Say you have a vote for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. (We're talking about the preseason version here, so pretty much anyone is qualified.) Last year's winner, Wisconsin battering ram John Clay, is back on the ballot after leading the conference by a mile with 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns. So is the other first-team tailback, Penn State's Evan Royster. Both first-team receivers are gone, as are the first and second-team quarterbacks. It's a no-brainer, right?
Well, yeah. But not for John Clay:
CHICAGO - Terrelle Pryor led the Ohio State football team to victory in the Rose Bowl in January. That win, coupled with the Buckeyes' domination of the Big Ten the past half-decade led to an obvious choice Monday.
Pryor was named the Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season and the Buckeyes were, again, chosen to win the league by a panel of the media.
Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, one of the best defensive players in the country a year ago, was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. It is the first time since 1998 that the offensive and defensive Players of the Year were the same as the season before.
If you're experiencing déja vu, it's because the same media tabbed then-sophomore Pryor in the same position last season over returning first-team quarterback Daryll Clark, only to watch the league's most hyped up-and-comer struggle mightily in a low-scoring home loss to USC in September, cough up four turnovers in a sobering loss at Purdue and stagger in with only the eighth-best efficiency rating among regular Big Ten starters.
By the end of the year, coach Jim Tressel seemed to be keeping its phenom as close to the sweatervest as possible with a Big Ten title at stake: In the Buckeyes' four biggest regular season wins – over Wisconsin in October and Penn State, Iowa and Michigan down the stretch – Pryor put up a grand total of 64 passes, completing roughly half of them for an average of 93 yards per game. Even with Pryor adding more than 700 yards on the ground and OSU sitting alone atop the final standings, both the coaches' and media's all-conference teams passed on Terrelle in favor of Daryll Clark and, on the second team, Northwestern's Mike Kafka. By their own judgment, then, the preseason hotness was in reality no better than the third-best quarterback in the league, and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien would have had their own say in that countdown.
But preseason polls are based on projections, not resumés. And the biggest difference in this year's unproven hype and last year's is the brief taste of a confident, unfettered Pryor as the main course in the Rose Bowl. Finally taking the reins in his 23rd start, Pryor passed or carried the ball himself on 57 of the Buckeyes' 88 offensive snaps and accounted for just over 80 percent of the team's 419 total yards, establishing new career-highs for attempts (37) and yards (266) on the biggest stage of his career; he also added 72 yards on 20 carries for good measure to secure the game's MVP award.
That little taste alone of Pryor as a ripe, veteran centerpiece was apparently too tantalizing for the critics to even bother with the bland offerings that preceded it, lingering into this season as reminder that there's still plenty of time for everything to come together. If they're wrong again this time, though, the hype reserves will have to be getting close to empty.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.