The Big Ten's Heisman Candidate List Begins and Ends With Pryor
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel prefers giving a trio of seniors the star treatment in front of the cameras and tape recorders. Hence his quarterback, a junior, will have a Pryor engagement in Columbus at that time. That is not the recommended manner in which to create a fecund environment for Heisman hype -- University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker, by contrast, flew cross-country to ESPN earlier this summer for a full day's gauntlet of interviews.
Tressel hardly cares. The Buckeyes, of course, had a quarterback win the Heisman Trophy just four seasons ago: Troy Smith. Pardon the interregnum, but in the interim Ohio State has twice advanced to the BCS Championship contest only to be embarrassed, in consecutive years, by SEC juggernauts Florida and LSU. In Columbus, folks are much more concerned with winning the national championship in 2010 than another individual bronze bust (the school has seven, which is tied for the most along with Notre Dame and Southern California).
Besides, Pryor, who was only the Big Ten's eighth-rated passer last autumn and who has never had even a 270-yard passing game, does not win the Heisman unless the Buckeyes go undefeated. At worst, they might be allowed to lose one game, in either Madison or Iowa City, and he'd still garner an invite to New York City in December.
Here's the dish on the 2010 Heisman Trophy from a summer forecast: There are NO favorites. Unlike the past few seasons, in which it almost appeared as if voters were attempting to decide in what order to dole out the statue to quarterback/folk heroes Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow (and, yes, McCoy was strangely left empty-handed), there are no larger-than-life figures this season. You can argue that there is no player in college football right now who is as well-known as ESPN's Erin Andrews.
Not even current Heisman winner Mark Ingram of Alabama, who like Pryor is only beginning his junior year.
If anyone in a facemask approaches Andrews' level of fame, it is Pryor. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound Pennsylvania native is the state of Ohio's most prominent athlete now that a certain someone has "decided to take my talents to South Beach." He is, recall, the last recruit whom legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno deemed valuable enough to pay a home visit. JoePa has not done so since.
Why does Pryor, who will likely finish outside the top ten in all passing categories this autumn, have a legitimate chance to become Ohio State's record-setting eighth Heisman Trophy winner? Let us count the ways:
1. Team ranking: Twenty years have passed since a player from a team that finished outside the Top 15 won the Heisman (Ty Detmer, BYU). Detmer was the last of four straight winners (Tim Brown, Notre Dame; Andre Ware, Houston; and Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State) to play for schools who finished below a top 10 ranking. Maybe you can point to the rise of ESPN, in particular its popular Saturday pre-game show, "College Gameday," for putting such a premium on winning. No matter; it matters now more than ever. And Ohio State, which enters the season with 14 returning starters, on a six-game win streak and having won five consecutive Big Ten titles, is nearly a lock to remain in the top 10.
2. The Vince Young déjà vu factor: Unless you live in Lincoln, Nebraska, you can argue that Young, the former Longhorn quarterback, was the most mesmerizing college player not to win a Heisman in the past decade. Pryor, right down to his MVP performance in the Rose Bowl at the end of his sophomore year, draws comparisons to Young in every conversation you hear or story you read. Both are tall, dual-threat quarterbacks who can gallop out of harm's way. Pryor, as did Young six years earlier, seemed to come of age in Pasadena last January with a 266-yard passing, 72-yard rushing performance (he also threw two short touchdown passes) in Ohio State's 26-17 victory against Oregon. That it was the Buckeyes' first bowl win in four tries did not go unnoticed, either.
Heisman Trophy voters, alas, as often as not fail to use the "most outstanding player" criterion to guide their choices. Last season's winner, Alabama's Ingram, did not finish in the top 10 in the nation in rushing. However, there was the "best player on the best team" argument in Ingram's favor (although many would argue that player was linebacker Rolando McClain, chosen eighth overall in the April NFL draft) as well as the fact that the Crimson Tide, one of the true pillars in the sport, had never produced a Heisman winner.
This year, Pryor's illogical-yet-realistic claim to Heisman votes will be that he reminds voters of Young. Voters who, rightly so based solely upon performance, voted for Reggie Bush of USC in 2005. But now Bush's name is sullied. And Young never won a Heisman. And while no one claims that it makes sense, don't discount Pryor's resemblance to Young, in terms of style of play, garnering him a few votes.
3. Pryor is immensely watchable, and we will all have plenty of opportunities to watch him. The Buckeyes have prime-time worthy games on September 11th (home versus Miami), October 16th (at Wisconsin) and November 20th (at Iowa). The following week, Michigan visits the Horseshoe in what could be a coronation game for Pryor's Heisman hopes. Pryor need not dominate the stats in any of these games. He simply needs to lead the Buckeyes to victory and make enough "double rainbow" plays to awe the masses. And he should be able to do so.
4. Pryor has plenty of help around him. Ohio State returns nine starters on offense, including four offensive linemen. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron lead a stable of talented tailbacks (the Buckeyes are as deep at that position as a vintage Pete Carroll USC squad), while receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher have had two years to acclimate themselves to Pryor's jazz style. And while Ohio State may not score 50 points per game as, say, Oklahoma did in 2008 or USC and Texas did in 2005, it won't have to. The defense is dominant.
5. Who else has a chance? The voters will not elevate Ingram, a junior, to Archie Griffin-level status with another 11th-best rusher-in-the-nation effort. In fact, they will punish themselves (and in effect, him) by eliminating him from consideration unless he finishes at least among the top three rushers. Even then, Ingram is a long shot.
Who else is out there? Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore threw 39 touchdown passes versus just three interceptions for a 14-0 team last season and he was not even invited to New York City. Can you say, "Travesty?" If Moore approaches those stats this season, and if the Broncos again go unbeaten, which would give him a career record as a starter of 38-1 heading into the festivities in Manhattan, then a vote for Moore would be a validation of all Boise State has attained in the past decade. Do not look past that. Too, it would be a 180-degree swing from the establishment vote that was Ingram's just a year ago.
Of course, the Big Ten has 10 other teams and, as noted earlier, 33 players not named Pryor who will attend its media days. A few of them, such as Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn and Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, are future top-15 NFL draft picks. Badger tailback John Clay, who led the Big Ten in rushing as a sophomore with 1,517 yards last season, could end up leading the nation in rushing this season. As might Penn State's Evan Royster, who will, barring injury, become the Nittany Lions' all-time leading rusher.
None of them, however, with the possible exception of Royster, is the type of player for whom you'd set your DVR for unless 1) you are an alum or 2) a scout.
Terrelle Pryor is, though. And you'll be seeing a lot of him this season. He may be a no-show at the Big Ten media days, but mark it down: the Heisman Trophy presentation in December will be a Pryor engagement.