The best thing about preseason guru/savant Phil Steele's labyrinthine summer magazines, aside from their jampacked! comprehensiveness, is his willingness to project: Where most polls fall overwhelmingly into assuming this year will be pretty much like last year, Steele's "power rankings" and wonky indicators send him out on dozens of strange, shaky limbs on an annual basis, some of them prescient (Arkansas as a top-15 team in 2006, Georgia as a national pretender in 2008), some of them doomed from the start (Boston College as last-place flop in the ACC Coastal in 2007, Notre Dame as a top-10/BCS team last year). This year, we'll get to see where Steele's anointing of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as a first-team All-American falls on that spectrum.
Of course, outsized hype ahead of production is nothing new for Pryor, whose inevitable leap from talented but green young 'un to a loping wielder of death a la Vince Young has been lurking just around the next corner from the moment he signed on as the most hyped prospect in the country (here as much as anywhere else). He got the same speculative summer love last year, on a smaller scale, when the Big Ten media voted him as the conference's preseason Offensive Player of the Year on the basis of a promising but restrained debut in 2008. That projection fell a little short, to say the least, as Pryor's passer rating dropped by almost 20 points from his freshman number and both team and quarterback faced an existential crisis after a midseason loss at Purdue. If you asked Big Ten media and coaches at the end of the year, they'd have taken Northwestern's Mike Kafka as an All-American before they'd take Pryor.
Frankly, though, somebody had to do it. Along with Alabama and Boise State, everyone seems to agree that Ohio State is one of the few members of the exceedingly tiny club of frontrunners for the national championship this year, an easy conclusion to reach as the hyped 2008 recruiting class hits maturity and the perceived big-game curse begins to dissipate in the wake of three wins over top-10 opponents in the last four games of 2009. Pryor, obviously, is the central figure in that optimism, especially after turning in the best game of his career in the Rose Bowl win over Oregon. If the Buckeyes' 6-0 run following the Purdue flop was a prelude to a more experienced team finding its footing for a serious title run this fall, the same should be said for their immensely gifted offensive leader as he hits the defining stretch of his career as a junior. It makes sense in lieu of an actual crystal ball.
But it still begs the question: When it comes to feting a guy who's only looked like a legitimate All-American in maybe three or four of his 23 career starts, shouldn't we have to see it before we can vote it?