Ohio State's defense was tasked with replacing six starters in its front seven last season, but three experienced players in the secondary were expected to lead the group early.
That leadership never came through, though, as the Buckeyes' pass defense was gashed all season. Ohio State gave up 268 passing yards per game, which ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams nationally.
Those three starters—cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant—won't be back next season, so Urban Meyer will need to find new players to attain new success in 2014.
Will Vonn Bell lead that resurgence?
Bell played sparingly in his first year—mainly as a contributor on special teams. But after poor safety play fueled a two-week stretch that allowed Michigan's Devin Gardner and Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 755 yards and seven touchdowns, Meyer named Bell a starter.
The 5'11", 195-pound standout made his first start against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Facing one of the most prolific passing attacks in the country, Bell gave Ohio State fans a glimpse into the future.
There were freshman mistakes. Late in the first quarter, Bell got torched by Sammy Watkins on a 34-yard touchdown. On a few of the many screen passes Clemson attacked Ohio State with, Bell took poor angles that forced him out of the play.
Early in the second quarter, with Ohio State's back against the wall, Bell made a play that would suggest the Buckeyes have a star in the making.
Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd tried to flip a pass over Bell—a play that would have worked if not for the freshman's incredible athleticism. Bell made a leaping interception to temporarily save the Buckeyes.
“I just said I've got to make a play for my team and for these seniors,” Bell said after the game, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer. “I said I'm a playmaker. That's the reason why I'm out there here. So I had to make a play for this team."
That kind of playmaking ability was sorely lacking in the secondary. Meyer is hoping Bell can provide more of that in a bigger role next season.
Via The Plain Dealer article, Bell is extremely confident in his ability to save the Buckeyes' secondary.
“I've been having that all through high school,” Bell said. “Every DB's got to have that chip on their shoulder to think they're the best out there and they can cover anybody."