June 26, 2011

Pryor's departure leaves QB battle changed

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Terrelle Pryor was only scheduled to miss the first five games of the 2011 season, the battle to replace him was a completely different story.

For the Buckeyes, the first five games were more about surviving than they were about starting the trek into the future.

If the team could somehow go undefeated - or even 4-1 - Pryor and the other three prominent players suspended would've theoretically returned to lead another loaded Ohio State team to another BCS bowl or even the national championship game.

If that were the scenario, the Buckeyes likely would have gone with the "safe" selection to replace Pryor for the first five weeks. The quarterback that showed the ability to keep Ohio State in games by limiting turnovers may have been the most natural selection.

But with the early departure of Pryor, coupled with the resignation of former head coach Jim Tressel and the uncertainty in what the future holds in terms of possible additional sanctions from the NCAA, things may look a lot differently in 2011.

Before Pryor left that's why we saw senior Joe Bauserman spend the entire spring repping with the first team. Far from the sexiest option for the Buckeyes, Bauserman provided that senior leadership that Tressel was so enthralled with.

Bauserman, who is in his mid-20s, hadn't become known for making big plays in his time with Ohio State, even in spot duty during regular seasons in the past.

But if the Buckeyes needed a quarterback to keep the team safe for the first five weeks of the season in Pryor's absence - allowing defense and superior talent to pave the way - Bauserman may have been the wise selection.

But now it's about much more than that. Even though interim head coach Luke Fickell understands the expectations at Ohio State are never compromised, it's about gazing into the uncertain future and attacking it head on.

In his introductory press conference last week that was the 37-year-old head coach's mantra. However, Fickell didn't give any clues as to who would step in. The vague nature in which Fickell spoke was likely intentional.

"We've got four great guys. They're going to be competitive," Fickell said. "(We'll) put them out there to give them their opportunities and see who can raise their level of competition and compete and who we can count on."

One cannot help but think there's no way for Ohio State to go but with the new kid.

Naturally freshman quarterback Braxton Miller seems to have the most to gain in the immediate future, particularly because he has been labeled as the next great quarterback at Ohio State before ever practicing in the fall for the Buckeyes.

Much like Pryor was touted long before ever taking a snap at Ohio State, Miller figures to be the leader the football program needs to bring it out of the shadows and back onto the national stage in a positive light.

Pryor's responsibility was given to him just three games into his freshman season, but the Buckeyes turned to the incredible freshman talent to help lead the program after embarrassments against top opponents on big stages in the recent seasons.

Now Miller is in the position to be the new stud to lead Ohio State out of bad light, this time spearheading a rebuilding process that spawned from off-the-field embarrassments in which Pryor was involved.

Miller - who showed incredible athleticism during the spring game when it came to keeping plays alive with his legs - may not have the pressure on the field that Pryor faced.

With Ohio State reeling with off-the-field issues and NCAA violations, the Buckeyes may not in the position to live up to national title hopes in 2011. There could even potentially be a bowl ban.

There are four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster - including Bauserman, redshirt sophomore Kenny Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham - but in order to put the off-the-field stuff behind the program, it may be about finally taking a look forward.

There will naturally be growing pains for Miller, which could potentially be avoided by going with some of the other experienced signal callers on the roster.

But Fickell and Ohio State are all about the future and putting a situation that has shamed the program in the past. If that's the truth, there's likely no other way to go than Miller.

Just like Ohio State wishes - the future has to be now.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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