- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Few folks outside the Marshall locker room actually think Ohio State is in danger of losing tonight's season opener.
The Buckeyes are one of the nation's most complete teams, and their debut at The Shoe is viewed as the first step toward a potential national championship push.
So why should you pay attention to the game? Terrelle Pryor, of course.
Regardless of the final score, Pryor's performance against the Thundering Herd will be heavily scrutinized. Can he build off of his masterful performance in Pasadena against Oregon? How are his decision-making skills? Has he fully earned coach Jim Tressel's trust to operate in an expanded offensive system? Is he a legit Heisman Trophy candidate or just a byproduct of the college football hype machine?
Pryor is always the story at Ohio State, good or bad. He doesn't particularly like it, but he accepts it. He's used to being the center of attention.
"Everyone just praises you and holds you on a pedestal all the time," Pryor recently told ESPN.com. "Sometimes, it’s hard when you're getting more recognition than some of your teammates. I don't like that individually because I feel like everyone really should get the same recognition. But at the same time, that's the life we live in, the game that we play, and people love the quarterbacks and they put some people on different pedestals.
"You have to humble yourself."
Pryor sounds more humble these days, admitting that Ohio State's dominant defense has "bailed me out in a lot of games." The Buckeyes junior certainly has his share of critics, who harp on his passing mechanics and decision-making.
Many view him as overhyped and scoff at his 19-3 record as Ohio State's starting quarterback. Most agree that he has a lot more to prove this season.
"It comes with it," Pryor said of the criticism. "I watch a lot of Vince Young and Michael Vick and guys like that, they’re scrutinized guys and [critics] try to jump on people. I'm in the learning process, and whatever people have to say about me, that's what they've got to say.
"It's not going to bother me, it's not going to stop me from doing what my goals are and what I want to accomplish."
His short-term goals are simple: don't turn the ball over, make his throws in the right place and take checkdowns when necessary. Time will tell if Pryor is a better quarterback, but he sounds like a smarter one after two full years in the program.
"He's made light years [improvement] in his accuracy," wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell told reporters this week. "Understanding coverages, he's light years [ahead]. He'll be fun to watch this year."
Asked about the Heisman race, Pryor delivers the first of many stiff-arms this season.
"To tell you the truth, I just go out and ball, that's it," he said. "Lead the offense, put points on the board. It doesn't matter who we're playing. We do our thing, and we'll go into every game and execute, execute, execute.
"We do that, we'll be fine."