It’s pretty easy to draw comparisons between Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State’s last great quarterback except Pryor got the job much quicker than Troy Smith.
Smith always seemed to be a work in progress despite the fact he attended the Elite 11 quarterback camp before his senior year in high school. Because of his size, no one ever seemed to know if Smith was going to be a viable option at quarterback – Jim Tressel balked at the possibility just the way the Baltimore Ravens are now. As a result, Smith spent time returning kickoffs and backing up Craig Krenzel, Scott McMullen and Justin Zwick before getting his chance.
There is no such doubt about Pryor, especially since his 6-6, 235-pound frame is a classic quarterback’s body. Whereas Smith needed Zwick to get hurt to get his chance, Pryor simply had to wait for Todd Boeckman to struggle.
Since taking over the starting job, the OSU freshman is now a perfect 3-0 as a starter and already has a marquee victory, leading a fourth-quarter rally against Wisconsin and scoring the game-winner himself.
How Pryor continues to mature into his role on this team will be most interesting. It took some time for Smith to gain the confidence of his teammates, especially after he spouted off about a lack of playing time in 2004 and then got himself suspended later that year – a suspension that probably cost the Buckeyes any shot they had to beat eventual national champion Texas the following season.
Once the 2006 season began, however, you could tell it was Smith’s team. He took that Ohio State team by the throat and willed it to win every game that regular season. Conversely, when he took his eye off the ball between the Michigan game and national title contest against Florida, the team suffered. Smith didn’t think he had to practice hard, and like it had all season, the rest of the players took their cue for their quarterback. Result: Smith played the worst game of his career and so did many of his teammates.
If Pryor is to maintain the legacy of Smith – and avoid his problems – he will have to keep his head from now until the moment he walks off the field as a Buckeye for the last time. That’s an awful lot to ask from a kid who is only beginning a journey during which everyone – and not just those with his best interests at heart – is going to want a piece of him.
From my brief encounters with Pryor, I think he can handle the white, hot spotlight of fame. By the same token, it probably wouldn’t hurt to keep a candle burning somewhere just in case.
WHITHER UNCLE WALT
In an ongoing message board mystery, there seems to be a lot of love in the Buckeye Nation for former Ohio State quarterback coach Walt Harris.
Harris, who may or may not have been hanging around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center lately, is fondly remembered for his 1995-96 stint on John Cooper’s staff when Ohio State was an offensive machine. In case you are among the handful of people who don’t remember what those two seasons were like, the Buckeyes went 22-3 and averaged 37.2 points per game.
Harris gets a lot of credit for that offensive output, mainly because he was able to turn Bobby Hoying from an average quarterback into a very, very good one. But Harris can’t take all the credit for how OSU performed on offense in ’95 and ’96. Give me Eddie George, Terry Glenn, David Boston and Orlando Pace, and chances are I’d be pretty good with the offense, too.
Fans who long for the day Harris joins Tressel’s staff may as well wish for a million dollars to fall out of the sky and into their laps. Besides the fact that Harris’ big personality would not mesh very well on the present-day staff, Tressel will never relinquish play-calling duties unless he is told to do so by his boss. And last time I checked, Gene Smith was offering JT an unsolicited pay raise and contract extension.
NOT EXACTLY MOVIN’ ON UP
Perhaps the fix really is in.
Three weeks – and three victories – after Ohio State was unceremoniously dumped by USC, the Buckeyes continue to languish outside the top 10 of the major polls. This week, OSU was 11th in the USA Today coaches poll and 12th in the AP and Harris rankings.
Obviously, there is still plenty of time to make up ground. The first BCS rankings won’t be released until Oct. 19 and there are six more weeks for that poll to recalibrate itself. Remember that Ohio State tumbled to seventh after its loss to Illinois and still wound up leading the final rankings of the regular season.
Next week’s human polls should jumble again after a weekend schedule that features No. 1 Oklahoma taking on No. 5 Texas and No. 11 Florida hosting No. 4 LSU. All things being equal, the Buckeyes should be able to crack next week’s top 10 if they take care of business against Purdue. We’ll see.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
OSU offensive tackle Alex Boone came out this week and said he and his teammates will not look past Purdue despite the fact the Boilermakers have lost three of their last four games and appear on the verge of having a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Of course, we have heard similar pronouncements in the past from young Mr. Boone and his compatriots and what we got were performances against LSU, Ohio, USC, etc. My simple wish: If you’re going to talk the talk, please follow up and walk the walk.
That said, if the Buckeyes are to make a run at a third consecutive appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, they must win out. And if they win out, that means they will have won a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship and an unprecedented third outright crown in a row.
Throughout the long and storied career of the Big Ten, which began with seven teams in 1896, no school has ever won back-to-back-to-back outright championships.
Minnesota was the first to make an assault on a three-peat. The Gophers went undefeated in Big Ten play between 1909 and 1911, but because teams played uneven schedules in those days, Minnesota had to share the crown in 1910 with Illinois, which also finished unbeaten in conference play.
Michigan has come close a couple of times over the years. The first time was more than a half-century ago when the Wolverines won outright titles in 1947-48 and then shared the crown with Ohio State in 1949 before winning another undisputed championship in 1950. U-M had another run between 1988 and ’92 – the team went back-to-back with outright championships in ’88 and ’89, finished in a four-way tie for the co-title in ’90, and then went two more outright crowns in ’91 and ’92.
OSU’s best shot at three straight outright championships came during the 1968-70 glory years. The Buckeyes were undefeated in league play in both ’68 and ’70, but that upset suffered to Michigan at the end of the ’69 regular season forced them to share the title with the Wolverines.
One final note: It seems there should have been some team win three outright championships by now. After all, in the Big Ten’s previous 112 seasons, there have been 72 outright titles – just never three in a row by the same team.
Those celebrating birthdays this 10th day of October: singer John Prine; actor/dancer Ben Vereen; romance novelist Nora Roberts; Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth; country singer Tanya Tucker; film and TV actor Bradley Whitford (evil businessman Eric Gordon in “Billy Madison” and thoughtful Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in “The West Wing”); former Saturday Night Live cast member Julia Sweeney; actress Wendy McLendon-Covey (voluptuous Deputy Clementine Johnson on “Reno 911!”); actor/dancer/host Mario López; Detroit Tigers infielder Plácido Polanco; Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell; Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki; San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry; Buffalo Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny; NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt Jr.; and three-time NFL MVP and current New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre.
OHIO STATE-PURDUE MINUTIAE
** This marks the 51st meeting between Ohio State and Purdue. The Buckeyes hold a 36-12-2 record in the overall series, including a lopsided 24-5-2 in Columbus. The Boilermakers haven’t won in Ohio Stadium since 1988 and have lost 12 of their last 13 games in the Horseshoe. Their last visit was a 16-13 overtime loss in 2003.
** Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is 4-1 against the Boilermakers, including last year’s 23-7 victory in West Lafayette. Purdue’s lone win over Tressel was a 24-17 decision in 2004.
** Purdue head coach Joe Tiller is 2-5 against the Buckeyes. In addition to his team’s victory in 2004, the Boilermakers took a 31-27 win in 2000 at Ross-Ade Stadium. Four times during the seven games in which Tiller’s team has faced OSU have the contests been decided by four points or less.
** Tiller is 85-57 in his 11-plus seasons at Purdue, making him the school’s all-time winningest coach. He has one more victory than Jack Mollenkopf, who compiled an 84-39-9 mark during 14 seasons in West Lafayette between 1956 and ’69.
** Despite his overall success, Tiller has not had very much luck against ranked opposition. Last week’s loss to Penn State ran Purdue’s streak to 16 consecutive losses against top 25 teams. Under Tiller, the Boilermakers are 12-36 against ranked foes. That includes a 3-18 mark on the road.
** With Minnesota’s win over Indiana last weekend, Purdue now holds the dubious honor of the longest losing streak in conference games. Dating back to last year, the Boilermakers have lost four Big Ten games in a row.
** Something has to give Saturday. The Buckeyes enter the contest with the Big Ten’s top pass defense while Purdue has the No. 1 passing offense in the conference. OSU allows an average of 155.0 yards through the air while the Boilers are averaging 254.2 yards per game in the passing department.
** A stat that offers a little insight into how the Ohio State defense is performing so far this season: After six games, the Buckeyes have forced opponents into 27 three-and-out possessions. Last year after six games, OSU had forced 42 three-and-outs.
** Purdue is one of the least penalized teams in college football, averaging only 4.4 penalties for 37.0 yards per game. Last week, the Boilermakers committed only one infraction against Penn State – an illegal substitution call that was declined by the Nittany Lions. That meant Purdue had no penalties in a game for the first time in the Tiller era.
** Purdue kicker Chris Summers used to be one of the most reliable kickers in college football, but he missed a PAT last week and that snapped a school-record streak of 111 consecutive extra points. That streak was the third-longest in Big Ten history, trailing only J.D. Carlson of Michigan (126, 1989-91) and Brett Conway of Penn State (119, 1994-96). Summers also missed a pair of field goals last week – and four of his last five – and Tiller has benched him in favor of freshman Carson Wiggs.
** Boilermakers QB Curtis Painter has struggled so far this season, but he has still managed to pull into second place on his school’s all-time passing list. Painter, now with 9,988 career yards, trails only Drew Brees, who threw for 11,792 yards from 1997-2000. With just 12 more yards, Painter also becomes only the fourth quarterback in Big Ten history to throw for 10,000 yards or more during his career. The others: Brees, Brett Basanez of Northwestern (10,580, 2002-05) and Chuck Long of Iowa (10,461, 1981-85).
** Painter also holds the distinction of having the longest active starting streak of all Division I-A quarterbacks. Currently, he has 37 consecutive starts, one more than Rudy Carpenter of Arizona State and three more than Mike Teel of Rutgers.
** Purdue running back Kory Sheets is running with some illustrious company. He scored the 40th rushing touchdown of his career last week against Penn State to move past Mike Alstott (1992-95) and become the Boilermakers’ all-time leader in rushing TDs. Sheets now 45 total touchdowns for his career, tying him with Eddie George of Ohio State (1992-95) for eighth place in touchdowns scored in Big Ten history. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) holds the conference record in that department with 71 TDs.
** OSU tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells, with his 168 yards against Wisconsin, has now cracked the century mark in eight of the last nine games he has played. Over that nine-game stretch, he has rushed for an average of 150.2 yards per game. Also, his last four touchdown runs have averaged 50.8 yards – 62 at Michigan, 65 vs. LSU, 43 against Youngstown State and 33 at Wisconsin.
** Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will broadcast the game on a regional basis with the announce crew of Ron Franklin (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (color analysis) and our old friend Jack Arute (sideline reports).
** Remember that ABC will employ its reverse mirror effect for the game. That means if the game is not on the ABC station in your area, it will be shown on ESPN – and vice versa.
** Next week’s game at Michigan State is another 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff. It will also be telecast regionally by ABC and employ the reverse mirror.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** The ranks of the undefeated keep dwindling, leaving only 15 teams at the Division I-A level still without a loss. Those left standing: Alabama, Ball State, Boise State, BYU, LSU, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa, Utah and Vanderbilt.
** Special congratulations to Vandy. The Commodores are 5-0 for the first time since 1943.
** Northwestern remains unranked in the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters, but the Wildcats made their season debut in the USA Today coaches poll at No. 22. The team’s last appearance in the rankings came in mid-November 2005 when Northwestern was ranked 25th by the AP.
** Vanderbilt (14th) and Northwestern (22nd) are joined in this week’s coaches poll by Wake Forest at No. 21. The last time those three teams were all ranked at the same time was the final AP poll of 1948.
** Tuskegee, Ala., is now known for something more than George Washington Carver and its famous airmen of World War II. Tuskegee University, which plays in Division II, has the longest active winning streak in NCAA football. Last week’s 34-24 decision over Division I-AA Alabama A&M gave the Golden Tigers their 21st consecutive victory.
** BYU has the longest win streak at the I-A level – 15 in a row.
** During their 27-0 win over Duke last week, run-oriented Georgia Tech completed nine passes for 230 yards – all to sophomore receiver Demaryius Thomas.
** Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, courtesy of his team’s win last week over Purdue, moved into a tie with Robert Zuppke of Illinois (1913-41) as the seventh winningest coach in Big Ten history. Paterno now has 131 victories since his team joined the conference. Currently sixth on the list is Henry Williams of Minnesota, who totaled 136 wins from 1900-21.
** Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has moved into fifth place on the Big Ten’s all-time list for most rushing yards by a QB. Williams now has 1,735 yards in that department and needs only 33 more to pass Brooks Bollinger of Wisconsin (1,767, 1999-2002) to move into fourth place. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (1998-2001) is far and away the conference’s career leader with 3,895 rushing yards.
** The Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Big Ten account for better than two-thirds of this week’s teams in the coaches poll. The SEC and Big 12 each have seven teams in the top 25 and the Big Ten has five.
** Former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz is going to get one more chance to lead the Fighting Irish into battle. Holtz will lead a group of former Golden Domers against a team of Japanese all-stars in the Japan Bowl, set for next July in Tokyo.
** Ohio University is making a name for itself this season in milestone victories for its opponents. On Sept. 6, the Bobcats lost a 26-14 decision to Ohio State, marking the 800th all-time victory for the Buckeyes. Then last weekend, Ohio dropped a 41-20 verdict to Western Michigan. That was the 500th win in WMU program history.
** Oklahoma needs only to score 10 points this Saturday against Texas to become the first college football team in history to score 30,000 points.
** Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 454 yards during last week’s 58-28 rout of Kansas State and moved past Kliff Kingsbury as the Red Raiders’ all-time leading passer. Harrell now has 12,709 career yards, but that is still a long way away from the NCAA career leader. Timmy Chang of Hawaii may still be icing his elbow somewhere after throwing for 17,072 yards during his career. (Actually, Chang is currently on the roster of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.)
** Nine years ago yesterday, a legend was born – sort of. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Michigan and Michigan State entered their instate rivalry with undefeated records and gave those in attendance in East Lansing their money’s worth. The Spartans stormed out to an early lead before U-M head coach Lloyd Carr replaced starting quarterback Drew Henson with backup Tom Brady. Brady went on to complete 30 of 41 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but his rally fell just short as the Spartans held on for a 34-31 victory.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Oct. 6, 1956, Penn snapped a 19-game home losing streak with a 14-7 win over Dartmouth. It was the Quakers’ first official Ivy League game, while Dartmouth’s lone touchdown came from quarterback Mike Brown, the same Mike Brown who is now owner of the Cincinnati Bengals.
** Meanwhile, on Oct. 7, 1996, College Football Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade died in Durham, N.C., at the age of 94. Wade was head coach at Alabama in 1925 when the Crimson Tide became the first Southern school invited to the Rose Bowl. A guard for Brown during his playing days, Wade became the first man ever to play and coach in a Rose Bowl. His Brown team lost to Washington State, 14-0, in the 1916 game, but his Alabama squad took a 20-19 thriller over Washington a decade later. Wade later coached at Duke – the football stadium there bears his name – and led the Blue Devils to their only Rose Bowl appearance, a 20-16 loss to Oregon State in the 1942 game.
** Today marks the 21st anniversary of a 42-17 victory over Colorado by Oklahoma State, allowing the Cowboys to open their season with five straight wins for the first time since 1945. Leading the way for Oklahoma State was a couple of fairly decent running backs – Thurman Thomas rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown while Barry Sanders added a score on a 73-yard punt return.
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