Two months ago, this might have sounded slightly insane, but let this be a lesson in how quickly fortunes can change: Quarterback Landry Jones is returning for his senior season at Oklahoma, and in this case, frankly, the decision wasn't very tough.
At least, it shouldn't have been. From a strictly business perspective, Jones' stock crashed hard over the last month of the regular season, right alongside his team's. When Texas A&M arrived in Norman on Nov. 5, the Sooners were 6-1, ranked sixth in the BCS standings and still had a BCS championship squarely in their sights. Jones remained a fixture on Heisman lists as the steady, veteran captain of an offense averaging 46 points per game, and was still holding his own in the top 10 of most mock drafts.
By Dec. 5, Oklahoma had dropped two of its last three games to close the regular season, Jones had gone an entire month without a touchdown pass and both team and quarterback alike had been embarrassed in a 44-10 rout at the hands of Oklahoma State. That night in Stillwater was arguably the worst of Jones' career, but by then, his slide on draft boards in favor of Matt Barkley and fast-rising Robert Griffin III was already well underway. He didn't do anything to reverse the tide in a 16-of-25, 161-yard performance in the Sooners' Insight Bowl bowl win over Iowa. Even with Barkley's decision to return to USC, Jones was probably looking at a late first-round projection, at best — a multimillion-dollar tumble from where he'd been sitting a few weeks before.
But the news is unquestionably good for Oklahoma: As hard as Jones fell at the end of the year, his return instantly establishes the Sooners as BCS frontrunners in 2012, and restores his name to the Heisman short list. He already owns school records for passing yards and touchdowns by wide margins. He'll clearly miss his record-breaking target, Ryan Broyles, whose absence down the stretch was all too apparent after he went down with a season-ending knee injury against A&M, but he'll still have a pair of dynamic deep threats in Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, whose knack for the spectacular should yield to steadier, more reliable roles in their third year in the offense.
He'll have the leading rusher, Dominique Whaley, who was also sorely missed down the stretch after blowing out his knee at Kansas State. He'll have four-fifths of the offensive line that started against Iowa in the bowl game. And he'll have eight months to get them back into the fighting shape on display in the October routs over Texas and K-State.
Of course, that also means he'll face the same pressure this year that he faced last year as the face of the No. 1 team in the nation going into the season. Oklahoma won't be tabbed for the top of the preseason polls this time — that distinction will go to either USC or the winner of Monday night's Alabama-LSU rematch — but the critics who cast Jones as just another big, competent guy in an up-tempo system designed to exploit a defensively challenged conference will only be louder after the last championship bid fell apart. If he doesn't make good on the hype this time, as a fourth-year starter, there are no more chances on the other end.