Commentary

The Big Ten's QB dichotomy

Originally Published: August 27, 2010
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

Put Terrelle Pryor and Ricky Stanzi in the same room or on the same field, and the differences immediately jump out.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireIowa QB Ricky Stanzi hopes to cut down on his mistakes in 2010.

Stylistically, they diverge. Pryor is the 21st century quarterback, boasting an extensive skill set and the ability to attack defenses in multiple ways. Stanzi fits the more traditional mold, a drop-back passer with good size and a live arm.

Pryor was the top QB prize in the 2008 recruiting class, courted by college football's upper crust before making national news with his post-signing day decision to become a Buckeye. Stanzi grew up in the Buckeye State but didn't get much attention from the big school in Columbus, eventually selecting Iowa in an unremarkable recruitment.

There's also the fact the two quarterbacks look nothing alike.

"One's 6-foot-7, 240 and black and the other's not 6-7, 240 and black," Wisconsin safety Jay Valai said with a laugh.

Pryor is synonymous with potential, the 2010 Rose Bowl, Vince Young, national hype and an ill-advised Michael Vick eye-black tribute (and subsequent quote). When Stanzi's name comes up, you think crunch-time colossus, first-quarter flopper, pick-six Rick and the Orange Bowl victory podium, where he became a folk hero with his "love it or leave it" line about America.

"They're both such great football players, but there's not many similarities," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "They're very different athletes."

About the only area where Pryor and Stanzi converge is the one that matters most: winning. Pryor owns a 19-3 record as Ohio State's starting quarterback; Stanzi is 18-4 at the helm for the Hawkeyes. Both helped their teams win BCS bowls in January.

They're two of the nation's most successful quarterbacks for two of the nation's best teams entering the 2010 season.

"At the end of the day, you judge quarterbacks simply on how they move the team, how they lead the team," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's kind of like a starting pitcher in baseball: What's their record and ERA?

"Both of them, you could argue, have had great success."

Both also know they must take steps this fall to lead their teams to a Big Ten championship.

Pryor appeared to turn a corner in Pasadena, as he put up career-best passing numbers (23-for-37, 266 yards, two touchdowns). But many still question whether he can be a consistently effective passer and, just as important, whether coach Jim Tressel will allow him to be a difference-maker.

Until the Rose Bowl, Pryor's sophomore season had been underwhelming. His passer rating dropped (from 146.5 to 128.9) and his interceptions total rose (from four to 11). After a disastrous outing in a loss to Purdue, Pryor's role diminished, and he was more bystander than pacesetter as Ohio State rallied for its fifth consecutive league title.

"Last year, I was a little in a change-up mode," Pryor said. "Things were slowing down but I was still trying to get a hold of the offense and catch on. … The way our defense plays, they've got to get more praise, because they've bailed me out in a lot of games."

No quarterback in the country got a bigger boost from his defense than Stanzi, who repeatedly put Iowa in canyons last season.

He threw 15 interceptions, five in the Indiana game alone. He threw pick-sixes against four different opponents: Arizona, Arkansas State, Michigan and Georgia Tech.

Amazingly, Iowa won all four games.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Iowa was the only FBS team last season to win more than two games in which it threw a pick-six. Furthermore, the Hawkeyes are the only team since at least 2004 to survive pick-sixes in four separate games in a season.

"It's careless on my part, and it puts everybody in a bad position," Stanzi said. "Interceptions are part of playing quarterback, but to have as many as I had, really there's no excuse for it. It wasn't anybody else's fault, they weren't tipped passes or anything. They were bad reads, bad decisions."

Asked how many of his interceptions were careless, Stanzi replied, "Probably all of them."

"Nobody's harder on Ricky Stanzi than Ricky Stanzi," Ferentz said.

Stanzi spent much of the offseason studying film of his 15 interceptions, not his 171 completions or 17 touchdown passes.

"I'm asking, 'What was I thinking? That was a dumb play,'" he said. "I watch it and I'm just shaking my head, like, 'What an idiot.' But whatever, shake it off, laugh about it. At the end of the day, I didn't get shot over it. We're still alive."

Pryor had a different offseason objective: leadership. Although he became Ohio State's starter just four games into his career, Pryor didn't immediately embrace all the responsibilities that came with the position.

He took a bigger role in leading offseason workouts and has carried it over into camp.

"To become a better leader, I've tried to stay in the locker room, talking with the guys, talking to the walk-ons, the guys who won't play in the games," Pryor said. "Not everybody will play in the Horseshoe, but they're with us. They train with us, they practice with us and you have to appreciate them. Going into this year, I've talked to everybody and tried to have everybody with me, and let them know that I'm with them."

He has a little bit of that Tom Brady calmness. He's interesting. I like his attitude and I like how he handles situations. This year, I think I'll be a lot more calm, like him.

--Terrelle Pryor on Ricky Stanzi

Pryor also has become more vocal on the field. After a recent practice, he approached linebacker Brian Rolle and praised him for making good reads on screen passes.

"That let me know he's not just focused on offense," Rolle said. "He's done a good job of talking to the offense and defense, letting guys know what he's reading."

Pryor often tells defenders when they don't disguise their coverages well enough. In years past, he never would have spoken up.

"I was really trying to get everything down for myself," Pryor said, "so it was very, very hard for me to even step up to other guys, defensive guys, and help them."

While Pryor evolves as a leader, Stanzi already thrives as one. His career has been defined by resilient performances, beginning with a come-from-behind win against Penn State in 2008 -- naturally, Stanzi led the surge after committing two turnovers -- and continuing the trend last season.

Maddening in the first three quarters of games, Stanzi was magical in the fourth in 2009. He fired the winning touchdown pass with no time left to beat Michigan State 15-13. A week later, he rebounded from five interceptions against Indiana to lead four fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Iowa's only two losses came in a game Stanzi didn't finish because of injury (Northwestern) and a game in which he didn't play (Ohio State).

"Nobody can flush it better," Ferentz said.

Ferentz isn't the only one taking notice.

"He has a little bit of that Tom Brady calmness," Pryor said of Stanzi. "He's interesting. I like his attitude and I like how he handles situations. This year, I think I'll be a lot more calm, like him."

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireTerrelle Pryor is hoping to carry an impressive performance in last season's Rose Bowl into 2010.

Pryor is no stranger to pressure situations himself.

"He does a good job of handling a lot of pressure that's been thrown his way," Stanzi said about Pryor. "Some may say unfairly, because of hype and outside sources."

To hear them speak about each other, maybe Pryor and Stanzi have more in common than meets the eye. While their differences stand out, perhaps it's what they have in common that truly defines them.

Both players have room to grow. Both made strides during the offseason. Both have skeptics and supporters. Both face enormous pressure and both have been winners so far in their careers.

"They both win and they both lead and they both look like they have the respect of their teammates," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said. "That's a pretty big deal. A lot of people can get on both of them probably for certain games, but when the chips are down, both of them perform extremely well."

College football is full of contrasting quarterbacks aiming for the same goal. There's even precedent in the Big Ten -- with the same two teams, no less.

"I'll go back to '02, we had [Brad] Banks and there was the guy at Ohio State, Craig Krenzel," Ferentz said. "Very different guys, but can't argue the results with either of them."

Krenzel led Ohio State to a national championship, while Banks guided Iowa to the Orange Bowl. Both the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes went 8-0 in Big Ten play but didn't face one another.

Fortunately, that won't be the case this year. Pryor and the Buckeyes visit Stanzi and the Hawkeyes on Nov. 20 at Kinnick Stadium. On that day, the Big Ten's QB dichotomy will be on full display, as two very different yet similar players will be shooting for the same goal.

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. Check out his work in the Big Ten blog. Adam can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com