STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nobody knows about the Big Ten. Whether you watch from the shadow of Mount Nittany or from the Maumee River valley or from all of those places that the national naysayers gather, nobody knows for sure if the Big Ten is any good or not.
Nobody knew how good Iowa was.
Nobody knew how good Penn State was.
Nobody knew how good Terrelle Pryor was.
Ah, well, we know one thing now.
All of what Pryor, the Ohio State quarterback, accomplished during his time on the field the previous two weeks was not all smoke and mirrors. Not close.
Because what he did in wins over inferior opponents like Minnesota and New Mexico State was very similar to what he did at times last night while turning all those smiles into frowns here in Happy Valley.
Pryor returned to Pennsylvania and to the home state school he shunned while being recruited to Ohio State, and whether he was throwing the ball or running the ball or avoiding eating the ball, his fingerprints were all over the Buckeyes' 24-7 victory against the Nittany Lions.
And, now, they might soon be all over another Big Ten championship.
Iowa lost a quarterback and a game earlier yesterday, creating an opening for the winner of this one, and by beating Penn State, the Buckeyes set the stage to successfully pursue a fifth straight conference title and another trip to BCS bowl land when the Hawkeyes visit Ohio Stadium next Saturday.
“With the attention Terrelle gets and coming back to this place, he was definitely hyped,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said. “But he was focused, too, zoned in, and he needed all the focus possible to leave here happy.”
Pryor had no such enjoyable experience a year ago when his erratic performance and late fumble helped pave the way for a Nittany Lions' victory in Columbus. When the final gun sounded, he sat on the bench, his face buried in his hands, and there had been plans afoot here to have T-shirts made featuring that image and the words “Terrelle Cryor.”
Penn State coach Joe Paterno supposedly gets credit for putting the kibosh to that idea, but Pryor said it would not have bothered him.
“Heck, I would have tried to get one,” he said after accounting for 175 total yards, three touchdowns, and zero turnovers allowing Penn State zero short fields, which was huge considering the manner OSU's defensive front dominated the Lions.
“You know, I didn't cry or anything last year,” he said. “I wanted to cry, but I didn't. It was part of the growing process, and I tried to handle it the best I could. I don't want to make a big deal about it, but, yeah, winning this game was huge. Last year left a sour taste.”
They might not have had their T-shirts, but the Penn State fans did their best to get to Pryor. He is playing hurt with a bad left ankle, maybe a slight hamstring injury, too, so between OSU offensive possessions he spent a lot of time staying loose on a stationary bike that because of a narrow sideline had to be positioned awfully close to the lower rows of seats.
“I heard it all,” Pryor said, laughing. “They were really on me. But I couldn't let them get to me. I had to stay poised.”
Pryor's numbers weren't sparkling — he was 8 of 17 passing for 125 yards, with half of those coming on a 62-yard scoring strike to DeVier Posey in the third quarter. But he picked his spots, and his biggest plays seemed to come in the game's biggest moments.
There was an early, seven-yard touchdown run on what had been a called pass play, scrambles for several big gains to move the chains, the absolutely perfect long toss to Posey, and a short TD pass to Brandon Saine that totally deflated the Lions with more than 9:00 to play in the fourth quarter.
“There was a lot of pressure, a lot of attention focused on him,” receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. “I think this is just the kind of big win he was looking for.”
Good timing to get a big one, Tressel agreed, considering “T.P. has another big game next week.”
Indeed, Pryor had the last laugh this time. All the tears belonged to fans of the Nittany Lions, whose stock plummeted with a second conference loss at home.
For all the questions about how good the Big Ten might be, and for all the criticism at times this season of Ohio State's offense and Pryor, the Buckeyes now find themselves in position to prove they are good enough.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6398.