June 7, 2011

Buckeyes' hopes fade with Pryor departure

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor's decision to leave Ohio State on Tuesday adds even more mystery to the Buckeyes' season.

One positive might be that for a few days at least, the attention will turn to on-field matters for the Buckeyes instead of focusing on the plethora of off-field issues.

Still, Pryor's departure casts even more doubt on Ohio State's ability to extend its record run of Big Ten titles to seven. In most early polls, the Buckeyes were picked to win the Big Ten, which had added Nebraska to grow to 12 teams and split into two divisions. Now, the league favorite may be the Huskers.

In fact, the Buckeyes may be hard-pressed to win the Leaders Division, with Wisconsin and Penn State each having a good chance at the title. Nebraska is picked by most to win the Legends Division.

Ohio State already was preparing to play the first five games without Pryor, who had been suspended for his role in "tattoo-gate." But the carrot at the end of that stick was that Pryor would be back for the second half of the season, including a Week 6 showdown at Nebraska.

Coaches had said after spring practice that the starting quarterback for those first five games was going to be determined in fall practice, and Pryor's decision to leave now makes that battle all the more interesting.

True freshman Braxton Miller enrolled early and went through spring drills, and there is little question that he has the most upside of the quarterbacks remaining on the roster.

At one point, it was assumed that coaches likely would redshirt Miller because of the scant playing time he likely would've received in the second half of the season. Now, though, if Miller indeed impresses in August, he could start his first game in a Buckeyes uniform.

Senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham - whose dad, Kent, is a former Buckeyes quarterback - are the other candidates. Bauserman is a senior who might have had the inside track had Pryor stayed simply because of his experience level. Truthfully, though, Bauserman is a pedestrian talent, and Pryor's exit may end any legitimate chance Bauserman had to win the job because coaches may figure they need a quarterback who can actually make plays.

The coaching staff didn't make Miller available to the media in the spring in an attempt to lessen the pressure he might be feeling, but teammates spoke of his maturity and grasp of the offense.

The schedule is such that a new quarterback will be able to ease into the job. The opening two games are against MAC teams Akron and Toledo, and neither team's defense should provide that stern a test. But a trip to Miami looms in Game 3, and the Buckeyes get Michigan State in Game 5 and the Huskers in Game 6.

The rest of the offense should be fine. With a new quarterback, the Buckeyes figure to rely heavily on their ground game and that makes sense for a lot of reasons. One is that the Buckeyes are deep at running back with Dan Herron, Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Herron will miss the first five games, but Berry and Hall have good speed and provide big-play ability.

The line returns three starters, though stud left Mike Adams will sit out the first five games. Both starting guards will be new, but there is ample talent up front.

The Buckeyes also have a strong duo at tight end in Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel.

DeVier Posey is far and away the team's top wide receiver, but he also is suspended for the first five games. That means that for the first five games of the season, the Buckeyes' receiving corps won't feature one player who had even 10 receptions last season. Corey Brown, Chris Fields, Verlon Reed and T.Y. Williams are talented, but they haven't done anything on the field yet.

Brown bears watching. He gets in and out of cuts quickly but needs to work on his hands. He wasn't a full-time receiver in high school, so he still is adjusting to the position.

Ohio State coaches certainly would've preferred for Pryor to be the quarterback dealing with the questionable receiving corps; instead, it could be Miller learning as he goes.

Miller can look to Pryor for lessons on how a true freshman quarterback is able to slide into a key role on a veteran team, as Pryor became the starter early in his true freshman season. Miller also can look to Pryor to provide a lesson on how to stay humble and out of the spotlight, too. In that regard, there actually may be more than a few people around the program who aren't sad Pryor is gone.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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