- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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CHICAGO -- While Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was watching quarterback Terrelle Pryor play in a high school football game last fall, Buckeyes basketball coach Thad Matta might have offered the first indication of just how good Pryor could be.
"You know what this reminds me of?" Matta said to Tressel, as the coaches sat in a small press box and watched Pryor play for Jeannette (Pa.) High School. "This reminds me of Greg Oden playing against high school basketball players."
Oden, with his 7-foot, 257-pound frame, led the Buckeyes to the 2007 NCAA tournament championship game in his only college season. He left Ohio State after his freshman season and was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers.
Pryor, who was ranked the No. 1 quarterback in the country and No. 4 player overall in the ESPN Top 150, doesn't figure to have such a meteoric rise at Ohio State. He joins a Buckeyes football team that has won three consecutive Big Ten titles and played in each of the past two BCS Championship Games.
It didn't take Tressel long to realize Pryor would be willing to wait to become a star. A few hours after the coach left Pryor's high school game, the highly coveted prospect called Tressel's cell phone.
"He apologized for missing a 35-yard post pattern," Tressel recalled.
Nine days before No. 2 Ohio State opens the season against Youngstown State, a Division I-AA program where Tressel used to coach, the Buckeyes are still gauging how Pryor can help them this season.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman, a fifth-year senior, is the team's undisputed starter. In his first season under center in 2007, Boeckman completed 64 percent of his passes and threw 25 touchdowns.
"Todd is a veteran, he's got total command of what we are doing, he's been very accurate, making good decisions, and we're giving him a lot of responsibility on the line of scrimmage," Tressel told reporters after a recent scrimmage in Columbus, Ohio. "He just looks the part of that returning quarterback from a good team."
And Pryor, who was the first player in Pennsylvania high school history to both run and pass for more than 4,000 yards in his career, looks like a freshman who can help the Buckeyes sooner rather than later.
"From what I understand about his ability, his desire and his work ethic, I would think he'll see the field," Tressel said.
How much Pryor plays is the question burning Ohio State fans' ears. They envision the Buckeyes using Pryor the same way Florida used then-freshman Tim Tebow during its national championship season in 2006.
Playing behind senior Chris Leak, Tebow played in all 14 games in 2006. He ran for 469 yards and scored a team-high eight rushing touchdowns. Tebow attempted only 33 passes that season, completing 22 for 358 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
In the Gators' 41-14 victory over Ohio State in the 2007 BCS Championship Game, Tebow ran 10 times for 39 yards and one touchdown and threw a touchdown to Andre Caldwell.
He told Todd, 'I can't wait to come learn from you.' Terrelle has kind of become his shadow. He has a real passion to learn from Todd Boeckman.
--Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on QB Terrelle Pryor
"Chris had been the starting quarterback for a couple of years," Tebow said this spring. "Being able to get along with him was very important. Chris did a good job of handling everything, and I tried to go in and do the best I could and help the team out. I contributed as much as I could."
When Leak left after the 2006 season, Tebow inherited the starting job. He became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, after throwing for 3,286 yards with 32 touchdowns and running for 895 yards with 23 scores.
LSU used a similar approach while winning the national championship last season. The Tigers spelled quarterback Matt Flynn with backup Ryan Perrilloux at times, and Perrilloux played well when Flynn was injured late in the season.
If Pryor is ready to play this season, Boeckman said he wants to see the freshman on the field.
"I know he's a great player and can do a lot of great things," Boeckman said. "He's very, very fast, and I know he really wants to learn and become a complete player. I think history speaks for itself with Florida and LSU the last two years. If it works out for us, let's use it."
Tressel said his quarterbacks have developed a strong friendship. After Pryor chose the Buckeyes in one of the most watched recruiting sagas in recent college football history, he called Tressel and asked for Boeckman's cell phone number.
"He told Todd, 'I can't wait to come learn from you,'" Tressel said. "Terrelle has kind of become his shadow. He has a real passion to learn from Todd Boeckman."
Pryor's playing time will ultimately be dictated by how well Boeckman plays. Last season, Boeckman threw six of his 14 interceptions in the final three games, which included a stunning 28-21 loss to Illinois and a 38-24 loss to LSU in the BCS Championship Game.
"You can't turn the ball over, and I know I had at least 14 last year," Boeckman said. "I've got to cut that down."
A third Ohio State quarterback might even see the field this season. Tressel insists Joe Bauserman, a 22-year-old freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., remains in the mix for playing time, too.
Bauserman signed to play football for Ohio State out of high school, but then signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a fourth-round choice in the 2004 amateur baseball draft. He spent three seasons playing in the Pirates' minor league system, before enrolling at Ohio State last year. Bauserman practiced with the Buckeyes in 2007, but didn't play in a game.
He just looks the part of that returning quarterback from a good team.
--Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on QB Todd Boeckman
Two other backup quarterbacks left Ohio State after Pryor chose the Buckeyes over Michigan and Penn State. Rob Schoenhoft transferred to Delaware in January. Antonio Henton, who was once considered 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith's heir apparent, transferred to Georgia Southern this summer.
"I think Terrelle and Joe are going to give us a little bit more depth than we've had at quarterback," Tressel said.
But it's Boeckman's job to lose as the Buckeyes embark on a season they hope finally ends with a national championship.
How much Pryor helps Ohio State's cause is still to be determined.
"It will be interesting because this is a different era and there was so much attention," Tressel said. "I'm as interested to see what happens as everybody else."
Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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