After his sophomore quarterback brought home the preseason offensive player of the year award, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said back in July that he was surprised that Pryor was so honored with the likes of Daryll Clark, Juice Williams and Adam Weber all returning to lead their respective teams. Now with one regular-season game remaining, the sophomore finds himself in the running for the postseason award as well. For that, though, he likely has a lack of offensive standouts around the conference to thank as much as his own abilities.
Through 11 games, Pryor sits sixth in the conference in rushing (57.5 yards per game), and 10th in passing (160.1 yards per game). Those numbers combined put him fifth in total offense at 217.6 yards per contest.
Tressel has often pointed to passing efficiency as a rating he uses to gauge how well a quarterback is performing. Barring a series of miracles, Pryor will be the first OSU quarterback not to lead the conference in the category since the 2004 season. His rating of 130.5 is exactly 16 points lower than the one he put up as a true freshman.
Should Pryor bring home the award, he would be one of the weakest winners from a statistical point in the last decade. He is on pace to throw for 2,081 games including a bowl game putting him ahead of just one of the six quarterbacks to win the award since 1999 – Indiana's Antwaan Randle El, who threw for 1,664 yards but carried the ball 188 times for 964 yards and eight touchdowns. Every other quarterback on the list threw for at least 2,350 yards, and the player who did that – PSU signal-caller Michael Robinson in 2005 – also rushed for 806 yards and 11 touchdowns.
However, Tressel said there is one statistic above all others by which quarterbacks should be judged.
"We always talk about quarterbacks in terms of where are we in the standings, and we have a chance to land well in the standings," the coach said "With that in mind, I'm sure as you look at your pool of candidates, you can't leave out the ones who have helped guide and lead their team."
Of the 11 players to have brought home the award – Robinson and Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez shared the award in 2005 – seven of them have been on teams that at least tied for the conference championship.
The Buckeyes have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title and can bring home the honor outright with a victory Saturday against Michigan. To get to that point, Pryor has been effective if not spectacular. In consecutive victories against Penn State and Iowa, he has completed a combined 22 of 34 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
While he appears to have been asked to do less on his own in the past two games compared to earlier in the season, the year has been one of growth for Pryor in the eyes of junior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.
"Last year to now his poise and his leadership in the huddle have changed," the wideout said. "This season in particular, I think he's grown in spurts. I think he's had some great games and then come back as an offense and not had great games. I think our offense, along with him, is at a point right now where we're getting better. We have confidence and some big wins."
Taking into account both on-field production and overall team success, Wisconsin running back John Clay also appears to be a likely candidate. The sophomore leads the conference in rushing at 1,124 yards despite the fact that he has missed one game this season. He is both the only Big Ten rusher with more than 1,000 yards and the lone back to average more than 100 rushing yards per game (112.4).
In addition, the Badgers sit in a three-way tie for second in the conference at 5-2 and 8-2 overall.
Clark sits fourth in passing average with 225.2 yards per game and third in total offense at 243.1 yards per game, while Williams does not appear in the top 10 of any major statistical category.
"Every year is different, but I think you look at who is the best player," said Indiana head coach Bill Lynch, who added that there could be a number of candidates for the award this year. "Quite often the best player is on the best team, which is why certain teams are championship teams."
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said he has not considered who he will vote for, but when he does he will use his own criteria to make a decision.
"I think what I will look for is the guy that impacts the game the most offensively in this conference," he said. "Usually, if the guy has not been successful at (impacting the game), I would imagine that the team is successful as well."
In other words, Pryor is as good of a candidate as anyone. So are Clay and a number of others.