Thursday September 10th, 2009

The Ohio State Buckeyes say this time is different more than John Daly and Liz Taylor combined.

Three years ago, they got blown out by Florida in the BCS Championship Game. They made it back to the title game the next year, and claimed it would be different, and in a way it was. This time they lost to LSU.

Then they went to USC last year and said this time is different, but they must have meant this time zone is different. The result was the same. The Trojans beat Ohio State, 35-3.

The Buckeyes came within a sweater-vest thread of beating Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, but by that point, the nation had reached a verdict: Ohio State was the most perennially overrated team in the country.

So we should all be skeptical about Ohio State's chances of beating Southern California in Columbus on Saturday night. If recent history is an indication, the night will start to go downhill for the Buckeyes when their band accidentally spells out Script U-S-C.

Can one man change all that? Maybe he can.

Maybe Terrelle Pryor is really that good. Maybe he has the talent and charisma to elevate his team on stages like this.

Maybe Pryor hears all the people questioning Ohio State and he likes it.

"You chant overrated to him," said Ray Reitz, Pryor's high school coach, "he goes to a whole other level.

Ask the good folks of Aliquippa, Pa. In Pryor's senior year at Jeannette High, his heavily favored team led Aliquippa by eight points at halftime of a state semifinal game. The Aliquippa fans started chanting: OH-ver-RA-ted.

Pryor finished the game with 331 yards.


He also ran for five touchdowns, threw for two more, and forced two fumbles. Yeah, sure, it was Aliquippa High, not USC. But if you talk to Reitz for a few minutes, you get the feeling that Pryor will enter the Horseshoe Saturday night from the sky.

The knock on Ohio State and, by extension, the Big Ten is a lack of athleticism. I don't really buy it -- Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez and Beanie Wells looked like pretty good athletes to me. But Pryor is different. Whenever the Buckeyes have the ball, they should feel like they have the best athlete on the field.

So many Pryor stories seem like urban legends. But they're not. When the Buckeyes all ran 40s last spring, Pryor really was the fastest player on the team.

Think about that: a 6-foot-6 quarterback is the fastest player on the team. Pryor's 40 time has been reported as 4.33 seconds. Ohio State has a notoriously fast track, but most quarterbacks couldn't run a 4.33 on one of those moving walkways at the airport.

And he slipped, Reitz said. Or it would have been a 4.2-something.

Reitz said there was one time in high school when Pryor, playing defense, jumped clean over an opposing center, landed in front of a stunned holder and blocked a kick. Another time he jumped from the five-yard line over a defender and landed in the end zone.

"There were games in high school, if we'd let him go, he might have rushed for 1,000 yards," Reitz said. "I'm not kidding."

Can a true sophomore really topple USC?

"He has the mind of an assassin," Reitz said.

What if he falls ill?

"We'd have games, Terrelle would have some kind of fever and get sick, and he'd have a monster game," Reitz said.

I hung up the phone before I could ask Reitz how Pryor would fare against a Hurricane named Ditka.

Hype or not, Pryor's athleticism is truly freakish. The only problem is that it hasn't quite translated to college football not yet, not consistently. He has the arm to be a great college quarterback but is still refining his mechanics.

At some point, though, it should all come together for Pryor. And when it does, don't be surprised if Ohio State breaks through and beats an elite Pac-10 or SEC team.

The Buckeyes' problem is that they have been just good enough to be nationally embarrassed. They were good enough to make two straight BCS title games but not good enough to win them; good enough to grab the nation's attention before playing USC last year, but not nearly good enough to beat the Trojans.

It is the same problem Texas had before Vince Young showed up. Then Young led the Longhorns to the national title (over USC, incidentally) and Mack Brown's program hasn't looked the same since.

Since high school, Pryor has been compared to Young, for his ridiculous combination of size and speed. Can he have a Young-like effect on Ohio State?

I know, I know: while were pouring gas on the hype fire, why not just say he can be better than Vince Young? That would be insane, I would never say that, but since you asked ...

"I think he throws the ball better than Vince Young," Reitz said. "I just don't think the kid has reached two-thirds of his potential."

Reitz also said Pryor could be an outside linebacker and be All-Pro and that he has Michael Jordan-type ability.

I think you could say the coach likes his former player.

Beating USC should really not be so impossible. The Trojans are bringing a true freshman quarterback on the road to face a top-10 team at night in one of the most intimidating stadiums in the nation. In theory, this should make USC fans very nervous, but as any college football player can tell you, theories are for people who go to class.

The Trojans are a touchdown favorite Saturday. Oddsmakers, like everybody else, won't believe this time is different until they see evidence.

Reitz said he thought television announcers were too critical of Pryor last year when he was a true freshman, that his high school hype was so outrageous that the expectations were unfair. But isn't that the point here

People think Terrelle Pryor is overrated, his team is overrated, his conference is overrated, his whole section of the country is overrated. Maybe Pryor likes hearing that. Let's see where he runs with it.

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