The disappointment of the Oklahoma Sooners’ 2011 season, when OU was the preseason No. 1 team and odds-on national title favorite, had one silver lining: Quarterback Landry Jones is back for his senior season.
Once star receiver Ryan Broyles went down with a season-ending injury last November, Jones wasn’t the same quarterback. In OU’s final three games of the regular season, Jones had no touchdowns and five picks as the Sooners’ BCS bowl hopes went up in flames with losses at Baylor and Oklahoma State. Jones wasn’t a whole lot better in an Insight Bowl win over Iowa, throwing for just 161 yards and another pick. Jones’ yards, TD passes, completion percentage and rating all slipped from 2010, and his interceptions went up.
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Jones made the decision in early January to return to Norman even though he probably still would have been a first-round pick. Jones now has a chance to become the winningest quarterback in OU history and shatter all school career passing records. Jones already owns 13 school records, including being the school’s leader with 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns.
No BCS quarterback returns with more experience than Jones, so obviously he will know the Oklahoma offense as well as possible. He won’t have Broyles around, but he still has a stud receiver in Kenny Stills, two excellent tailbacks in Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch, and one of the nation’s top offensive lines. The Sooners should again be an offensive powerhouse.
Jones is the co-fourth favorite at Bovada to win the Heisman Trophy this year at 8/1 and at 2/1 to finish in the Top 3 of the voting. His “over/under” totals for the season are: 3,900 passing yards (over a -130 favorite) and 29.5 touchdowns (both -120). Also available are props for most passing yards among Jones and Big 12 quarterbacks Geno Smith of West Virginia and Casey Pachall of TCU. On the yards, Smith is the -120 favorite with Jones at +110 and Pachall +160. On the TDs, Smith is -120, Jones +110 and Pachall +160.
A decade ago or so it would have been blasphemy to say it’s great for a quarterback that he plays in the Big 12. Whereas this used to be a defensive, run-oriented league, now no other conference slings it around like the Big 12. West Virginia will fit right in. Not coincidentally, some of the nation’s worst passing defenses reside in the conference. Baylor allowed the ninth-most yards per game in the nation last year, and Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State weren’t much better.
With that said, I don’t like Jones to win the Heisman or finish in the Top 3. The Sooners are thin at receiver outside of Stills (take the over 1,200 yards on the Stills prop on Bovada) and Jones might lose a few touchdowns when OU uses running QB Blake Bell near the goal-line. And honestly, being a four-year starter often works against marquee players – it’s sort of a been-there, done-that by Heisman voters. Jones would have to have a career season and OU would probably have to run the table in the regular season for him to become a Heisman finalist.
I also like WVU’s Smith in both vs. props because he has the nation’s best receiving duo that’s not at Southern Cal. The Mountaineers will throw it likely more than any other club in the conference and Smith should put up gaudy numbers. WVU also has the benefit of getting TCU and Oklahoma at home.
As for Oklahoma’s season opener, it is a 31.5-point road favorite at UTEP, a team coached by Mike Price that has an over/under wins total of 4.5 at 5Dimes – and the under is a huge -260 favorite. The Miners allowed more than 30 points a game last season, No. 86 in the nation, in finishing 5-7 overall. Jones should have a huge day against a team that allowed 52 points to South Florida, 49 to Houston, 41 to Rice and 57 to Tulsa.
Only four starters are back on that UTEP defense. The Miners have been outscored 266-100 in the past three years vs. ranked teams (five games). And it’s not like Stoops will need to pull Jones early because OU plays another cupcake, Florida A&M, the following week before a bye. Stoops might want to give his starters plenty of minutes with that early week off. Give the points and take the over, no matter where the total opens.
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