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If Luck is a Heisman finalist, he'll probably end up spending some quality time in Manhattan with Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. Don't expect them to go clubbing. One is an admitted nerd (Luck), the other an aspiring minister. Jones will excel in that calling if he can sling scripture half as well as he throws a football. His 405 completions led the nation last season; his 4,718 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes were second. And his confidence is high right now, as demonstrated by his June marriage proposal to Oklahoma's star shooting guard, Whitney Hand. While this is clearly his team, Jones and his teammates will be playing this season for the memory of a fallen comrade.
Jones and eight other Sooners were on a mission trip to Haiti in May when news reached them that their teammate Austin Box had died. A savvy linebacker with a history of injuries at Oklahoma, Box died tragically as the result of mixing five painkillers and an antianxiety medication, none of which had been prescribed to him.
He and fellow linebacker Travis Lewis came to Norman on the same recruiting visit, played together and shared the same major, sociology. Lewis gave Box grief for his mullet; Box informed Lewis that a guy with a Mohawk didn't have a lot of room to talk.
As a reward at the end of video sessions, defensive coordinator Brent Venables lets his guys choose a short video to watch. Among their favorites: YouTube snippets of coaches melting down. Box was partial to a 2003 clip of a semicrazed Les Miles, then the headman at Oklahoma State, declaring in the moments before a kickoff, "Let 'er rip!"
That was how Box played. He let 'er rip. "He wasn't the fastest guy—he'd torn up his knee," Lewis recalls. "He wasn't going to blow you away in the weight room. But he had great instincts. He just knew where the ball was going to be. Every team has to have a player like that."
As of mid-August the Sooners were batting around several ideas for honoring Box. One possibility: Every Saturday this season one Oklahoma defender will honor Box by wearing a jersey with his number, 12.
Should the Sooners run the table, should Stoops and his crew make their fifth BCS title game in 12 years, and should they win it all, it will be on account of the 15 returning starters and the dazzling play of Jones. And it will have happened because an already close team drew closer still in its determination to honor the memory of a friend.
Quick, which of the Big Ten's newfangled divisions is your school in? Legends or Leaders?
Marcel Jones, Nebraska's starting right tackle, pauses before answering, "I think we're Legends."
Dude, say it with conviction!