(Editor's Note: This is first in a series of articles previewing the 2010 season for the Oklahoma Sooners.)
When previewing the Oklahoma Sooners' quarterback situation prior to the 2009 season, I hit the "easy button" for a short analysis. Sadly, it turned out to be tellingly prophetic, if not overly optimistic.
When Sam Bradford went down in the first half of game one, the whole calculus of Oklahoma's season changed. Rather than living up one last round-up with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Sooner Nation was asking untested redshirt freshman Landry Jones to fill his shoes.
How Jones performed depends on what prism you want to view his season through. He finished 20th in the country in passing yards (3,198) and 13th in touchdown passes with 26. Bear in mind that of OU's 13 games, Jones essentially played 11 as the first-team quarterback, so most of the national leaders had at least a two game lead on him.
On the other hand, 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 130.82 will never fly for a team that expects to compete for conference titles and national championships. Neither will implosions like Jones' five-pick night in OU's 10-3 loss to Nebraska.
The skeptics looking for reason to knock Jones could simply stand the 'Stache's stats up against those of Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy in their rookie seasons. Both started as redshirt freshmen and went on to decorated careers in the Big 12.
The laggard of the group is easy to spot. Looking at those numbers, I can't say I blame those who have already decided to dismiss the idea that Jones will ever be a top-flight college quarterback.
I'd advise looking a little deeper into the numbers before jumping to any conclusions. Jones was thrown into a situation that would have been daunting for any young quarterback, top-notch signal callers such as McCoy and Bradford included.
First, OU played a brutal schedule in '09. Jones' two worst games in '09 came against Nebraska and Texas, which ranked 1st and 10th, respectively, in pass efficiency defense nationally. Five of OU's '09 opponents ranked in the top 40 nationally.
For comparison's sake, Bradford didn't face one pass defense of that caliber as a redshirt freshman. In his first season, McCoy faced one team that ranked in the top 10 in pass D, Ohio State, and put on an unimpressive throwing display. On average, the teams Jones played last year had a pass efficiency defense ranking of 50 nationally, versus 62 for McCoy and 83 for Bradford.
Had Jones' predecessors faced similar competition in their first year to what Jones saw, how would they have fared?
OU's run game didn't do the 'Stache any favors, either. The Sooners gained just 3.6 yards per carry in '09 (90th overall), down more than a full yard from the previous season. OU ran for fewer than 100 yards in five of 13 games, including a stunningly awful output of -16 yards against Texas.
Note, for instance, that Oklahoma averaged 3.93 yards per rush on first down last year, good for 94th in the country. As such, running the ball on first down was an ineffective way to put OU's offense in favorable situations on later downs. That translated into plenty of obvious passing downs for Jones and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
Additionally, OU's receiving corps often looked like they were trying to intentionally sabotage Jones. Aside from stud Ryan Broyles, who played part of the year limited by a broken shoulder blade, none of OU's receivers developed into consistent performers, let alone threats. Open Sooner receivers dropped so many passes that you'd have thought a pissed-off equipment guy had dipped the game balls in grease.
Factor in that Jones didn't spend the preseason preparing as OU's starting quarterback, and it becomes clear that comparing Jones in his first year against guys like McCoy and Bradford just isn't fair.
Now that we have a little distance from last season, Jones' overall body of work looks about like what we could reasonably expect. Did he give OU fans reason to think he will reach a Bradford-like level of greatness in his career? Obviously not.
But he didn't give them reason to believe he can't be a very good college QB, either.