In December, the university announced that Pryor and four teammates would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season after trading personal memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. However, then-head coach Jim Tressel went on to point out that Pryor, who would be entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback, would reclaim his spot upon his return in week six.
Instead, Pryor announced his decision to leave the program Tuesday night, leaving four quarterbacks to battle for the right to be the starter for the entire season.
When we last saw the Buckeyes on the field, Pryor was unable to participate in spring practices while he recovered from offseason ankle surgery. In his place, practice repetitions were shared mostly evenly between fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenneth Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and early enrollee Braxton Miller.
From that group, just Bauserman was made available for interviews during the spring. Following the spring game, the former minor league pitcher was asked about his first solid chance to be the starter – albeit for the first five games and not the entire season.
"It's awesome," he said. "You come here not to be the backup. You come here to play and eventually move on to the next level. If it's one game, two games, five games, I'll take what I can get."
As spring practice began, Tressel made a point of telling reporters that position battles are not settled during those 15 sessions. The focus of spring practice was to help each player progress as an individual in order to enter fall camp prepared to fight for playing time.
However, the winner of the battle faced the prospect of giving way to Pryor upon his return for a week six road contest to Nebraska.
Tressel's promise had the potential to put the Buckeyes in a difficult position. With a talented stable of running backs looking poised to replace the suspended Dan Herron, the Buckeyes have a realistic shot of opening the season 5-0 with or without Pryor. Two key hurdles are a night contest at Miami (Fla.) in week three and a Big Ten opener in week five against Michigan State.
Had one quarterback guided the team to victories in those games, former quarterback Craig Krenzel said it would have been difficult to swap him out for Pryor.
"It wasn't like they had just beat five straight MAC schools, so you're playing with some confidence," he said. "It's a lot of hypotheticals, but it would have been very difficult, no doubt about it."
Krenzel knew a thing or two about leading a team. During his OSU tenure, Krenzel directed the Buckeyes to a 14-0 season and a national championship in 2002 in his first full season as the starter. As the season unfolded, Krenzel said he developed a confidence level that was shared by his teammates that helped the Buckeyes survive a number of close calls.
"How does the offense handle (a change)?" he said. "How do the other 10 guys handle it who have been out there battling with him and they're starting to gel and they have rhythm and they're cohesive and it's a unit? It would've been difficult."
Krenzel also said that the abilities of the center are just as important as those of the quarterback in helping an offense get rolling. Just as Krenzel benefited from the solid play of Alex Stepanovich, whoever is under center this fall will be aided by one of the nation's best in senior Michael Brewster.
The prospect of switching quarterbacks would have become more daunting, Krenzel said, if the player in question was a youngster like Miller. The Buckeyes will face the NCAA committee on infractions August 12 and in the weeks thereafter should learn what kind of further punishment they will face.
With a postseason ban among the possible sanctions awaiting the program, the need to build for the future would overtake the competing desire for immediate success. That could spell more opportunity for Miller and less so for Bauserman.
"Find out which one of your guys is going to be your horse for the next three years and start riding him," Krenzel said. "(In that scenario) you've got nothing to play for, no pressure, just focus on player development for that season. It's going to make the next three months a lot more exciting because you've got guys that are not just competing to get out there for five games but you've got guys that are competing for the start of what they hope to be a long and prosperous career as a Buckeye."
However, it all becomes moot if OSU slips up and drops an early game or two. Bauserman said the quarterbacks within the program understand what will be expected of them as the season approaches.
"We've got these new receivers and guys who haven't played that much," he said. "We have to get them in sync with the quarterback. It's tough. We just have to really work this summer and get our timing down."