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October 23, 2009

Mailbag: Ex-No. 1 QB can run, can't hide

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The title of nation's No. 1 recruit is a compliment and a curse, especially for quarterbacks.

So much is expected. And if greatness isn't delivered immediately, some are quick to label a player overhyped and overrated. Some have even harsher, more tasteless criticisms.

This time last season, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Rivals.com's top-ranked prospect of 2007, was constantly criticized. But he's developed into a legitimate Heisman contender.

Another former top-ranked quarterback prospect now is catching criticism. Could he turn his career around, too?

That's up for discussion in this week's mailbag.

Pryor bad acts?

From Nina in New Albany, Ohio: This may be the worst offense in the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State. Is it time for Tressel to look in the mirror and finally see that changes need to be made, whether with players, coaches or philosophy?

Yours is one of several emails received about quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the offensive issues at Ohio State.

So, to your first question: Yes, this could become the worst offense in Tressel's nine seasons. After seven games, the Buckeyes are averaging 331 yards and 28 points, but matchups remain against Penn State and Iowa, which have strong defenses.

Tressel's worst offensive team at Ohio State was in 2004, when the Buckeyes averaged 320.8 yards and 24.2 points. They went 8-4 that season.

Yes, it appears to be time for Tressel to reconsider his offensive philosophy, and changes should be made in an attempt to fully utilize Pryor's athletic ability.

Pryor, a sophomore, is getting heavy criticism from all directions. He was just 5-of-13 passing for 87 yards in a win over Wisconsin, then followed that up by throwing two interceptions in last week's 26-18 loss to Purdue. That's unacceptable in Columbus. Indeed, it's unacceptable most places.

But don't bury Pryor just yet. When he came out of Jeannette (Pa.) High, he was being compared to former Texas All-America Vince Young because of his size (6 feet 6/235 pounds) and physical gifts. Dramatic comparisons to Young still can be made.

Pryor is struggling. He's completing 56 percent of his passing attempts, for 1,169 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

But Young was a liability as a passer when he was a sophomore, too. Young passed for 1,849 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2004. That season, he was just 8-of-23 for 86 yards in a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma and 3-of-9 for 19 yards and two interceptions the next week in a 28-20 victory over Missouri.

Some called for Young to be moved to tight end or wide receiver. But coach Mack Brown re-evaluated his system, junked a pro-style offense and almost exclusively went to the zone read, which was better-suited for Young's talents.

Texas didn't lose another game during Young's playing days, and he emerged as one of the best college football players ever.

That's not to say that Pryor will do the same if Tressel makes a similar move; it should be noted that Young had more talent around him than Pryor does. But it's something to consider.

After all, Tressel saw first hand what a player with Young's physical gifts could do. In '05, Young passed for 270 yards and ran for 76 in a 25-22 victory over Ohio State.

Trojans on high horse

From Tim in Plainfield, N.J.: Why is it that USC is ranked higher than all the other one-loss teams when it has an inexplicable loss to Washington? Miami's loss came to a tough Virginia Tech team. People seem to overlook that the Pac-10 isn't as good as it's hyped up to be. Why does USC have special privileges?

Is this an ACC fan questioning the strength of Pac-10 football? Hello, Mr. Pot. Meet Mr. Kettle.

But your point is taken. Miami's lone loss was to No. 15 Virginia Tech, while the Hurricanes have victories over No. 11 Georgia Tech and No. 25 Oklahoma. By comparison, Washington, which is 3-4, is unranked. And No. 18 Ohio State, which was beaten by lowly Purdue last week, is the only currently ranked team that USC has defeated.

You're also forgetting some very important details. The Trojans were without starting quarterback Matt Barkley and All-America free safety Taylor Mays when they played Washington. I'm sure most voters remember that and take that into consideration.

Ask yourself: Would Miami be as good without starting quarterback Jacory Harris? No way. Had Harris not played against Florida State, Georgia Tech or Oklahoma, the Hurricanes probably would've lost.

Besides, losing to Washington isn't as inexplicable as you suggest. The Huskies are not pushovers. Ask LSU, which allowed 478 total yards to the Huskies. Ask Notre Dame, which needed overtime and some helpful officials' calls to subdue them. Ask Arizona, which lost 36-33 to Washington.

By the way, USC's loss to Washington was by a mere three points, 16-13. Miami was routed by Virginia Tech 31-7. And keep in mind Virginia Tech has two losses, had a tougher-than-expected eight-point win over Duke and barely escaped Nebraska, 16-15.

Is a three-point loss to Washington worse than a 24-point loss to Virginia Tech?

Ida-who?

From Leland in Moscow, Idaho: Idaho was picked last in the WAC, but is now 6-1. The Vandals are in place to have only one loss when they travel to Boise State on Nov. 14. Don't you think it's time to get some respect for the WAC-leading Vandals? I think No. 25 is fair. Don't you?

On the one hand, I completely agree Idaho deserves acknowledgement. The Vandals haven't managed a winning season since 1999, yet one more victory ends that drought this season.

Honestly, I wouldn't have predicted the Vandals would win six of their first seven. Third-year coach Robb Akey should be recognized for an outstanding job.

Of course, I have two hands. And on the other hand, I do not feel Idaho is worthy of a top-25 ranking. They lost to Washington by 19 points, they haven't beaten an opponent with a winning record and three wins have come by four or fewer points.

Idaho is entering the strongest part of its schedule, with Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Fresno State coming up before the game at Boise State. If Idaho remains unbeaten in the WAC going into the Boise State game, that likely would be a matchup of ranked teams and probably the most important game played between those teams.

If not? Well, Idaho still has made remarkable progress.

All in or all out

From David in Detroit: Why are teams in non-Big Six conferences still allowed to "crash" the bowls? Boise State, for instance, continues to have doubters because it plays in a weak conference and most don't think the Broncos deserve a high ranking. I think they are a great team and deserve a top-five ranking, but I also believe that it should be all or nothing -- meaning that all conferences should have ties to the BCS or none at all.

Each of the 11 FBS leagues is tied into the BCS, but I'm not ready to buy the argument that the Sun Belt, MAC or Conference USA champion deserves automatic-qualifier status for a BCS bowl game. Clearly, though, teams from the non-Big Six conferences can't be denied a chance to "crash the party."

Why not? Three reasons: Utah 35, Pittsburgh 7 in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl; Utah 31, Alabama 17 in the '08 Sugar Bowl; and Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 in the '06 Fiesta Bowl.

There is no disagreement here that Boise State deserves a high ranking, and every victory by Oregon (which Boise State beat) strengthens the Broncos' case. In fact, Boise State's greatest threat to be excluded from a BCS game is TCU from the Mountain West Conference.

If TCU goes undefeated, it would have a better body of work and may get a BCS bid over Boise State. There is a chance both could get into BCS bowls, but two teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences have never been chosen in the same season before.

What about excessive 'defensive' penalties?

From Larry in Houston: Why are penalties called for "excessive celebration" by offenses after a good play, but defenses are never penalized when they celebrate? I have never heard a sportscaster or sportswriter mention this. A celebration is a celebration, whether it is by an offensive or defensive player. Have you heard anyone pose this simple question? I haven't.

Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis was penalized for a celebration after a 75-yard interception return against Iowa on Oct. 3, so, yes, I have heard of a defensive player being penalized.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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