June 08, 2011
Terrelle Pryor is inseparable from the hype that unfurled in front of him like a red carpet as the most coveted recruit in America three years ago, and now that he is officially a former Ohio State quarterback, it makes very little sense to put his career in any other context. As a Big Ten quarterback, in general, yes, he was good. As a junior, in fact, he was very good, putting up a top-10 efficiency rating with a conference-high 27 touchdown passes for one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.
He was the most recognizable player on a top-five, Big Ten championship team and the MVP of a BCS bowl win for the second consecutive season. He was 31-4 as a starter. He was 3-0 against Michigan.
As the second coming of Vince Young, on the other hand, the resumé is more notable for what it's missing. Unlike his oft-referenced doppelganger from Texas, Pryor never lifted his team to a national championship. Unlike his predecessor at Ohio State, Troy Smith, Pryor never won the Heisman or led the Buckeyes into the BCS Championship Game. He was rarely free to hit the gas in easy wins, and either wasn't allowed to or wasn't able to against any truly elite opponent. In fact, as far as elite opponents go, he never started a game against a team that finished the season ranked higher than seventh in the final AP poll, and three of the four losses he suffered as a starter came at the hands of teams that finished in the top ten. He never played in an Ohio State-Michigan game that meant anything beyond avoiding an upset at the hands of a down-on-its-luck rival.
As impressive as he often was, Pryor was never the loping wielder of death Buckeye fans imagined, in the mold of Young or Cam Newton, who showed up at Auburn last year with the same size, speed and hype and immediately delivered the triumphant season everyone had been predicting for the other No. 2 all along. (As far as we know right now, Newton also managed to beat the scandal rap that Pryor could not en route to the top of the NFL Draft, whereas Terrelle is now hoping to catch on as a wide receiver or tight end through the supplemental route.) Pryor never appeared on an All-America team, or was considered very seriously for one. And in spite of the great expectations of Big Ten media, which voted him the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year before both his sophomore and junior seasons, he failed to earn so much as a second-team all-conference nod at the end of either one. He was inconsistent.
But then, we knew that. The new part in recounting Pryor's resumé — the hard part for anyone who was ever anxious to see him at least scrape the ceiling of his potential — is the past tense. With his original suspension in December and now his premature exit from Columbus, a story that had been about growth and progress now ends in disappointment, abruptly, at the exact moment he should be putting everything together for a rousing final act.
Last season may not have qualified as a breakthrough, but it was by far Pryor's best, and set him up to return this fall as the senior leader of a senior-laden lineup featuring at least ten other starters from the hyped recruiting class that Pryor headlined back in 2008. The 2011Buckeyes, like the 2010 edition, could have been a contender — an older, more determined contender better equipped to avoid the single stumble that eliminated them from the championship race last year. Instead, two of Pryor's five-star classmates, receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams, will sit out almost half the season, and Pryor's last, best chance to ride into the sunset with all of the school passing records and a few more trophies to go with them becomes a full-fledged rebuilding campaign behind a brand new quarterback.
We're still a long way from grasping the full scope of the off-field chapters of Pryor's college career — the crass memorabilia sales, the relationship with drug-dealing tattoo parlors, the endless supply of cars on loan, the personalized NCAA investigation — which have already helped brought down a great coach and may still help bring down what's left of a great program when the final verdicts are read. For Ohio State fans, that's a shadow their one-time savior will never escape. On a deeper, more fundamental level, though, the real frustration is not only that Pryor didn't finish the job, but that we'll never know if he could have. Even the most maddening of one-year wonders, Maurice Clarett, was essential to delivering a BCS title before his spectacular fall from glory almost a decade ago. Pryor's flame burned longer, but never as bright. Now that it's out, in retrospect, the real disappointment is that he didn't give himself the chance.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.