Inside the mess at Ohio State

At best, the situation at Ohio State is a mess.

After head coach Jim Tressel resigned on Monday morning while the school remains under an NCAA investigation, new allegations arose against quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who is one of five Buckeye players suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling merchandise to a tattoo parlor owner.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that both the NCAA and Ohio State are conducting investigations of Pryor due to allegations that he may have received cars and other extra benefits during his time in Columbus.

Terrelle PryorICONHas Terrelle Pryor taken his last snap in Columbus?

While Pryor has been the subject of inquiries in the past, the report notes that this is the most significant inquiry the dual-threat signal caller has faced during his time as a Buckeye. According to the paper, the 6-6, 233-pounder has been connected with more than a half dozen cars during his tenure in Columbus. The quarterback reportedly was stopped for traffic violations three times in the past three years while driving cars that he did not own, and his No. 2 jersey is one of about two dozen autographed jerseys hanging inside a Columbus car dealership where Aaron Kniffin, who also sold cars to Pryor’s mother, brother and dozens of other Buckeye athletes and their family members, previously worked.

Kniffin has maintained that the sales were legitimate and that he did not offer special deals.

While the investigation of Pryor is separate from that of Tressel's resignation, it’s hard to separate the potential fallout from the two cases.

While Tressel’s resignation certainly clouds the future of the Ohio State program — especially with the uncertainty in how the NCAA will discipline the Buckeyes — a potential loss of Pryor to ineligibility would truly weaken the team’s fortunes of competing for a Big Ten championship.

As I wrote following the team’s spring game, Braxton Miller was arguably the most talented signal caller competing to line up under center during Pryor’s five-game absence. The 6-2, 190-pounder displayed a quick release and seemed poised under center this spring, and he was able to make plays with his feet and still maintain vision down the field while flushed out of the pocket.

But the high-profile recruit from suburban Dayton, who reminds many fans of Troy Smith, is just a true freshman who arrived on campus in January. If Pryor never takes another snap in Columbus, is Miller really ready to lead this veteran squad?

Senior Joe Bauserman is the odds-on favorite to start initially because he backed up Pryor the past two seasons and the 6-1, 233-pounder knows the offense better than any other quarterback on the roster. But he really didn’t make a strong impression this spring and is limited athletically.

Sophomore Kenny Guiton shows good mobility in the pocket and displays nice velocity on his throws, and he goes through all of his progressions despite possessing the athleticism to take off and run when it'd be easy to fall back on his run skills. But if he’s tabbed as the heir to Pryor, can he line up under center in Lincoln and keep his poise against a defense as strong as Nebraska — or any other Big Ten defense?

The quarterback situation is just the tip of the iceberg for the Buckeyes when looking at the 2011 season. If one was to project how the program will fare moving forward, that’s quite dicey. And who knows about the other suspended Buckeyes when all is said and done.

As I mentioned on Monday when the Tressel news broke, speculation has begun to run rampant about who may be a fit for the Buckeyes as head coach in 2012.

Luke FickellLuke Fickell will serve as the Buckeyes' head coach for the 2011 season.

Interim coach Luke Fickell will get his shot to impress his bosses right away, as the co-defensive coordinator will lead the team during the 2011 campaign. The 37-year-old is a former Buckeye who received a raise when Notre Dame wanted to add him to its staff. And he’s been linked to head jobs at smaller schools, so he certainly is an emerging commodity on the coaching circuit.

But could Fickell really retain the job in 2012?

It’s hard to imagine, even if the Buckeyes are able to fight through this season's adversity, that Fickell would keep the job past this year. After all, this is The Ohio State University. There are big names on the wish list.

However, will anyone want this job if the NCAA slaps major sanctions on the school? Keep in mind that more allegations were made in the SI story that was released late Monday, including additional players besides the Buckeye Five being involved in the tattoo parlor shenanigans.

So the possibility of major sanctions being applied is the big issue looming over Columbus right now — besides whether or not the team’s rising senior signal caller will be eligible to come to the rescue for the important road date against Nebraska in the middle of the season.

It’s become clear that university president E. Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith were quite shy in investigating Tressel last December when they deduced that “no other violations” had occurred under Tressel. Quite simply, they wanted the Buckeye Five eligible for the Sugar Bowl and didn't do as thorough of a job as they should have done.

While the administration is hoping and praying that the NCAA sees this only as a Tressel problem, it’s hard to imagine the governing body not proclaiming this an Ohio State problem, as well.

If that’s the case, Buckeye fans can stop dreaming of Urban Meyer, Gary Patterson or Bo Pelini. Because this would be a job no established coach would want to touch.

Email or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Upcoming Games