Commentary

Landry Jones' fall from superstardom

Originally Published: September 25, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

This week's top 20:

20. Whatever happened to ...

Landry Jones.

This isn't going to be a bash session of the Oklahoma senior quarterback. He's getting enough of that from OU followers -- the same followers who probably cheered when Jones announced he was returning to Norman for his senior season.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma QB Landry Jones did not look comfortable versus Kansas State.

But Jones is clearly not the same quarterback he was in 2010 and for chunks of the 2011 season. His numbers prove it. His -- how did the Kansas State defensive players put it? -- "jabbing" feet -- prove it too.

Jones himself said his uneven, error-filled play against K-State at home Saturday night cost OU the game. He underthrew and overthrew receivers. He made poor decisions. Simply put, he seemed to freak out at times.

Wildcats defensive end Adam Davis said afterward that Jones doesn't "deal with pressure … that he'd start jabbing his feet anytime we got close."

K-State linebacker Justin Tuggle, a former quarterback himself, said Jones was "a great quarterback … but we knew if we put some pressure on him he may turn the ball over."

And Jones did exactly that. There was a costly fumble. An interception. And there were missed throws to open OU receivers.

Jones isn't THE reason why the Sooners lost to K-State for the first time at home since 1997. Or why a BCS bowl becomes a much more difficult proposition. OU's defense played an uneven game dotted with key errors, too. And there are issues with the OU offensive line.

But I wonder what those six NFL scouts in the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium press box (one of the few places where there wasn't an invasion of crickets) thought as they watched Jones that night. A season ago, Jones threw for 505 yards against K-State. He entered the 2012 season as a legitimate Heisman candidate.

And now?

19. Jones: Part II

OU coach Bob Stoops has a long history of defending Jones. That's fine. The ninth most-prolific passer in FBS history (13,151 career passing yards) has earned that loyalty from Stoops.

But within the walls of the Sooners' football offices there have to be concerns about Jones' ability to produce in big moments. And if not concerns, then at least the acknowledgment that something isn't right.

Stoops described Jones' performance against K-State as "not very well overall." He could have said the same thing about his entire team -- and he sort of did.

The popular theory among Jones observers is that he hasn't been the same since star wide receiver Ryan Broyles injured his knee last November against Texas A&M. But this is 2012 and Broyles is a rookie with the Detroit Lions now.

Oklahoma will have opportunities to work its way back into the BCS bowl conversation. The Sooners have key games at Texas Tech, in Dallas against Texas, home against Notre Dame, home against Baylor, in Morgantown against West Virginia, home against Oklahoma State and in Fort Worth against TCU.

But it will take a much better Jones -- and a better everything from the Sooners -- to turn opportunity into a bowl game that matters.

"We are not where we need to be by any stretch of the imagination and anywhere where we're capable of being," said OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.

They might want to start soon.

18. Heisman Trophy race

Seated in the front row at Best Buy Theater:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireGeno Smith continues to pile up numbers and he shouldn't slow down against Baylor this week.

• West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith -- The former art academy candidate is now the early season Heisman leader. Smith leads the country in Points Responsible For (an eye-popping 26 per game). He'll pile up the stats against Baylor, ranked 113th in total defense.

• Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein -- From now on, no more BMOC comparisons to Tim Tebow. Klein is his own guy and his own Heisman candidate. Klein doesn't put up "Madden" numbers, but it doesn't matter. At the end of the game, win or lose for K-State, you know how important he is to the outcome.

• Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller -- You think the Buckeyes have struggled this season? Just think what it would be like if Miller wasn't playing so well.

• Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel -- The BMOC keeps its promises. Said if Manuel had an impressive game against Clemson, he'd get a seat. His numbers in the win: 27-of-35 for 380 yards and two TDs and 102 yards rushing. Yeah, that works.

Keep a coat and tie handy:

• UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin -- He had a semi-clunker game in the loss against Oregon State, but he's still the fourth-leading rusher in the country. And it's not as though Oregon State is a bunch of goobers. The Beavers are second nationally in rushing defense.

• Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas -- His numbers weren't much against Arizona, so he drops off the short list. But it's nothing personal.

• South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore -- Beginning to assert himself. His Heisman chances will be determined by his October performances against Georgia, at LSU and at Florida.

• Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell -- Huge numbers (253 yards) against the worst rush defense in the country (Eastern Michigan). But right now, he's basically all the Spartans have got on offense. We'll see how he does against Ohio State this week.

Semi-sleepers:

• Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones -- One sack, seven tackles (three for losses) in win against Vandy.

• Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- Two interceptions, forced another one and had eight tackles.

• USC quarterback Matt Barkley -- Another sub-200-yard passing game and two more interceptions (and two TDs, though, in win against Cal). But I just can't drop him off the list yet.

• Clemson running back Andre Ellington -- Love how hard he plays. And he played hard in loss against FSU.

Thanks for stopping by the booth:

• Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson -- Gave Robinson a second Heisman chance, but he flopped against Notre Dame.

17. Prediction come true

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Melina Vastola/US PresswireFSU scored 35 second-half points against Clemson.

No, it wasn't anything I said. I rarely get anything right.

But Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was spot on when he said the Tigers had better tighten up against Florida State -- or else.

"They'll break the scoreboard … if we don't play better and more consistent," Venables said following Clemson's win against Furman.

The scoreboard at Doak Campbell still works, but Clemson's defense didn't. FSU's numbers: 667 total yards, 8-of-13 on third down conversions and 49 points scored (35 in the second half) in the win.

Clemson's offense is a gas to watch, but the Tigers won't win anything that matters with a defense ranked 93rd in the country.

16. BMOP (Big Man On Podium)

"We just looked like we were frozen out there."

-- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz to reporters after Central Michigan recovered an onside kick with 45 seconds left to play. CMU drove to the Hawkeyes' 30-yard line and kicked a game-winning, 47-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining.

According to the Des Moines Register's Mark Emmert, the onside kick play was called, "Houdini," and had never been executed successfully by Central Michigan in a game.

And it wasn't as if the play was a surprise to Iowa. CMU ran it three times in all in the same sequence (the first attempt ended when the wind blew the ball off the tee; the second attempt [recovered by Iowa] was nullified by a CMU delay of game call; the third attempt was recovered by CMU as Iowa players appeared mesmerized by the bouncing ball.

15. BMOP -- Runner up

"They [fans] were putting the last shovel of dirt on us. It definitely was a different team this week."

-- Colorado coach Jon Embree, to the Denver Post, after the Buffs overcame a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Pullman to beat Washington State for CU's first victory of the season. A week earlier, Colorado had been humiliated by Fresno State 69-14, and the week before that, stunned by FCS member Sacramento State.

14. BMOP -- Honorable mention

"Just don't trust Coach Patterson or Coach Shannon -- we've never coached any football or linebackers before. Jiminy Christmas. You know why I'm losing weight? Fifteen freshmen."

-- A sarcastic Gary Patterson as the TCU head coach lamented (to the Dallas Morning News) the checklist of mistakes made by his first-year players, especially his young linebackers coached by Randy Shannon, in the win against Virginia. According to Patterson, the Horned Frogs have played 15 true freshmen and about a dozen more redshirt freshmen. Still, TCU is 3-0.

13. Miramar to Morgantown

Winner of the cut-and-paste sentence in the 2012 West Virginia media guide?

Coached by former Mountaineer Damon Cogdell at Miramar High.

There are six players in the WVU program who played for Cogdell at the South Florida high school, including Smith and star wide receiver Stedman Bailey. This has to be some sort of out-of-state record, right?

Cogdell played linebacker for the Mountaineers in the late 1990s.

12. The picks

[+] EnlargeOregon State
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUCLA wasn't a bad pick, but Oregon State would have been a better one.

It's like Bill Rutherford telling Joel Goodson in "Risky Business": "You've done some very solid work here, but it isn't quite Ivy League, is it?"

That's how I feel about last week's picks. Solid, but not Princeton material.

I knew Oklahoma had issues, but I couldn't pull the upset trigger on K-State over the Sooners at Memorial Stadium. Klein made me pay for it.

The UCLA-over-Oregon State pick? Zero regrets. The Bruins are good, the Beavers were better. That's how it goes.

This week's choices:

Stanford over Washington, West Virginia over Baylor, Penn State over Illinois, Texas A&M over Arkansas, Georgia over Tennessee, Ohio State over Michigan State, Texas over Oklahoma State, Nebraska over Wisconsin, Alabama over Ole Miss, Virginia Tech over Cincinnati, North Carolina State over Miami, Arizona State over Cal.

(Last week's record: 11-2. Overall: 53-14.)

11. Why Vegas sends a limo for me

Well, I nailed it on the BYU-Boise State prediction. Took the Cougars and said, "I like their chances of putting up some points."

BYU put up some points, all right. Six of them. The Cougars almost had as many turnovers (five) as actual points. So thanks, fellas, for that 7-6 loss to Boise.

As for this week's Upset Special decision-making process, I thought hard about: Baylor over West Virginia (Baylor has an extra day to prepare, quarterback Nick Florence played mostly well against Louisiana-Monroe, the Mountaineers might glance ahead to the big Oct. 6 game at Texas) … Oklahoma State over Texas (I'm willing to take a flyer with the game at Stillwater. J.W. Walsh isn't Wes Lunt, but he's a tough dude.).

Went With: Arizona over Oregon State.

The game is in Tucson. The Beavers will be on the road a second consecutive week. I don't figure on Rich Rod getting shut out two games in a row. That said, Oregon State has showed a real toughness this season. But I'll take my chances.

(Last week's record: 0-1. Overall: 1-3.)

10. This is not a misprint

It's true: Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke set a Division I record Saturday when he passed for 730 yards in ODU's 64-61 win against New Hampshire. I repeat, 730 yards, which is only four fewer yards than the combined season passing totals of Army, New Mexico and Air Force.

Heinicke, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Atlanta, was 55-of-79 for those 730 yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the victory. Meanwhile, New Hampshire's secondary is being treated for shock.

By the way, I don't care if Heinicke plays for an FCS program. The man threw for more than 4/10ths of a mile in a single football game. He's going to get some BMOC love for that.

"At the end of the third quarter I was sitting on the bench with my quarterback coach, coach [Ron] Whitcomb, and we looked up at the scoreboard and there was a stat thing and it said 499 yards passing and I was like, 'What the heck? Almost at 500 and there's still the fourth quarter to play,"' Heinicke told the Associated Press.

Asked after the game if he had a sore arm, Heinicke told reporters, "Absolutely."

9. The mighty MAC

If you're keeping count -- and they are in the Mid-American Conference -- MAC teams beat four different leagues Saturday.

It beat a Big Ten member (Central Michigan over Iowa), a Big 12 member (Northern Illinois over Kansas), a MEAC member (Ohio over Norfolk State) and two Big East members (Western Michigan over UConn, Ball State over South Florida).

8. BMOC player of the week

The finalists: TCU wide receiver Brandon Carter (five catches, 128 yards and a one-handed, Megatron-like touchdown catch that you have to YouTube); Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (10 catches, 303 yards, three TDs); South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw (20 completions in a row in the blowout of Mizzou); Western Michigan linebacker Desmond Bozeman (12 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble return for a TD); K-State's Klein (229 passing/rushing yards, one TD, no interceptions in upset of Oklahoma); Michigan State's Bell (career high 253 rushing yards in win against Eastern Michigan); West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin (13 catches, 179 yards, three TDs); Notre Dame's Te'o (eight tackles, two INTs); Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson (7 TDs versus Hawaii); Old Dominion's Heinicke; Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion (24-of-35 for 379 yards and two TDs in upset against UCLA).

And the winner is … Heinicke.

7. BMOC coach of the week

The finalists: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly (thin secondary, mushrooming quarterback controversy … no problem!); K-State's Snyder; Oregon's Chip Kelly (somebody sure had his staff and players prepared for Arizona); Minnesota's Jerry Kill (with win against Syracuse, the Golden Gophers are 4-0 for the first time since 2008); Central Michigan's Dan Enos (the former Michigan State assistant leaves Kinnick Stadium with miracle win against Iowa).

And the winner is … Enos.

6. BMOC flop of the week

The finalists: Iowa (Hawkeyes give up nine points in 45 seconds to lose to Central Michigan); Kansas (Jayhawks give up 17 fourth-quarter points to lose to Northern Illinois); Arkansas (I'm not even sure you can call the Hogs' loss to Rutgers an upset these days); Washington State (I know Wazzu is in the rebuilding stage, but a home loss to then-0-3 Colorado?); Utah (a week after the Utes won an emotional game against rival BYU, they suffered a classic letdown against Arizona State, losing by 30); Georgia Tech (down by 19 to Miami in the first quarter, up by 17 in the third quarter, up by 7 late in the fourth quarter -- and lose in OT).

And the winner is … Iowa.

5. If there were a playoff

(And there will be in two more years …)

Shoulder Pad Bracket:

Alabama vs. Notre Dame

You think that game would be a sellout? Pope Benedict might have to use the Ticket Oak to get seats.

Chin Strap Bracket:

Georgia vs. Florida

The SEC Championship Jr.

4. Savannah State -- the few, the proud, the 0-3

I wish the news were better for America's favorite punching bag, but it isn't.

After dropping wayyyyyy down in weight, from their paycheck games at Oklahoma State (84-0) and at Florida State (55-0, thanks to a weather-related mercy rule), the Tigers faced fellow MEAC and FCS member North Carolina Central on Saturday night.

And lost, 45-33.

Savannah State actually had the lead two times, but then gave up 28 consecutive points in the second half. And that was that.

Tough day for SSU coach Steve Davenport. His team remained winless (the Tigers had more penalty yardage than rushing yardage). The team he played for in the late 1980s, Georgia Tech, lost in overtime to Miami. And the coach he played for at Georgia Tech, Bill Curry (who is in his final season at Georgia State), just fell to 0-4 with a loss to Richmond.

3. Rolling Tide

Florida Atlantic defensive end Cory Henry wasn't necessarily wrong when he told the Palm Beach Post last week that Alabama "ain't what people think. They're good and everything, but they can [be] beat, too."

[+] EnlargeAlabama defense
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesAlabama continues to roll along on the strength of its defense, even if they finally gave up a touchdown against FAU.

He's right; they can be beat -- just not by Florida Atlantic and not by anybody soon.

The best chance for a Bama loss: Nov. 3 at LSU. Other than that, I'm not getting too excited about this week's Ole Miss game, or the Oct. 13 game at Missouri (Nick Saban with two weeks to prepare? Mizzou is doomed.), or the annual Third Saturday game against Tennessee (though, it's in Knoxvegas). The Mississippi State game in Tuscaloosa has some potential, though here's guessing the Tide will be double-digit favorites against the Cowbells.

No, the Mad Hatter, the Tigers and a home crowd that will have the entire day to, uh, self-medicate itself will be Alabama's ultimate test.

LSU-Bama has become what Florida-Florida State, Texas-Oklahoma and Michigan-Ohio State used to be: a game that helps define who plays for a national championship. And if you kept a stat for Most Helmet Paint Traded, LSU-Bama would lead the country.

Can LSU beat the Crimson Tide? Does Mike the Tiger have stripes?

Bama was 2 minutes and 50 seconds away from a third consecutive shutout when FAU scored on a 6-yard TD pass. (FAU converted two fourth-down tries and had its only third-down conversion of the day on the drive. Of the Owls' 110 total yards, 75 came on the scoring drive.) Too bad. It would have been the first time since 1966 that the Tide went goose eggs on three straight opponents.

Oh, well. Bama still hasn't trailed in regulation since last October. That's 10 games and counting. And since 2008, nobody has as many shutouts (eight) as the Tide. And since 2000, nobody has held teams to nine or fewer points as often as Bama (63).

By the way, Henry finished with two tackles against Bama.

2. Two-liners

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel might need a pain-killing shot of his own if the Tigers keep vanishing when it counts in SEC play. Mizzou disappeared late in the SEC home opener against the old men of Georgia and then, in its SEC road debut against South Carolina, was down 21-3 before the bands warmed up for halftime. … The loneliest wide receivers on the planet play for Army, which ranks dead last in passing offense (120th). No Black Knights WR has caught a touchdown pass since last Oct. 29 and it wasn't until Saturday's loss at Wake Forest that Army threw its first TD of the season … The program that John L. Smith ditched for Arkansas -- his alma mater Weber State -- is 0-4 after losing its homecoming game Saturday night to Eastern Washington. Then again, Smith's Hogs have as many FBS wins as Weber State this season. … Cause and effect: Without fifth-year senior center Khaled Holmes at center, USC rushed for 26 yards in the Sept. 15 loss at Stanford. With Holmes in the lineup, the Trojans had 296 rushing yards in Saturday's win against Cal. … Cause and effect, Part II: USC finally has a place-kicker again. Andre Heidari returned from knee surgery and kicked a 40-yarder and a 41-yarder in the win against Cal. … It'll never happen, but the conference commissioners and BCS power brokers tinkering with the details of a playoff selection committee ought to consider something different, like adding a former coach, as well as a media member. For the media member, I nominate former Boston Globe college football writer Mark Blaudschun -- a pro's pro.

1. The BMOC Top 10

No. 10: Kansas State (4-0)
Next: Bye week, then Kansas on Oct. 6.
Bill Snyder cracks me up. He's so out, he's in. Snyder and his staff did impressive work against OU.

No. 9: South Carolina (4-0)
Next: at Kentucky.
Connor Shaw would have gone 21-of-21 in pass completions, but he missed on his first attempt. Slacker.

No. 8: LSU (4-0)
Next: Towson.
Beating Auburn at Jordan-Hare is no small thing. But given how ordinary Auburn is this season, it's no big thing, either -- especially sandwiched between games against winless Idaho and FCS member Towson.

No. 7: Oregon (4-0)
Next: at Washington State
Ducks fans, don't get your shorts in a bunch over the ranking. Think of 2-7 almost as interchangeable. The shutout of Arizona was impressive, as were those 36 points in the final 30 minutes. But the back half of Oregon's schedule is much tougher than the front end.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesEJ Manuel has Florida State poised to make a run at the national title this season.

No. 6: Florida State (4-0)
Next: at South Florida.
If Ball State, which lost to Clemson by 25 points, can beat South Florida, what do you think the Seminoles are going to do to USF?

No. 5: Stanford (3-0)
Next: at Washington.
Cardinal have had a leisurely 12 days to prepare for U Dub. Pac-12 surprise of the year: Stanford secondary is actually, well, pretty good.

No. 4: Notre Dame (4-0)
Next: Bye week, then Miami on Oct. 6 in Chicago.
The Irish are thinking of bagging the ACC agreement and instead scheduling an entire season's worth of games against teams from Michigan. In the past two weeks, ND has outscored Sparty and Michigan Men by a combined 33-9.

No. 3: Florida (4-0)
Next: Bye week, then LSU on Oct. 6.
In swimming, they call this tapering down: train hard (the Gators won at Texas A&M and Tennessee), then curtail the workouts (38-0 win against Kentucky, the Gators' 26th in a row against the Wildcats), then rest before the big meet (LSU in early October).

No. 2: Georgia (4-0)
Next: Tennessee.
OK, so maybe that win at Mizzou in Week 2 wasn't such a huge deal, after all. But I've got a soft spot for pooches, plus the Dawgs have scored 40-plus points in each of their victories. UGA is 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

No. 1: Alabama (4-0)
Next: Ole Miss.
AJ McCarron is getting the hang of this quarterback thing. He has 10 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in Bama's first four games. He had 16 TDs all of last season. And here's guessing the Tide's first-team defense is mildly steamed that the subs (five true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen were on the field for Bama) gave up a touchdown that ended Bama's absurdly impressive 12-quarter shutout streak.

(Five on the fringe: USC, Oregon State, West Virginia, Texas, Ohio State.)

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter