Already a QB Controversy at Ohio State
by Trevor Whenham - 08/04/2008
Ohio State is in a pretty unique situation. They are coming off of two consecutive appearances in the BCS Championship Game. Whether they have deserved to be there is another issue--and their performance has been less than inspiring in the marquee showdowns--but the fact remains that they have done it. What makes it even more interesting is that they have done it with two different starting quarterbacks. Troy Smith won the Heisman en route to the top of the BCS in 2006, and Todd Boeckman replaced him in 2007.
Boeckman is back this year, he's a senior, he's experienced, and he's proven his ability on the field. He should be an absolute lock to start this year, shouldn't he? Not so fast. Super frosh Terrelle Pryor rolled into Columbus riding a ridiculous wave of hype. Coach Jim Tressel won an extended and heated recruiting battle over Michigan, Oregon, and Penn State to land the stud QB. It's never been said, but you have to believe that Pryor wouldn't have chosen the Buckeyes over Michigan, where he would have been the opening day starter, if Tressel hadn't promised him some playing time as a freshman. Even if he didn't, Pryor has such a freakish skill set, and a different one from Boeckman, that there will be competition and controversy over pivots from the moment Boeckman throws his first incompletion.
This wouldn't be that interesting if it was any team other than Ohio State. The Buckeyes are heavily favored to win the Big Ten again. They have one gigantic game looming on their schedule. If they could find a way to head to L.A. and beat USC then a third straight BCS appearance would be theirs to lose. Even a good performance in a loss could be enough. This is not the kind of team that normally has questions at QB.
Boeckman has a rare distinction - he's a sixth year senior. He only enrolled part-time in his first year to avoid using eligibility, and he redshirted his second year. Despite his advanced age, though, he should be reasonably healthy because he has only played one year. Boeckman is not the kind of guy that will excite you, and he doesn't make a lot of highlight reels, but he gets the job done. He completed nearly 64 percent of his passes last year, and he threw an acceptable ratio of 25 touchdowns to 14 picks. He will never surprise a defense, but it's highly unlikely that he'll self-destruct, either.
Boeckman's lack of flash is where the problems may arise. Pryor is a human highlight reel. He's got an arm, but if he can't find a target then he'll just make magic happen with his feet. He's precisely the kind of player that fans love to watch. Whether it is the best thing for the team or not, fans are going to be calling for Pryor to see more and more action early on if things don't go exactly to plan.
Tressel isn't making it easy for himself. Though he has made no secret of the fact that Boeckman is his starting quarterback, he has also said that he intends to work Pryor into the rotation and get him some playing time. That puts him in a potentially awkward situation. If he had said early on that Boeckman was the starter and Pryor would have to wait his turn like Boeckman did then he would always have something to tell fans and critics no matter what Boeckman does. By opening the door a little bit, though, he has made it easy for those critics to gain traction. In the instant gratification world that college football has become that could be dangerous.
The obvious parallel to this situation is Florida two years ago. Chris Leak was the senior incumbent, and Tim Tebow was the flashy freshman. As Ohio State knows too well, that combination was more than effective, and they won the National Championship. There are a few things to remember, though. First, despite his struggles and all the criticism, Leak was a better quarterback than Boeckman. Boeckman was never meant to be a star, while Leak was a prodigy himself. People didn't like Leak much, but it was relatively easy for Urban Meyer to keep Leak in place because he knew he was solid. Boeckman probably is, too, but he isn't as seasoned, talented, or proven. Another thing about the Florida experience is that it wasn't all roses. We remember the glory at the end, but we forget the controversies and the calls for Leak's head that came throughout the season. Finally, it's doubtful that Florida would have gone all the way if the fans had got their way and Tebow was given the reins. He was young and raw, and he would inevitably have made a costly mistake or two. The same thing is true with Pryor this year.
The biggest concern of this situation for bettors and fans has to be the impact on Boeckman. He came out of last season certain that he was the starter, and that would have built his confidence. Suddenly, he's feeling breathing on his neck from a legitimate threat. If he gets nervous or feels vulnerable then he could play less than his best and the team could suffer.
In the end, I don't think that this will make a huge difference. Ohio State is by far the best team in their conference, and they will be favored in all but one of their games unless something goes seriously wrong. Bettors should keep an eye on Boeckman to look for cracks, and they should see if Tressel struggles to keep a balance and maintain chemistry. For the most part, however, this will be a situation that will concern the betting public more than it should a serious bettor. Still, it will be fun to watch, and for guys like me who thoroughly detest Ohio State it gives us a sliver of hope that they may finally falter.