Big Ten Title Hopes Fading in Columbus

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Terrelle Pryor is finished at Ohio State, leaving a significant question mark under center.

Terrelle Pryor is finished at Ohio State, leaving a significant question mark under center.

- By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Despite a distraction-filled offseason and the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, Daniel Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams for the first five games of 2011, Ohio State was expected by most to remain the favorite in the Big Ten. In fact, had the Buckeyes avoided the suspensions, it’s likely they would have ranked among the favorites to contend for the national title.

However, the resignation of Jim Tressel and Pryor’s decision to end his collegiate career has changed the outlook of the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are no longer the favorites.

Pryor was a lightning rod for criticism during his three years in Columbus and whether or not he lived up to the hype as the No. 1 recruit in 2008 is up for debate. However, Pryor was 31-4 as a starter (3-0 against Michigan) and won two BCS bowl games. His numbers improved over his three seasons in Columbus, tossing 27 touchdowns and completing 65 percent of his passes last year.

The walls began to close on Pryor last week after Tressel’s resignation. The quarterback was the target of a NCAA investigation regarding vehicles and improper benefits.

With the pressure building, Pryor announced on Tuesday his college career was over through a statement from his attorney - “In the best interest of my teammates, I have made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University.”

What’s next for Pryor? He will have an opportunity to enter the NFL’s supplemental draft, but there’s no guarantee he will get drafted. Most scouts consider Pryor to be a late-round pick in the supplemental draft – not exactly a promising outlook for an NFL future. There’s also the possibility of playing in the CFL or UFL to stay at quarterback, but he may be forced to change positions to stick in the NFL.

Considering the distraction Pryor presented and the ongoing investigation, this was a decision that was for the best for Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes are better off not dealing with Pryor’s distractions, there is still a void under center. Four inexperienced candidates are vying for the starting job. Joe Bauserman is the most likely to start, but true freshman Braxton Miller may eventually get the call under center. Sophomore Kenny Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham will also get consideration to start this fall.

Ohio State has carried the banner for the Big Ten recently, winning outright or sharing the conference title in each of the last six seasons. With Pryor and Tressel gone, the Buckeyes are left to pickup the pieces of what appeared to be a promising campaign. There’s no shortage of talent returning, but the distractions, suspensions and uncertainty surrounding the NCAA investigation has changed the outlook of the Big Ten race in 2011 and beyond.

If Ohio State is hammered with sanctions, will they be able to attract a high-profile coach? Will they face a bowl ban? How about scholarship reductions? All key questions that will be answered in time.

However, with Pryor and Tressel no longer in Columbus, the balance in the Big Ten has shifted. The Leaders division is wide open, with Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois all having a chance to play in the first Big Ten title game. Considering the question marks in the Leaders division, it’s fair to assume Nebraska is now the clear favorite to win the Big Ten title in 2011. Ohio State isn’t short on talent, but overcoming all of its issues will be difficult. Considering the hype surrounding the Big Ten’s addition of Nebraska and a championship game this year, Ohio State’s situation has certainly tempered the excitement with a cloud of uncertainty.

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<p> With Terrelle Pryor choosing to end his career at Ohio State and the distractions surrounding the program, the Buckeyes can no longer be considered the favorites in the Big Ten.</p>
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