Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pryor's arm holds all the hope for OSU titles

You can’t be a Buckeyes fan without walking around with expectations as grand as that canyon in Arizona, even while they're staring at a mountain of evidence to the contrary. For what do people who shed Scarlet and Gray tears expect this season -- a National Championship?

That is, of course, what the faithful expect; it is always so at Ohio State.

They share the same inflated dreams as men and women who root for Florida, Southern Cal, Texas, LSU or any of the other college football powerhouses. It’s BSC title or bust, which explains why OSU fans -- and even sportscasters -- are so hard on Terrelle Pryor.

They’ve forgotten, however, Pryor is a sophomore, simply a gifted underclassman who has plenty to learn about playing quarterback. No one claims he isn’t an extraordinary talent, but no one sees him as a finished product either. His play, thus far, has been typical of an inexperienced player: as many lows as highs.

In a win over unbeaten Wisconsin, Pryor had plenty of lows last Saturday. His play was hardly a performance for the video archives, except for critics to examine in the years ahead if he doesn’t show progress.

His progress has been agonizingly slow, making all the lofty talk about how good Pryor was going to be sound like the talk that surrounded Justin Zwick when he came into the program earlier this decade. It’s difficult to point out what Zwick did during four seasons at Ohio State, aside from retarding the progress of Troy Smith.

Expectations can be funny things, because they can keep coaches from using their best judgment. Coach Jim Tressel used poor judgment in sticking with Zwick too long. Is it possible Tressel’s doing the same with Pryor? It’s not as if Tressell has another Troy Smith tucked away on the bench. Buckeyes fans could use one, though.

They can’t entertain the thought of a National Championship until their Buckeyes, who play Purdue this afternoon, learn to use the forward pass as more than a tease. They can't think of winning the Big Ten either unless Pryor learns to throw. His legs do dazzle, turning routine plays into SportsCenter highlights. But his arm is what will cement his greatness, if greatness is achievable in a program that can shackle it.

For the road to greatness comes littered with risk, and Tressel isn’t a coach who tolerates risky play. Because he doesn’t, he keeps Pryor from achieving what his potential says he should achieve. He should be showing many of the football traits Tim Tebow displayed at Florida as a sophomore.

Watching Pryor, you see nothing in his play that resembles Tebow's. Is Pryor the offensive threat Tebow was a sophomore? Is Pryor as good now as Tebow was as a freshman?

That’s what troubles Buckeyes fans, because most think the answer to the latter is “no.” They keep waiting for Pryor's breakout performance, the game that will start to define what Pryor can be. He needs to be more than he is now if the Buckeyes are to make this season or the next one hold hopes of a National Championship.

I don’t think the planets aligned for that title this season. Not just because of Pryor, but because the Buckeyes have too many loose pieces to firm up for me to believe they are contenders for anything more than a Big Ten title.

Not even that title is thinkable without better play from Pryor. For he won’t be able to count each week on the OSU defense, as it did against Wisconsin, scoring touchdowns against Penn State, Iowa or even Michigan.

He’ll have to make plays – and make those plays with his arm. With a dozen or so starts on his OSU resume, Pryor has given no indication he can. His mediocrity makes me wonder whether Buckeyes fans should temper their expectations for now till Pryor proves he can win a game with his arm.

(Photo of crowd outside Ohio Stadium by Brent Veverka)


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