OSU's Rose Bowl victory is a win for the Big Ten
PASADENA, Calif. -- As traditions go, the Pac-10 playing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl was getting to be as outdated as a Christmas fruitcake and as ugly as a holiday sweater.
The Big Ten was beginning to be the old guy who gets invited to play in every pickup basketball game out of respect but ends up looking as out of place as Abe Vigoda in a relay race.
That was until Friday, when the Big Ten and Ohio State underwent a face-lift that would make Joan Rivers proud. Ohio State's 26-17 win over Oregon wasn't just a victory for the red-and-white clad fans who packed the Rose Bowl but a statement game for the entire Big Ten, which had lost six straight BCS bowl games.
Suddenly the conference that hadn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000 and the team that had lost three straight BCS bowls restored their place amongst college football's elite on a night that will likely be remembered more for the birth of a star than the resurrection of an institution.
After two years of unparalleled hype, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed why he was one of the most highly recruited players ever. He passed for a season-high 266 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 72 more and threw the 17-yard game-winning pass to DeVier Posey with seven minutes to play.
It was a performance reminiscent of Vince Young's coming-out party against Michigan five years ago before he dashed USC's national championship dreams the following year. Ohio State fans can only hope that this game is a similar precursor for a player who turned around his season following Ohio State's last loss of the season against Purdue Oct. 17.
The day after that game, Pryor, who threw two interceptions in the 26-18 loss, gathered the offensive unit together in a meeting room and closed the door.
"I'm not a loser," he told his teammates. "I've never been a loser and we're not going to lose again this year."
It was a Tim Tebow moment sans the television cameras and subsequent plaque to immortalize the speech.
"At that point we were all down and he said, 'I want to talk to you guys,'" said center Mike Brewster. "He was open with us and said, 'Maybe I haven't been the best to you guys but I'm working on it and I'm getting better. I'm not going to let us lose again.' He was right. He didn't let us lose again."
Against an Oregon defense that came at him in waves, daring him to beat it with his arm, Pryor finally showcased his passing ability. Time after time Pryor stayed in the pocket and found open receivers instead of running as soon as the first option wasn't there. This wasn't the same one-dimensional player who completed 5 of 13 passes for 66 yards in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas last year; this was the multithreat quarterback we had been hearing about since he was in high school.
As he stood in front of the Ohio State band after the game, Pryor tucked his gray Rose Bowl championship shirt into his helmet, took his championship hat off and put his arm around Brandon Saine, with whom he connected for the first touchdown of the game. As they sang "Carmen Ohio," he looked up and breathed a sigh of relief.
"I was a little lightheaded at the end of the game," said Pryor. "I just wanted to win so bad. We had to win. Not just for us but for the Big Ten as a whole. That's our family. This is for them too."
When Pryor finally made it back to the locker room he was greeted by Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who had recruited him two years ago to play in his spread offense. Kelly gave Pryor a hug and told him, "You're the best. I told you I'd see you in this game."
Kelly, however, didn't expect to be playing Pryor in the game, let alone get beat by him throwing the ball.
"When I saw him in high school he was a man amongst boys and at times tonight he looked like a man amongst boys," said Kelly. "He's a lot bigger, stronger and more physical. He looks like a defensive lineman. He's an impressive player when you see him up close. He certainly beat us with the way he threw the ball."
As much as the Buckeyes reveled in the win, jumping up and down and singing along to The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," which has become the team's unofficial anthem, many players paused to ask how their fellow Big Ten schools did earlier in the day. Posey even took a break from smoking a victory cigar to see if Penn State and Northwestern had won their bowl games.
"We definitely needed to get that monkey off our back," said Posey, who had 101 yards on eight catches and one touchdown. "It was in the back of our minds. This is big for the Big Ten. We're all pulling for each other. I want to see Iowa win and I'm happy Penn State and Wisconsin won. We need to show that we're back."
If there was any question about that, Pryor pointed to the scoreboard one last time before he left the field. No other sign or play better signified the direction of Ohio State and the Big Ten than that.
"There's going to be more wins like that in the future," said Pryor. "Get used to it."