This is the 62nd in a series of 100 daily posts, a Countdown to College Football. (Sort of.)
Smile, friends. It’s Saturday and today’s edition of the countdown is full of nothing but good news.
For one thing, you’re now another week closer to the first college football games.
Exactly 11 weeks from now, many of you will be waking up, putting on your white cape and cowboy hat and heading down to the Horseshoe for a real, honest-to-goodness football game.
And there’s even more to rejoice about this morning. I’m now officially done ruining beloved OSU traditions and stories, at least for now.
If you missed any of that series this week, you can read them below.
In today’s edition, we will take a look back at a superhuman player with a complicated legacy, the best #MACtion of the year, a coach with an insane career record, and the return of the Mack.
If you’re looking for something else to read, you can find yesterday’s edition of the countdown here.
Now please join us as we continue our countdown of the 100 greatest Buckeyes of The Ozone era (1996-present).
We will also preview one of the 100 most exciting games on this fall’s college football schedule, and one of the 100 things we’re most looking forward to this fall.
Plus, we’ll preview one of this season’s 100 biggest personnel matchups.
Greatest Buckeyes Of The Ozone Era
#39 Terrelle Pryor, 2008-2010
We didn’t intentionally rank Terrelle Pryor and Maurice Clarett back-to-back on this list, but it’s somewhat fitting that they ended up that way.
Both players were freshman phenoms whose otherworldly talent was apparent to anyone watching.
Both were plagued by off-field concerns of their own making during their time in Columbus. And both saw their time at OSU end before it should have.
Terrelle Pryor was one the nation’s most highly-sought recruits in the spring of 2008. A Pennsylvania native, he ruled out his home state Nittany Lions because State College was “too country.”
He ended up deciding between the Buckeyes and Michigan and its new head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Pryor’s decision dragged out more than month after National Signing Day before he finally picked Ohio State.
From then, it was just a question of when he would pass incumbent Todd Boeckman to take the starting quarterback job.
It happened just four games into the year. A week after the Buckeyes got fire-bombed at USC, Pryor started against a much less intimidating group of Trojans, from Troy. When he threw four touchdown passes that day, the job was his for good.
Pryor’s stats never quite lived up to the hype or obvious talent. He was good, but not transcendent for the most part, throwing 57 touchdown passes against 26 interceptions in his career.
He added 17 touchdowns on the ground, and another two on receptions.
One of his best games came in the 2010 Rose Bowl, where he threw for 266 yards and rushed for another 72 in a 26-17 win over Oregon.
He started three wins over Michigan, and went 23-3 in his final two seasons as a starter.
But what stands out most about Pryor are the moments when his physical tools made it very obvious that he was the most gifted player on an extremely talented team.
Playing in Iowa City in 2010, the Buckeyes trailed the Hawkeyes 17-13 with less than four minutes to go in the game.
Facing 4th-and-10 at midfield, Pryor rolled right, looking for an open receiver downfield. With the Hawkeyes dropping seven guys in coverage, no one got separation, so Pryor took off.
Starting at his own 42, he scrambled back to the left, followed a couple blocks and covered the ground to the first down markers with ease.
Five plays later, they scored the game-winning touchdown and the Buckeyes escaped, 20-17.
Pryor’s final stats from that game were not particularly impressive. He was 18-for-33 for 195 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He ran for a total of 78 yards that day.
His long stride never made it look like he was really moving that fast, but he was able to run around and past everyone else on the field.
When OSU really, desperately needed someone to do something to save the day, Pryor was able to do it almost by himself.
His career ended a year early, thanks to a scandal that wound up leading to the resignation of OSU head coach Jim Tressel.
Terrelle Pryor was an immensely talented player, who never consistently lived up to the level of those gifts on the field.
He was a dominating force, but somehow never quite put it all together.
What would his career have looked like if he played today?
What if he was in charge of an offense led by Urban Meyer, Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson, instead of Jim Tressel and Jim Bollman?
What if he played in an era when attitudes toward player compensation had shifted significantly over the past decade?
There might not be a better measure of Terrelle Pryor’s talent than the fact that he ranks as highly as he does on this list, and still inspires “what ifs.”
Best Games This Fall
#39 Toledo at Northern Illinois, November 7
This Wednesday night dose of #MACtion will probably decide the league’s western division, and could vault the Rockets into the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Toledo won 11 games and the conference title in 2017, but was rewarded with a trip to a bowl game named after a dollar store and located in Mobile, Alabama.
This year, they’re aiming for more. Head coach Jason Candle has positioned himself to make the leap to a Power 5 job in the next year or two. With an 11 or 12-win season, he’ll probably do it.
But that will require winning on the road against a team they have struggled with.
NIU won six straight in this series from 2010-2015 and also took the divisional title in each of those seasons before the balance of power shifted. The Rockets won in DeKalb in 2016, and then again back in the Glass Bowl last fall.
The winner here will keep their chances for a berth in a big-time bowl game alive, while the loser may have to spend the holidays in one of Alabama’s less-glamorous cities.
Stakes don’t get much higher than that.
What We Can’t Wait To See
#39 Buffalo Making The Leap
Seriously. Stop laughing.
Since joining FBS, Buffalo has been one of the levels most consistently irrelevant programs. They made the leap to the MAC in 1999 and have won more than five games exactly three times since then.
The 2008 team went 8-6 and landed Turner Gill a job at Kansas.
The 2013 team went 8-5, but Jeff Quinn failed to use that as a springboard to a better gig. He was fired a year later.
He was replaced by one of the most intriguing coaching hires of the century, Lance Leipold.
Leipold came to the Bulls with a career record of 109-6. If you’re not familiar with football, that’s good.
He had coached at Division 3 Wisconsin-Whitewater, and won six national titles in eight seasons there. Again: that’s considered a solid achievement by most observers.
Leipold went 5-7 and 2-10 in his first two years at Buffalo, and then got them to 6-6 last year. They didn’t make a bowl, and lost as many games in that season as he had in his entire UWW tenure, but it was still a success.
Most impressively, they were just a couple bad breaks away from winning 7 or 8 games.
This year, they return a lot of talent, including QB Tyree Jackson and WR Anthony Johnson.
The schedule is manageable, and the Bulls should at least be competitive virtually every week.
It’s entirely realistic to think they could win 8 games or more this year. If they do, there’s a good shot that Leipold will learn from Quinn’s mistake.
And it will be even more intriguing to see him have an opportunity to prove himself on an even bigger stage in 2019.
Matchup To Watch
#39 Amani Oruwariye, PSU CB vs. Austin Mack
Austin Mack, as you may have heard, is roommates with OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins. He also figures to be one of Haskins’ more important targets in big moments this year.
The pair connected for one of 2017’s most crucial completions in Ann Arbor, converting a 3rd-and-13 play on what ended up being the game-winning drive.
You probably remember that as well, but likely don’t mind thinking about it one more time.
If the Buckeyes are going to defend their Big Ten title, they’ll need more of that this season.
Amani Oruwariye was a second-team all-conference player last fall, thanks in part to four interceptions. At 6-foot-1, he has the size to match up with Mack.
However, he was also the defensive back that Johnnie Dixon beat to score a fourth quarter touchdown during the Buckeyes’ comeback win.
Penn State’s defense should be too stout to simply line up and pound the ball against all night. That means the passing game could again help decide this year’s matchup.
If so, expect Haskins to look for his roommate to make a big play in a big spot on the road. It wouldn’t be the first time.