Ohio State was already planning to take the field this September without quarterback Terrelle Pryor, thanks to a five-game suspension mandated by the NCAA, and began to brace for worse when the NCAA opened up an independent investigation last week into Pryor's noted affinity for dealer-owned vehicles. So at least they weren't blindsided Tuesday afternoon when the worst came: Pryor will skip his final year of eligibility this fall and move on to the NFL.
"In the best interest of my teammates, I have made the decision to forego [sic] my senior year of football at the Ohio State University," Pryor said in a statement through his attorney, Larry James, who also said he expected Pryor to enter the NFL's supplemental draft. Athletic director Gene Smith and interim head coach Luke Fickell also issued statements with the usual well wishes, and Smith said he hoped Pryor would return to OSU to complete his degree at some point in the future.
Pryor's exit comes just nine days after the departure of embattled head coach Jim Tressel, who was also facing at least a five-game suspension this fall, and their tarnished legacies in Columbus may never be untangled. Pryor was Tressel's most prized recruit, a top-ranked blue chip whose size and athleticism drew explicit comparisons to former Texas legend Vince Young. And even without hosannas from pro scouts or All-America teams, Pryor was on track to fulfill most of the hype going into his senior year. He was entrenched at the top of the depth chart barely a month into his true freshman season, was 31-5 as a starter without missing a game over the next three years and led the Buckeyes to at least a share of three straight Big Ten championships, all good for BCS bowl bids.
As a junior, he finished in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency, led the Big Ten in touchdown passes and was the best player on an offense that easily averaged more points per game (38.8) than any other team in Tressel's decade-long tenure. He turned in the best performance of his career in a 26-17 win over Oregon that snapped the Buckeyes' three-game BCS losing streak in the 2010 Rose Bowl, and his second-best performance in a 31-26 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas that snapped the Buckeyes' nine-game losing streak against the SEC. As a senior, the sky remained the limit.
But Pryor's very presence in the Sugar Bowl — along with three other starters found guilty of selling jerseys, championship rings and other memorabilia to a Columbus tattoo dealer who later found himself under federal scrutiny for drug trafficking — left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone involved, and foreshadowed their fall. Within months, Tressel had been outed for covering up knowledge of Pryor's violations months before the start of the 2010 season, the NCAA had formally charged Ohio State with major allegations and Tressel was preparing himself to fall on the sword. Pryor, the face of the program, was painted as arrogant, entitled and indifferent to boundaries. Even before Tuesday, it was apparent his college career was likely over once the NCAA was done looking into his steady succession of new vehicles.
Now, it's official: Ohio State can hand the reins to one of the four quarterbacks already vying to become Pryor's temporary stand-in, and Pryor can embark on the next phase of his career as a very promising but raw wide receiver or tight end prospect at the next level. If he does enter the supplemental draft, he'll be the most high-profile player there in at least 20 years. But as a Buckeye, his legacy will always be one of what might have been.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.