COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Terrelle Pryor is getting mad. Someone has brought up the dreaded "athlete" label. It's a recruiting term that slots a prospect into a catch-all receptacle.
An "athlete" may not know a first down from a fourth down. He may not be able to read a defense or a book. He may not be able to cover his bed with a sheet, but, boy, he can run, catch and/or throw ...
He's an athlete.
"Someone called me an 'athlete,'" said Ohio State's quarterback, looking like he had swallowed a snail. "I hate that. I know I'm an athlete, but I want to be a quarterback. It's almost an insult."
Pryor was just beginning to open up his heart. The issues are hard to find, anywhere, right now for Ohio State, but they are there, at least inside the helmet and jersey of No. 2. Ohio State might start the season as a consensus No. 2, chasing a record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten title, but the Buckeyes go nowhere without their quarterback, who is one-third Troy Smith/one-third Vince Young and one-third enigma.
"There's just something about it," Pryor said again about the "athlete" reference. "I can throw the hell out of the ball and go run and get yards ..."
"The inference of an athlete," said coach Jim Tressel, sitting a few feet away, "is that he [just] shows up on Saturday."
The further inference is that he does that without working much on the finer points of the game. Pryor, at least in his own mind, is still trying to shoot down any remnants of that perception. And at times, he's doing a bad job of it.
"Last year I was [still] going, 'When do I run? When do I throw? Where's my check downs at? Who do I look off?'"
This is a startling revelation for a Heisman Trophy candidate with two years in the system. Admit it Bucknuts, somewhere deep in the back of your scarlet and gray matter you're wondering whether Pryor's breakout game in the Rose Bowl was a tease or a preview. If it's a tease then we're still left with one-third enigma. If it's a preview, then look out Alabama.
"Now? I think it's more reactive," Pryor said of his game that needs to add sound decision-making to that athleticism. "That's the stage I've been interested in getting to. That's where my troubles were last year. I had a lot of trouble with whether I should wait and stay in the pocket. I think last year I was ... thinking too much."
|Terrelle Pryor ran for 779 yards and seven touchdowns last season. (Getty Images)|
To have a difference maker at the position, even if he's one-third Troy Smith, is huge.
"I really want to be known as a quarterback, as a point guard," said Pryor, who was a renowned hoops prospect in high school as well. "You don't always want him scoring the ball but you want him dishing the ball to the right guys."
The insecurity, at times, shines through. Pryor says, "Coach took a chance on me," even though the quarterback was the No. 1 national recruit 2½ years ago out of Jeanette, Pa. His numbers, and progression, might have been good enough at other places. Not at Ohio State, where he was hailed as an instant savior.
"A young guy was thrown in a little bit earlier, maybe, than any of us planned," Tressel said of 2008, Pryor's freshman season. "A young guy walking into an old huddle."
Tressel would prefer his quarterback not lead the team in rushing again. Pryor has to become more accurate. He admitted that last season's 56.6 percent completion rate was unacceptable.
"Maybe freshman year, you let that slide. I want to have bigger goals. I'd love to have 65, even 70 [percent]. I hate to keep talking it up [but] you have to do it. It's all about decision making," Pryor said. "Now I want to be mentioned with the top guys."
Start in the Big Ten, where Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien was more efficient (143.0 in leading the conference). Michigan State's improving Kirk Cousins was more accurate (60.4 percent). No returning Big Ten quarterback threw for more yards than Indiana's Ben Chappell (2,941).
Then, you realize Pryor is mad at himself, not the haters. He knows he can do it. He knows he's not that "athlete." It's time for the one-third Smith and one-third Young to merge into the savior Ohio State always thought he would become. Sure, Terrelle Pryor wants to be mentioned with the top guys.
In the country.
|Big Ten Quick Hits|
|Best offense: Wisconsin|
|Best defense: Iowa|
|Sleeper team: Michigan State|
|Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa|
|Offensive player: Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State|
|Defensive player: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa|
|Game of the Year: Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 16|
Offensive player of the year
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State: Pryor left everyone (except Oregon) wanting more after his impressive Rose Bowl performance. It's time for T.P. to make that leap to game-to-game consistency. A lot of folks expect Pryor to lead the Bucks to their third championship game in nine years. He looks like Vince Young (bulked up). He sees Smith's Heisman every day when he walks in the football complex. It's time to step up.
Defensive player of the year
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: He has been called the next Ndamukong Suh. Clayborn can have that kind of impact. He certainly is resilient. Clayborn survived a stalker, pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and shunned the NFL for another shot at a championship. With Clayborn, Iowa might have the best defensive line in the country.
Predicted order of finish
1. Ohio State: Load up the bandwagon for a championship run. This is Tressel's best team since the 2002 championship squad. It is strong across the board -- deep at running back, a go-to receiver in DeVier Posey, rock-solid in the front seven. Expect Pryor to step up to the next level, the defense to finish in the top five again and the Bucks to run the table -- unless they lose at Wisconsin. Must-see game: Oct. 16 at Wisconsin. If the Bucks are going to tie their own record of six consecutive Big Ten titles, they have to win this one.
2. Wisconsin: Even with some key losses in the defensive front, this might be the most complete team in the Big Ten. The offense will steamroll you with future pro Gabe Carimi at left tackle. John Clay is about to make it 16 times in the past 18 years a Wisconsin back has run for 1,000 yards. We'll know about the Badgers in back-to-back October weeks against Ohio State and Iowa. Record against those two schools since 2007: 1-5. Must-see game: Oct. 23 at Iowa. Badgers get Buckeyes and Hawkeyes back-to-back. Win both and they might win the Big Ten.
3. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz doesn't get enough credit. Iowa might have the fewest I-A prospects per cornfield of any state. He has to plug in three new starters in the offensive line, but if you're going to be short in one area, that's the place to be short at in Iowa. It churns out quality offensive linemen. Many called the Hawks lucky last year. If Ricky Stanzi stays healthy, they'll be good, too. Must-see game: Nov. 20 vs. Ohio State. Bucks are 11-1 against Iowa since 1992. Time for a breakthrough.
4. Michigan State: Yes, that was Mark Dantonio in the front row for the past two Michigan State Final Fours. Kind of sums up Spartan football -- a face in the crowd. Michigan State is a dark-horse candidate for the Big Ten title, but there always seems to be something holding the program back. This time it's an ugly November brawl that left the program embarrassed and depleted for the Alamo Bowl. The Spartans fought valiantly in a 41-31 loss to Texas Tech that summarized the 2009 Spartans -- a weak defense and surprisingly effective offense. Having Kirk Cousins and his 19 touchdown passes back is huge. All-American linebacker Greg Jones is arguably the nation's best for an otherwise questionable defense. No wonder Jones has been working on his pass drops. Only eight teams were worse against the pass. Must-see game: Oct. 2 vs. Wisconsin. Beat the Badgers this season and Sparty might start 5-0.
|Adrian Clayborn is back, giving Iowa the best defense in the conference. (Getty Images)|
6. Michigan: If any team ever needed football as a distraction ... "We just need to play," Rich Rod said earlier this month. After a trip to see the NCAA Infractions Committee last week, Rodriguez now has the double whammy of trying to win enough to save his job while waiting for the final word from the association. Imagine the penalties coming down the week before the Ohio State game. Is it possible to lose twice in one week? Must-see game: Sept. 11 at Notre Dame. This makes the UConn opener a must. Lose that and there's a funeral dirge waiting if Rich Rod loses the next week to the Irish.
7. Northwestern: The Wildcats lose eight senior starters, including their quarterback. Who among us doesn't believe the 'Cats will be in a third consecutive bowl? Pat Fitzgerald seems to have a way of making his team hang around -- games and the Big Ten race. Northwestern would settle for a bowl win since there hasn't been one since 1949. The 'Cats miss Michigan and Ohio State but play only five true home games. Must-see game: Nov. 20 vs. Illinois at Wrigley Field. Crack out the Old Style and parkas. These two in-state rivals take it up a notch playing on the North Side. Let's get some runs!
8. Purdue: They may not make a bowl for the third straight year, but coach Danny Hope wants to make history. He says kicker Carson Wiggs will get to line up for a 70-yard field goal attempt. The NCAA record is 67 yards. Wiggs has kicked a career-high 59-yarder. That's a nice distraction if the Boilers tank again. Quarterback Robert Marve finally gets to play after transferring from Miami and will form a quick bond with receiver Keith Smith. A potentially explosive offense will have to outscore teams. Even assuming an opening day loss to Notre Dame (don't, by the way), the Boilers could still start 5-1. Must-see game: Nov. 6 vs. Wisconsin. A classic trap game for Wisconsin coming off a trip to Iowa, except the Badgers get a bye week to prepare for Purdue.
9. Illinois: Since that stunning Rose Bowl run in 2007, Ron Zook has won only eight games. Predictably, assistants have been changed. Paul Petrino left his brother's side at Arkansas to coordinate the offense. Veteran defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will try to change the mindset. The Illini allowed 102 points in their final two games. Zook must produce a winner this year or he could be sharing job-search stories with Rodriguez. Must-see game: Sept. 4 vs. Missouri in St. Louis. Illini have been so dominated by Mizzou lately that Illinois is stopping the series after this game. Zook can still recruit. Missouri high school star Nathan Scheelhaase gets to show Tigers what he's worth in his college debut at QB.
10. Indiana: You either believe Bill Lynch is going to turn it around or that bad teams lose close games. Lynch, entering his fourth season, has upgraded the program but overall it has slipped since the coach's first year in 2007, when he won seven. Things could have been different last year when the Hoosiers were 4-8 if not for losses to Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern by a total of seven points. Chappell will give the Hoosiers a chance. Must-see game: Oct. 2 vs. Michigan. Hoosiers should consider themselves equals. They lost by three last year at The Big House.
11. Minnesota: After talking big three seasons ago, Tim Brewster hasn't quite delivered. The fourth-year coach is 14-24 with two bowl appearances. Quarterback Adam Weber is operating under his third offensive coordinator in as many years. The defense has lost nine starters. Minny has to start paying for TCF Bank Stadium. That means filling the stadium with something worth watching. Brewster not only has to win, his team has to be exciting. It isn't. Must-see game: Sept. 2 at Middle Tennessee. Make that, must-win game. Walls are closing in on Brewster in his fourth season. Blue Raiders are favored by four.