What If...Terrelle Pryor Had Chosen Michigan
A week-long re-imagining of five events that shaped the last 20 years of Ohio State football
By Tony Gerdeman
Photo by Dan Harker
The year was 2007. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, out of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, was the most coveted recruit in the country. ESPN showed his games. Fox Sports showed his games. He dominated every time he stepped onto the football field.
He was as close to a can't miss prospect as you can get.
Everybody knew that the Buckeyes were the leaders to land his services, and even when the 2008 signing day came and went without Pryor putting his name on any dotted line, people in the industry still believed Pryor was headed to Columbus.
Then finally, in the middle of March, he made his decision, committing to "The University of...Ohio State".
He went on to win the starting job as a true freshman, and led the Buckeyes to a BCS bowl in each of his three seasons. He then ran into some NCAA trouble after selling and trading some trinkets and trophies, as well as a few other issues, and was dismissed from the football program.
You may have heard about it.
But what if Pryor had never signed with Ohio State? What if things had gone a bit differently?
Pryor would have stepped to the podium, cleared his throat, taken a chance to smile at the assembled masses, and said, "I have to decided to attend...Michigan University."
And why not? Rich Rodriguez was the university's new head coach, and Pryor fit his offensive system perfectly.
But Pryor knew that he wasn't going to just be handed the job, he was going to have to beat out Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and Justin Feagin. After all, when you go to the best schools, you're going to have to compete against the best athletes.
Sure, it could be done, Pryor could win the job, but it wouldn't be a guarantee.
However, seven minutes after Pryor signed, Rodriguez named him the starter, guaranteeing him the job as soon as he stepped on campus.
Threet, undaunted, wrote a letter to the editor of the UM student newspaper, The Michigan Daily.
"I want my fans to know that I will not be giving up," he wrote. "I am going to battle for you, battle for this job, and I am going to win this job."
Three days after that letter was published, The Michigan Daily published this response from Rodriguez: "LOL. No."
Meanwhile, back in Columbus, Jim Tressel had to come up with a plan. Without Pryor, he was left spinning in the wind.
He would be fine for 2008, because he had Todd Boeckman back, and he was fresh off of leading the team to the BCS National Championship Game the year before. But something would need to be done soon regarding the following year.
Boeckman would go on to lead the Buckeyes to a victory over Michigan that season, though Pryor proved to be more than capable of taking over a game. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their defense was tackling averse, and Chris Wells took great advantage.
However, Tressel could see trouble on the horizon. He knew that Michigan was going to be trouble in the future with Pryor at the helm. Something needed to change.
So, as Jim Tressel tends to do, he went back to what works. He searched for the next Troy Smith, a Wolverine killer who played without fear, and instilled it in his opponents.
And that's when he decided to put all of his eggs in the Tajh Boyd basket, and it worked. With no starter returning, Boyd sees the opportunity laid out for him and signs with Ohio State in February of 2009.
Tressel is beaming at his signing day press conference.
"We just signed Troy Smith 2.0," he said, adding, "Somebody told me to say that. I have no idea what it means."
But Michigan knew what it meant.
Tressel assigned the number 10 jersey to Boyd, and even took to calling him "Troy" here and there.
Everything was done with the intention of simply slipping Boyd into Smith's old role as Michigan's black death.
But when the 2009 game came to be, it was the Ohio State defense that had the pressure on it, not Boyd.
After all, Michigan's offense featured Pryor at quarterback, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown at tailback, a freshman phenom named Denard Robinson everywhere else, and a weekly newsletter published by the Forcier family.
Of course, that newsletter only ever talked about how Tate Forcier should be playing in front of Terrelle Pryor, even though Pryor was currently averaging 140 yards rushing per game, and 240 yards through the air.
"Devisive (sic), selflish (sic) and basically just too (sic) tall," is how one of the newsletters described Pryor.
That 2009 Michigan offense was one of a kind, but it wouldn't be enough. The Wolverines would go on to score 38 points against Boyd's Buckeyes and still lose by three touchdowns.
"I don't get it, we scored a lot of points," Rodriguez would say after the game.
The 2010 game would be Pryor's last, as he was going to leave early for the NFL and be a guaranteed first-round draft pick. As such, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on him to finally get a win over the Buckeyes.
But nobody thrived on pressure like Pryor.
The 2010 game was the best of his career. He threw for 350 yards and rushed for another 175 yards, piling up seven total touchdowns.
As you might expect, however, those 49 points weren't quite enough, as the Wolverines would fall to the Buckeyes yet again, and again by 21 points.
"I didn't even know a team could lose once they scored 49 points," Rodriguez says after the game. When it is pointed out that the Buckeyes scored 70 points, Rodriguez responded, "Yeah, but we scored 49!"
So Pryor, the most can't-miss recruit we've seen in the last decade, was a grand slam for the Wolverines. Sure, he finished 0-3 against Ohio State, but he led Michigan to three bowl games, one of which was even played in January!
A model citizen, Pryor would have ultimately spent three seasons at "Michigan University" and performed brilliantly in each of them. He would have left as a Wolverine great. And as far as anyone could tell, he never found himself in any trouble with the NCAA.
No trinkets, rings or trophies sold. No no-show jobs in his file.
Of course, it's hard to sell trinkets and trophies when you never win any. And even no-show jobs are hard to have time for when you're busy practicing more than the NCAA allows.
Had Terrelle Pryor gone to Michigan, he would have been unbelievable. But Rodriguez's defenses wouldn't have changed. In fact, all Pryor would end up doing is prolonging RichRod's stay at Michigan.
Rodriguez would be entering his third season post-Pryor this year. Things would not be going well for him. The pressure would be at its peak. Without a successful season and a win over Ohio State, it would be unlikely for him to be retained for a seventh season.
And the Buckeyes? They would be breaking in a new starting quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Braxton Miller.
He would be wearing a number 10 jersey, and sometimes Jim Tressel would call him "Troy".
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