Ohio State returns 18 starters from a team that advanced all the way to the national championship game one season ago. Two of them were voted the preseason players of the year on offense on defense, and the team as a whole is the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten.
But as head coach Jim Tressel stood at the podium in front of media members from across the country to publicly discuss his 2008 team for the first time as part of the Big Ten Football Kickoff, the topic of conversation quickly turned to hotshot freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. After his recruitment captured the attention of the entire nation, the top prospect in the country as judged by Scout.com selected the Buckeyes at a mid-March press conference.
That attention does not figure to die down any time soon, judging by the events in Chicago.
"He's one of those guys that he wants to please everybody," Tressel said. "I don't think you can disregard the fact that all the attention that he's gotten, he wants to come through."
During both his time at the podium and in the hallway afterward while besieged by reporters on the event's first day, Tressel was asked a total of 10 questions about Pryor's situation – by far the most on any one topic. Many of his answers were speculation about what sort of role could be forthcoming for the 6-6, 235-pound athlete, but at least two things are known for certain: He gets to start practicing August 4 with the rest of the team and he will be incorporated into the offense as of that date.
Beyond that, it will be up to Pryor to prove his worth – and he knows it.
"Terrelle's the kind of guy that he would never ask for anything that he doesn't deserve," Tressel said. "He's a competitive kind of guy that he's going to try to deserve to play."
Current ESPN college football analyst and former OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit said he feels Pryor will be used as a change-of-pace quarterback in the same way Florida used Tim Tebow two seasons ago.
How far Pryor goes will determined by what he does away from practice and the weight room, Herbstreit said.
"Everyone's wondering how much he'll play this year, and my answer to that is how much is he willing to commit himself to the film room?" he said. "At this level of college football, it's about who studies film, who knows the offense, who knows the adjustments to the offense, who knows the defense, who knows the coverages."
Although Herbstreit was more than happy to talk at length about what Pryor is about to go through, the same could not be said for Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. During his time at the podium, the conference's senior member was asked what sort of impact Pryor might have on the conference as a whole this season.
"I don't think that's my decision to make," he said. "In fact, I think that's a dumb question to be honest with you. I think that Jimmy will have to figure out how he fits in with what his people are."
Although the coaches are not permitted to receive specific details about summer workouts, Tressel said he has heard overwhelmingly positive things about the way Pryor has transitioned into being a Buckeye.
"Brian Hartline said to me the other day, ‘That group of guys that came, that's a good group. Those guys are willing to listen, willing to learn, working like crazy, not pretentious,' " Tressel said. "I've heard those kinds of things said specifically about Terrelle as well."
After throwing for 4,340 yards and rushing for 4,238 more during his prep career, Pryor was coveted by teams from across the country before deciding to become a Buckeye. Now that he is in the fold, expectations are high.
Herbstreit said he has never witnessed a player receive quite as much hype as he has seen placed on Pryor's shoulders.
"I don't know if I've ever seen in the history of mankind the hype that Terrelle Pryor received," he said. "Never in my life. I almost feel bad for the guy because can he live up to it? He has to win like three national titles and two Heismans to live up to this hype."
Not everyone was eager to talk about Pryor, however. First-year Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was asked about not landing the quarterback and having to watch him sign up to play for his school's biggest rival.
"I only talk about players who play for Michigan," was his only reply.