As the 2010 season began, the Ohio State head coach was asked if and when he would begin promoting junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Citing a blueprint laid out by a former program spokesperson, Tressel said he would not launch any sort of campaign until three or four weeks into the season as long as statistics warranted such action.
"We've always kind of followed that school of thought," the coach said Aug. 30. "We don't come out the beginning of the year, as far as I know, saying, ‘Hey, this so-and-so is a Heisman candidate and so and so is this candidate. We kind of wait and see how they do."
Now four games into the season, Pryor is ahead of where the program's last Heisman Trophy winner was at the same point in his season. That would be quarterback Troy Smith, who brought home the award following the 2006 regular season.
With the Buckeyes 4-0 and ranked second in the nation, Pryor has put up big numbers both through the air and on the ground. His average of 234.8 passing yards per game ranks fifth in the Big Ten and marks an improvement of more than 70 yards per contest compared to last year's totals. In addition, he leads his team with 269 rushing yards.
In last weekend's 73-20 victory against Eastern Michigan, Pryor scored six total touchdowns: four passing, one rushing and another receiving. He became the sixth Buckeye to score touchdowns in three different ways in a single game.
But during his Sept. 28 press conference, Tressel said he had not yet considered any sort of Heisman campaign for Pryor and deflected talk back to the team as a whole.
"I haven't thought about it," the coach said. "I guess my experience has been whether it's Heisman campaigns or Jim Thorpe or whatever campaigns, they're most affected by how the team does. So I guess we're on a campaign trying to be as successful as we can be.
"I'm sure we do all the other stuff, send emails and postcards, those kinds of things, but just like we always talk about in sports marketing, there's only one thing that markets, and that's winning."
As a senior in 2006, Smith completed 203 of 311 passes for 2,542 yards and 30 touchdowns against six interceptions. It marked the fourth-most prolific season for an OSU quarterback, and his passing efficiency rating of 161.9 was the third-best mark in school history.
Although Smith ascended to the starting spot by showcasing his running abilities as well, he preferred to stay in the pocket that season and carried the ball 72 times for 204 yards and one touchdown.
Pryor has already eclipsed Smith's season rushing total, and his passing efficiency rating of 167.2 through four games is ahead of Smith's 159.9 at the same point in the 2006 season.
The OSU quarterback sits 13th in the nation in passing efficiency, up from last year's 59th-place finish. In discussing Smith's growth in 2006, Tressel consistently pointed to his efficiency rating as a sign of his abilities. He finished the year seventh in the nation.
As Tressel pointed out, Smith in part took home the trophy because he was the best player on the nation's top regular-season team. The Buckeyes went 12-0 before losing the national championship to Florida.
Junior wide receiver DeVier Posey said he sees similar qualities in Pryor as he has seen in past Heisman winners.
"When you look at past Heisman candidates, (look at) the things that they bring to the team," the wideout said. "You look at Mark Ingram, and (Alabama) really leaned on Mark Ingram for the national title. (USC) really leaned on Reggie Bush. They really leaned on Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. You guys know we lean on (Pryor).
"He's our leader and he's a great player. The things he can do with his feet and the things he can do with his arm. It's just amazing. You add on the 6-6, 4.3 time (in the 40-yard dash), that just makes him a Heisman candidate in my eyes."
Since his prep days at Jeannette, Pa., Pryor has been compared to former dual-threat quarterback Vince Young for his ability to stretch opposing defenses. Although he did not resent the comparisons, Pryor said he has striven to carve his own path.
"I don't mind it," he said. "Who would not want to be compared like that? But at the same time I felt when I was younger I just wanted to be my own person. I wanted to be Terrelle."
Four games into his junior season, Young had completed 44 of 82 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns against five interceptions. He had also carried the ball 48 times for 310 yards and two scores. That computes to a 149.5 rating.
He would not go on to win the Heisman that season, finishing second to Bush, but OSU senior safety Jermale Hines again drew a comparison between the two when discussing Pryor's abilities.
"He's hard to stop," Hines said. "He reminds me of Vince Young in the sense that he can take over a game at any time."
So will Tressel and the OSU program start pushing a Heisman campaign for Pryor? It appears they already have. The quarterback is the only Buckeye in the team's weekly releases to have his own full-page biography page that has been updated with a new photo this season showing him rushing the football.
The first bullet under his name reads "Heisman Trophy Contender." Sounds like the campaign is underway.