Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- More than once after a game this season, Terrelle Pryor noted how college football isn't all that different from the Pennsylvania high school scene he dominated as the nation's No. 1 recruit.
After helping Ohio State stomp Michigan State, 45-7, on Oct. 18, Pryor told reporters, "It's just like high school." The line became Pryor's trademark this fall as he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and led Ohio State to another BCS bowl appearance as the starting quarterback.
"Liar," Buckeyes senior tight end Rory Nicol said. "But Terrelle's from PA [Pennsylvania], I'm from PA, too, so I'm allowed to say that. He's a good athlete, man."
Such a good athlete that Pryor's transition from high school to college has been smoother than many had expected, even for a freshman who came to Ohio State with unparalleled hype. Pryor has had his growing pains, but he led the Big Ten in pass efficiency (152.1) and posted an 8-1 mark as the starter.
With small-forward size and a smooth, seemingly effortless running style, Pryor at times looked like the best player on the field, just like he was at Jeannette Senior High School.
Could it really be that easy?
"You can't really argue with him," senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "He was just in high school last year, so he comes in, he's doing amazing things as a freshman. It kind of is just like high school."
During summer workouts, Jenkins did his part to make Pryor realize he wasn't in high school, but the freshman met the challenge.
"The first time we did 7-on-7 with Terrelle, I was calling him out, like every play, and he didn't back down," Jenkins said. "He threw the ball at me like six times in a row, didn't complete any, but he's just that type of guy. He's not going to back down."
Pryor's ability to perform in the spotlight at Ohio State enhances his claim that the jump from high school isn't as big as many suggest.
Despite Ohio State's poor performance against USC on Sept. 13, Pryor didn't flinch, completing 7 of 9 passes. He was at his best on the road in Big Ten play, leading a game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes at Wisconsin and showcasing his skills and maturity against Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois.
In five road games Pryor accounted for eight touchdowns (5 pass, 3 rush) and threw only one interception.
"As each game went along and he went through different things, we got to see him react," fullback Brandon Smith said. "That definitely helped us gain confidence in him, and I'm sure it helped him gain confidence in himself. Each week has been a stepping stone for him. Hopefully, he can put it all together for this one."
The spotlight on Pryor has never been as bright as it will be Monday, when he leads No. 10 Ohio State against No. 3 Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). The heavily favored Longhorns lead the nation in sacks and boast arguably the nation's top pass-rusher in end Brian Orakpo.
This ain't high school any more.
"I'm sure he'll feel a difference this game," Buckeyes wide receiver Brian Hartline said.
Pryor's presence strengthens the link between Ohio State and Texas, who split two meetings in 2005 and 2006. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is most often compared to former Texas quarterback Vince Young, the dual-threat maestro who led his team to a national title and finished as one of the greatest players in college football history.
Texas coach Mack Brown mentored Young and recruited Pryor, who he calls a "game-changer."
"I don't think anything's fair in comparison except when you go back and look at the same stage," Brown said. "I was able to see Vince at this stage and Vince wasn't playing at this stage, so really, Terrelle's ahead of him at the same timeframe. We thought it was good for Vince to get a year to redshirt.
"If you've got a trigger guy that can [take] you all the way, he's the type of guy that can do that if he keeps progressing as a player and stays healthy."
Texas senior defensive tackle Roy Miller sees similarities in Pryor's running style and that of Young. But after seeing No. 10 as the finished product in burnt orange, Miller knows Pryor has a long way to go.
"He's one of the greatest players who ever played college football," Miller said of Young. "I'm not saying Pryor couldn't be and he may. He has all the tools to be Vince Young. He has a lot of potential to be a great quarterback, but we'll see. Only time will tell.
"Who knows? He might show up as Vince Young on Monday."
Pryor didn't show up Friday, one of two freshman starters head coach Jim Tressel declined to bring to Ohio State's media day. It was a reminder that Pryor, despite already being one of the faces of the program, remains a college freshman.
The quarterback has had his share of freshman moments, holding the ball too long and trying to make the big play when the safe one would suffice. The latter hurt Pryor in an Oct. 25 loss to Penn State, as his fourth-quarter fumble sparked a Nittany Lions rally.
Pryor also showed his age after the game, blaming himself and taking the loss especially hard. His first bout with failure served as an important step for not only Pryor, but his teammates.
"I was interested to see how he'd bounce back from that," Hartline said. "I was glad he did take it to heart, though. It showed that there's passion for the team as a young guy, but I was never really worried as far as him bouncing back."
When reminded of Pryor's line about the high school-to-college jump, Hartline smiled and shook his head.
"I've heard that," he said. "Terrelle's a good guy, a funny guy. He didn't really mean it in a cocky way. He was probably just being dead honest, like, 'I don't know any difference.'
"It's obviously not easy for some, but hey, if he thinks it's easy, I'm glad. I'm glad he's my quarterback."