Ohio State's Pryor faces defining game

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There will be many more starts and other big stages for Terrelle Pryor, who's expected to spend at least another season and possibly two at the helm of the Ohio State offense.

But make no mistake: Pryor's long-term legacy as Ohio State's quarterback will be shaped by what he does Saturday night against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

There are no guarantees, especially with a loss to the Trojans, that Pryor will face another team of USC's caliber in his Buckeyes career. Sure, Ohio State's dominance of the Big Ten could continue, but Penn State seems to be catching up quickly in the conference. The Buckeyes begin a two-game series against Miami next season, but the U. isn't USC.

Let's not underplay what's on the line for Ohio State in this game. The Buckeyes need to change the perception that they can no longer win big games. They need to change the perception that they're just the best of a bad bunch in the Big Ten. They need to prove that a Big Ten team can compete with the squad that has done more to ruin the league's national reputation than any other.

For Pryor, this is a chance to prove himself as a complete quarterback and an effective field leader. He boasts the unique combination of size and skills that, if used correctly, could give the Trojans defense some major headaches.

"If he comes out and plays well, it could throw his name right in the middle of the Heisman race," Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey said. "It could definitely be a defining game for him, and hopefully he comes out and takes control of it."

Pryor saw the field against USC last year, but he couldn't do much to change the outcome. He was used in spots throughout the first half and showed good poise as a true freshman playing in a rough environment. But by the time he ran a full series late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in a 35-3 hole.

He took over the starting job the following week and endured ups and downs leading a veteran offense that had some strong loyalties to his predecessor, Todd Boeckman. After a strong offseason in which he improved his passing footwork and fundamentals, Pryor now leads a unit featuring many of his peers. Though Ohio State didn't name a season captain from the offense, the general sentiment suggests that this is Pryor's team.

"He's definitely taken ownership; that’s the role of the quarterback," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's more comfortable and obviously knows that all of us on the offense trust him and are more confident in him. There's a comfort level for him in that role."

Pryor created a stir last week when he paid tribute to childhood idol Michael Vick by writing Vick's name on one of his eyeblack stickers. The sophomore, who has been shielded from the media this week and throughout most of his college career, also took heat for some of his postgame comments.

Though the criticism seems excessive, Pryor is the type of polarizing player who will always find his way into the spotlight. He's talented and brash, saying in April, "There's some teams out there that are waiting for us, and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."

Pryor no doubt included USC in his thoughts. Saturday night, he has the chance to back it up.

"He looks like he wants to win the game for us this week," Cordle said. "If he can beat USC, that’s obviously pretty defining."