COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The top priority hasn't changed one bit, even if the stakes aren't quite the same.
Ohio State is trying to win the Discover Orange Bowl, and Urban Meyer has made it well known he won't be changing his approach to postseason practices just because there's not a crystal football on the line when his seventh-ranked team takes the field.
But bowl practices are valuable for far more than just getting ready for one final outing. And with some extra time to develop young talent, Ohio State is also building for the future at the same time it's sizing up No. 12 Clemson. As the Buckeyes prepare to turn the page to 2014, these three guys might benefit the most from the bonus workouts and could use them to springboard into critical roles for the next pursuit of a national title.
SAF Vonn Bell: Landing the signature of this prized recruit at the end of the last recruiting cycle was the final flourish on another productive class for Meyer, and well before he stepped foot on campus there was hope Bell could contribute in at least the nickel or dime packages. That didn't quite pan out during the regular season, though he was a contributor on special teams and was still doing enough on the practice field to keep the optimism high about his potential. Given some of Ohio State's issues defending the pass while recovering from the loss of Christian Bryant in September, it's a bit of a surprise Bell hasn't been able to crack the rotation late in the year. But he's had more time to get comfortable now, and he might be seeing plenty of action as early as Jan. 3.
WR Jalin Marshall: Initially the conversations about the expansion of the hybrid, H-back position in the Ohio State offense weren't about just one newcomer filling the role. Dontre Wilson was usually the first name mentioned, and he made the most of his touches during his debut season as both a rusher and receiver. But Marshall was typically referenced just as quickly by the Ohio State staff, who raved about his athleticism and clearly thought he was every bit as capable of providing an instant jolt to the attack as Wilson would prove to be. Injuries during training camp slowed him down and ultimately forced Marshall to redshirt, but the Buckeyes obviously could have used another weapon at wide receiver this year and will definitely need somebody to help fill the void Philly Brown's graduation will leave next fall.
LB Mike Mitchell: The lack of depth at linebacker was glaring as the season progressed, but Ohio State was patient with another of its prized recruits in the 2013 class, and that should help restock the cupboard moving forward. Mitchell has tested off the charts athletically, and whether or not the starting unit returns intact pending Ryan Shazier's decision about his final season of eligibility, simply having Mitchell in the rotation along with classmate Trey Johnson should be a lift as the Buckeyes look to get back to the elite level they've been accustomed to at the position.