had allowed 40 or more points in just three of the previous 18 league losses.

Schedule
Sept. 1 at UTEP
Sept. 8 Florida A&M
Sept. 22 Kansas State*
Oct. 6 at Texas Tech*
Oct. 13 Texas* (at Dallas)
Oct. 20 Kansas*
Oct. 27 Notre Dame
Nov. 3 at Iowa State*
Nov. 10 Baylor*
Nov. 17 at West Virginia*
Nov. 24 Oklahoma State*
* - Big 12 Conference game.
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