Watching Connecticut get plastered in this year’s Fiesta Bowl did not serve as justice. It only allowed Panthers fans to reflect on what a cupcake Conference Pitt blew. Even a two game lead in an eight team league wasn’t enough of a cushion to vault the Panthers into the BCS.
Perhaps one more superstar would have made the difference.
Perhaps that superstar could have been Terrell Pryor.
As an underclassman, the local high school star delighted many Panther fans by selecting Pitt. But, It soon became clear that he had no intentions of staying home. After Pitt recruited him as a receiver, he decided not to pursue basketball, and stated on national television during national signing day that he needs more time to select a school, Pryor changed his mind.
The Ohio State University inherited his skills, his ego, and his problems.
All the signs of future trouble were there. He was charged with disorderly conduct during his senior year and extended his recruitment past the traditional deadline. His quotes suggested he loved seeing his portrait in the paper–or that he was just simply not a smart individual. But, there was one undeniable fact: The Jeannette alum was talented. Extremely talented.
Despite constant complaints of underachievement, Pryor managed a successful career at Ohio State. His sparkling 2009 campaign led many to declare him as a favorite for the 2010 Heisman. Certainly, it looked that way after his 2009 Rose Bowl MVP performance. In fact, the controversial quarterback always seemed to show up in championship games.
In three BCS contests, Pryor averaged 184 yards through the air and tossed four touchdowns. His ground game fared even better. He averaged 88.3 yards rushing on only 50 total carries in those games. Pryor also sported a 2-1 record in three BCS games over his three year career. Judging by even the high expectations of Ohio State fans, it is hard to claim that Pryor was not one of the most threatening players in the nation.
Buckeye fans expect National Championships. National Championships, Pryor did not deliver. Panther fans expect Conference Championships–something he was much more acclimated with. Columbus won the BIG 10 crown all three years he started. He may not have produced at the pace top overall recruits are supposed to, but his 31-4 record as a starter is impressive.
While OSU supporters have labeled him everything from god to goat, Panther fans would have immediately branded him as a stud. After nearly booing Bill Stull and Tino Sunseri out of the program, any player with even half of Pryor’s talent would have been welcome.
This year’s Big East Champion had more losses (5) in one season than Pryor had (4) in his whole career. Is there any doubt that Pitt would have won at least one Big East title with Pryor at the helm? He surely would have bested Bill Stull’s numbers in the de facto 2009 Big East Championship against Cincinnati. And without doubt, Pryor could have been the difference in the two point title-blowing loss at Connecticut this season. Considering his bowl performances, a BCS win may not have been out of the question either.
With an NCAA investigation looming and a prized head coach jobless, Pryor’s performance is not what is being scrutinized lately. Most can agree he did more good for than bad for Ohio State–at least, on the field. Instead, the former Buckeye’s appetite for trouble is the topic of discussion.
Before deciding not to return to college, Pryor was suspended for the first five games of 2011. His decision to leave combined with coach Jim Tressel’s resignation indicates there are even more revelations to come. ESPN’s Chad Forde on Outside the Lines stated that:
“Pryor was such a handful that they basically were assigning a graduate assistant student to follow him around to try and keep him out of trouble. While there may have been an increase in diligence towards him, [there was] not much sucess in keeping him out of trouble.”
While OSU struggled to keep Pryor out of trouble, would the same off-the-field issues have existed at Pitt?
Ohio State owns Columbus. The NHL’s Blue Jackets act simply as secondary entertainment in Ohio’s capital. The nearly 800,000 residents invest their weekends in Buckeye football solely, and the University’s stars are the city’s stars.
In Pittsburgh, the story is different. Both the Steelers and Penguins have won recent championships. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ben Roethlisberger, and Troy Polamalu headline a class of stars that are bright for their not only their city, but also for their professional leagues. Pryor would not have been a star in a town full of stars. Football is not even priority number one at the University. In a city where Pitt football compares to Blue Jackets hockey, the troubled NCAA star might not have had the same opportunity for scandal.
There is, however, another scenario. Pryor, in his hometown, could have been even more popular and received even more benefits. Dave Wannstedt was far from a disciplinarian–certainly no more than Tessel. With free reign and no restrictions, what would have stopped him from committing all the same violations?
Pryor and trouble have been synonymous since high school. Nothing would have changed at Pitt, except the winning percentage. It can be safely assumed that the Panthers would have won two Big East Championships and possibly even a BCS Bowl victory with him at quarterback. An even safer bet, is that all the same trouble would have followed him.
Here is the difference.
Pryor has tarnished Ohio State’s legacy. The Buckeye’s most successful stretch since the days of Woody Hayes is only moments away from never existing.
At the center of it all: Terrelle Pryor.
He has not only brought the Big 10′s golden university shame, but also ruined the school’s name at possibly the program’s highest point ever. At Pittsburgh, Pryor could have never equaled the Panthers glory days of the 1970′s. The conference, team, and coaching would not have allowed it. His infractions and their results would have been seen as just another gaffe in a 30 year run of gaffes. So while the same scandal would have followed, the embarrassment would have been far less severe.
So where would the Panthers and Pryor be if he chose Pitt?
Pryor would be in the same position–involved in scandal and out of football. And sure, Pitt may have had to relinquish two Big East Championships, but would the program be any worse off after a similar Pryor saga? To say the Panthers would find themselves in a similar position to Ohio State may be foolish.
Punishment and embarrassment would ensue, but Pitt was already half way there with the recent coaching fiasco. Truthfully, the punishment would not be much worse than what the Panthers has already endured–mediocrity. In the end, Pitt would have been no worse off after Pryor than they were before Pryor. The only change would have been in the excitement level.