When freshman wunderkind Vonn Bell announced he was starting (potentially at safety over Corey 'Pittsburgh' Brown in the Orange Bowl against Clemson), it was kind of puzzling for me. For one, I'm sure Urban Meyer had a conversation with him about what to say and when to say it, and I wouldn't be surprised of he had to run a couple extra laps or something to make amends.
But most importantly, I asked myself...'self, what took so long for this to happen?'
Now, this isn't a rant against Pitt Brown. The season long inconsistency of the Ohio State defense does not solely rest on his shoulders, and to suggest as such is ridiculous. There were failures from every position, at times, and at critical points of games. Curtis Grant, Bradley Roby, Adolphus Washington...the list of names of players that had problems with consistency this season is long and distinguished.
So why Pitt Brown, and why now?
I would argue that the Big Ten Championship was the straw that broke the camel's back. Early in the game, Brown horribly misplayed Connor Cook's 72 yard TD throw to Keith Mumphery. He took a bad angle, let Mumphery get behind him by five yards, and Sparty took an early 10-0 lead. And when I say 'took a bad angle', I'm being kind to bad angles everywhere. I've looked at the play as much as my stomach could handle, and for the life of me, I still don't know what Brown's thought process was. I think he thought he had a chance to jump the route and get a pick, but as soon as Brown stepped up, Mumphery kept going downfield, and by the time he got the ball, he was five yards clear of Brown. Five. Yards.
That was the Ohio State secondary, and Brown in particular, encapsulated in one play, in 2013. And because of that, it's time to see what the future holds for the Buckeyes. Brown is a senior and won't be back, and so the future is now for Bell.
Now, if what Bell is saying is accurate, he will either start in place of Brown as safety, or he could slide into the Star position, which would bump fellow freshman Tyvis Powell to Brown's safety spot. Either way, the Buckeye secondary will have, essentially, two freshmen starting at key positions against one of the most potent passing attacks in America on January 3rd.
Bell came to OSU on National Signing Day last year, and was the feather in the cap of the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera in coach Urban Meyer. As unsettled as the secondary was for a good part of the year, it's been mildly surprising to see Bell have to wait this long to get a crack at the starting lineup. With Christian Bryant's medical redshirt unlikely and Bradley Roby heading to the NFL, getting Bell this kind of big game experience will only help in the long run.
But everyone is concerned about the here and now – Clemson brings a potent passing attack, and there's a lot of worry that Tajh Boyd will run up some huge numbers on a vulnerable OSU secondary.
He will. Big numbers. Huge. Not gonna lie, it's probably going to be hard to watch at times, but it's going to give Bell (and Powell, for that matter), valuable experience heading in to next season. And really, that's the long play here. This game is important, for a couple reasons, but keeping this team prepared for next year's chase is as important as any of them. Getting these young, talented players valuable playing time in a big game situation will only help Ohio State moving forward.
And I would rather be able to look at the tape of this game and be able to tell myself that those returning players will be able to take that game experience, learn from it, and be able to apply it for next year as opposed to thinking 'well, at least I won't have to watch that guy stink it up again.'
But that's the worst case scenario. What if Bell isn't terrible? I mean, he was one of the highest rated safeties in the class of 2013, and by all accounts he's made great strides in the last month or so in terms of adapting to the college game, both physically and mentally. Can Bell (or Powell) be worse than Brown? Probably not. And if he is, well, it's not like it would be completely unexpected. He is a freshman, and he's facing a QB that is being talked about as a first round NFL draft pick.
Suppose Bell plays a good game, and helps a revamped OSU secondary lead a rejuvenated defense into their best performance of the season? Or heck, let's tamper it down a little more. Clemson will get their yards, but what if Bell and company manage to make him look human, force a couple turnovers, and are able to break up some passes? It's not out of the realm of possibility, and at least with new players, there's a chance that can happen. We already know the result will be with the same old cast of characters the Buckeyes have been playing all year.
No, now is as good as time as any to take a look and see what the future holds.