Chat with Austin Ward
Welcome to BuckeyeNation! On Thursday, reporter Austin Ward stops by to chat about the state of Ohio State football.
Ward joined ESPN.com in 2012 after five years as a college football writer at the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune and the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. The award-winning journalist lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio.
Send your questions now and join Ward Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What College Football Players who will be making their Ohio State Debut in 2013 will be Great for Ohio State?
Austin Ward (2:00 PM)
Have to think the guy at the top of the list in the minds of the coaching staff and talent evaluators is Vonn Bell. He might not be a starter from Day One with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett both back at safety, but he could transition to playing at a higher level quickly and be a factor in the nickel package right away. I think the guy on the offensive side of the ball most likely to make a quick splash will be Dontre Wilson -- he's got everything Urban Meyer wants as an option at H-back.
Billy B (Charlotte, NC)
What do you feel is Ohio State's biggest weakness and can they overcome it? Also, if Braxton develops as a dual threat QB will Ohio State be the team to beat not Nicky Satan's Tide?
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
There's not much question that right now the biggest deficiency for the Buckeyes is at linebacker. I think there's a first-team unit that Ohio State could feel pretty good about with Shazier teaming with Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant, but there's really not much depth to speak of. There are two talented freshmen coming in this summer, but linebacker is a difficult spot to pick up during the first year on campus and it would be expecting a lot for Mike Mitchell or Trey Johnson to have a huge impact. But with the Buckeyes likely to be playing a significant number of snaps with the nickel and dime groups, they should be able to overcome that even if the young guys on hand don't develop.As for the "Team to Beat" title, that belongs to the Tide until somebody knocks them off. But I think with Ohio State's schedule, the coaching staff and Braxton Miller going into his second year with the spread, the Buckeyes should have a legitimate shot at that opportunity.
Hindz32 (Stuart, FL)
Given the highly publicised lack of difficulty in the 2013 schedule, it may be necessary to not only win but win big if tOSU wants a shot at the championship. Do you think the Buckeyes have the mentality to that this year? Last year they could win but, apart from maybe Nebraska, they could never dominate.
Austin Ward (2:06 PM)
I think much of the criticism for the schedule is overblown. There weren't many people wowed with the degree of difficulty last year thanks to a down year for the Big Ten, but Ohio State still finished No. 13 in the country in terms of strength of schedule according to at least one ranking service. If the Buckeyes go undefeated again, then have the benefit of playing in the conference title game and winning it, there's no question they'll be in the BCS championship game. And as for the mentality, I simply think the improvements on offense will make it much more likely that they'll have some impressive margins of victory this fall.
I am a die hard buckeye fan. But I am not convinced that OSU can beat a flordia or alabama yet. I know ohio state is recruiting very very well. But it is not like they weren't recruiting well when tressel was there. My question is do you honestly think that Ohio st THIS year or in the next 2 years can complete with the SEC powers? I honestly think that they will get their shot at those teams maybe this year or next. But be careful what you wish for.
Austin Ward (2:10 PM)
That is certainly going to be the big question for the Buckeyes as Meyer continues to get the ball rolling toward winning a title. Right now, the difference between Alabama and Ohio State is the Crimson Tide is fully stocked at essentially every position. The Buckeyes have had to deal with some attrition and a couple classes leading up to Meyer's first one that didn't quite measure up with what the best in the SEC were piling up. The Buckeyes are loaded on offense and have certain spots on defense that are stacked, but there are some holes at places like linebacker that are definite concerns. How that particular group progresses during the season will ultimately be key if they're going to be capable of beating a team like Alabama this year.
if miller wins the heisman or has a better year than last year. Do you think he leaves for the NFL? I honestly think he doesn't.
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
I don't think so, Jay. Even if Braxton wins the Heisman, my guess at this point would be that it comes from a combination of another perfect record for the Buckeyes and a lot of rushing yardage. I think he'll be an improved passer this fall based on what I've seen in practice, no question, but I don't think he'll be an NFL-ready quarterback and would benefit greatly from another year on campus -- and potentially could get a boost from what might be a weaker draft at the position the following year.
Charles (So Cal)
What is OSU's bigger concern: Offensive Line or Defensive secondary
Austin Ward (2:15 PM)
I wouldn't call either of them a concern for the Buckeyes, Charles. If I had to pick between the two, there's more uncertainty on the offensive line because nobody claimed the right tackle spot outright during spring practice. But there are four senior starters to help either Taylor Decker or Chase Farris along in the fall, which is a situation that might be the envy of every offensive line coach in the country. In the defensive backfield, the Buckeyes have no issues whatsoever with Roby, Bryant and Barnett all returning as starters and no shortage of competition for a job Doran Grant currently holds as the fourth starter.
How much do you think the receivers have progress during the spring and outside of guys like Brown and Smith who will have the greatest impact at receiver as the third option?
Austin Ward (2:18 PM)
Philly Brown really impressed during the spring with what he could do after the catch, something that was a work in progress for him last season. Given all the catches he made, in the end his yardage total was something of a disappointment considering how much Meyer relies on guys on the perimeter to make a defender miss and rack up yardage. Brown looks much more comfortable and capable now. Smith has continued to add to his repertoire with his route-running, but he's still got some consistency issues finishing plays. He makes some absolutely sensational catches on difficult balls, but he's got a tendency to miss some easy ones. I think Michael Thomas will eventually emerge as the No. 3 guy among the wide receivers after a really impressive spring.
Luke (Ohio )
There's been a rumor originating with an Ohio State 247 writer for the last few weeks that OSU LB David Perkins is looking to transfer -- have you heard anything regarding this rumor?
Austin Ward (2:20 PM)
I have continued to monitor the situation since that report came out and have obviously been in contact with Ohio State, but there's been nothing official to report at this point in regards to a transfer for David Perkins. I'll admit I was surprised when the rumors came up with him, though, because he received some extensive playing time in place of Ryan Shazier during the spring and likely would have been the first guy off the bench in case of injury at linebacker in the fall.
I'm a little worried about this 4 team playoff system coming in 2014. The big ten has been viewed by many as being a weak conference. And we know how hard it is to go undefeated in a season to begin with. My question is, do you think playing in the current big ten hurts teams like michigan, ohio st ect? Bc 1 loss teams in SEC and maybe other conferences could be looked at first as one of the 4 teams bf the big ten teams?
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
I really don't think it will be a cause for concern for the teams at the top of the Big Ten. Winning the league still carries a lot of weight, and even in a down year and even with the SEC at the peak of its powers, the field isn't going to have at least two champions from other leagues in the mix and it couldn't have been filled with just undefeated teams had the system been in place last year. The "weakness" of the Big Ten, really, seems to be more about where it is compared to itself historically, in my opinion.
What's your take on the bucks current recruiting class? During this time last year, many experts were saying that the 2014 class could be Meyer's best and it's not looking that way, at least at the moment. The Bucks keep losing recruiting battles at key positions with elite recruits.
Austin Ward (2:24 PM)
Joe, I leave the breakdowns of the recruiting class to our expert at BuckeyeNation, Brad Bournival. He's the man with the answers there given the way he handle coverage of Ohio State -- but I will say this, Meyer's approach is more about finishing strong and being a closer than a fast starter. I don't think there's any reason at all to be concerned about what he's doing.
there has been some talk about moving the ohio state michigan game to prime-time instead of noon. What are your thoughts? I personally would love it. It would it more exciting, help with recruiting for both schools and more people from other regions would watch it as well. I see no downside at all
Austin Ward (2:26 PM)
I haven't been around The Game long enough to be attached to the start time, and I agree that it would draw more attention and viewers with a primetime kickoff. I think the things holding it back, and they might be significant hurdles, are the tradition and the number of fans that wouldn't want the rivalry under the lights. I have to defer to the rest of the people in this chat to voice their preferences and see if that's really the case.
Where do your think the fromt seven is after spring ball?
Austin Ward (2:29 PM)
Particularly up front, the Buckeyes are in better shape rebuilding the front seven than I expected them to be. A huge part of that is the progress of Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington at defensive end, and those two are going to be a force to be reckoned with this fall. Having a healthy Michael Bennett is also a huge boost, because he's got more than enough ability and was somebody who the Buckeyes thought would be a starter for them last year before the nagging groin injury popped up. Curtis Grant looks like he's finally flipped the switch at middle linebacker as well, so the front seven is on track -- it just needs to add a bit more depth.
ANdrew (Bucks County Pa)
why are the Buckeyes the only Big Ten team playing 7 consecutive conference games in 2014. Poor positioning of bye weeks. Who's responsible for this?
Austin Ward (2:31 PM)
I don't know all the inner workings of setting the schedule, but typically the league office will handle all those matters and try to spread things like bye weeks out the best they can through the season. With the way Ohio State set its non-conference slate, though, it looks like it's probably responsible for that setup in this instance with the week off after the opener.
Chuck S (Columbus, Ohio)
I am I stupid for thinking this 2013 Buckeye team has the potential to be the highest scoring team in Ohio State's history? I mean we only scratched the surface of what Urban's spread option can do. Maybe even the highest scoring B1G team ever?? Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:33 PM)
I'm honestly not sure off the top of my head what it would take for the Buckeyes to be the highest scoring team in conference history, but I have to think it could be in play for this team. The situation with the veteran offensive line, Braxton Miller's experience and athleticism, the depth at running back, trusted veterans at tight end and wide receiver -- this is a scary-looking attack that will be rolling out this fall.
fact or fiction. Jalin marshall will be a starting wr by week 6?
Austin Ward (2:34 PM)
Fiction. Marshall is surely going to be in the mix at H-back and will have his hands on the ball, but I think it's a stretch to project him as a starter as a true freshman at any point.
Ive been a buckeye my whole life and Im used to them getting my hopes up and then losing in some crazy situation that blows the whole season. So why should this upcoming season make me think anything different will happen this time around? Yes last season was great but that makes me think its even more likely to have a let down this year.
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
In many ways the Buckeyes were fortunate not to have one of those moments last year. There were obviously opportunities for that perfect season to fall apart, games like Purdue and even California early in the year. So in my opinion that should really only enhance your appreciation for what they did a year ago and reinforce how difficult it is to get to the top in college football. Could the Buckeyes trip up this fall? Sure. But there is so much talent on offense, a manageable schedule and a coach who has proven repeatedly that he knows how to get the most out of his team -- a lot of positives to focus on instead of worrying about what could go wrong.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who will Ohio State target to replace the decommited Marshall at defensive end?
Austin Ward (2:39 PM)
Tony, that's a great question for Brad, and I'll pass it along to him for his upcoming mailbag. As always, I've got to defer to our expert on that to make sure you get the best info there.
Chuck S (Columbus, Ohio)
Well Austin 2010 was the Buckeyes highest scoring team ever with 504 points. In case you cared!
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
I had the record book open just to check on that, Chuck. The other mark worth chasing is the 1969 team which averaged 42.5 points per game, tops in school history. The Buckeyes weren't all that far off last year, of course.
looking ahead to 2014.. I know way ahead. ha. Ohio st losing almost its entire off line, roby, both safetys, probably shazier, hyde, jordan hall ect. That is alot to replace. Sticking with the off line, I feel like that really hasn;t been address yet. How concerned r u and how concerned u think urban is for that matter?
Austin Ward (2:44 PM)
I can tell you that's at the top of Meyer's priority list since it was addressed to his liking with the 2013 class. There is still a good foundation for the future on campus with Decker likely going into this season as a starter, Farris emerging as somebody who they can rely on, Jacoby Boren as the future center and Pat Elflein emerging as a versatile piece. Obviously the Buckeyes will need to add to that group with the next class, but that will be a big test of the development process after leaning heavily on veterans for two years.
Luke (Ohio )
At their best, is there any team in recent college football history that you feel this OSU 2013 team has the potential to match/compare to? 2009 Texas Longhorns, 2010 Auburn Tigers, 2005 Texas Longhorns, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners, etc.?
Austin Ward (2:46 PM)
Wow, that's a tough one, Luke. Auburn would be an interesting comparison because of what it did on offense, who was playing quarterback, the fact there were so many questions about its defense going into the season. At that point, I would say that suggestion fits the best. I'm going to have to give that some more thought -- that's an interesting debate.
taking michigan out of the conversation. Who do you think the toughest game ohio st will play this year? Most people will say wisconsin. But I am scary to death of the purdue at their house. They have played us so tough this last couple of year and they are not even good!
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
My pick is the road trip to Northwestern, and the Buckeyes didn't get any favors with the game getting a late kickoff. That is going to be one of the highest-profile dates the Wildcats have ever hosted, I imagine, and the work that coaching staff has done over the last few years is incredible.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
How do handicap Ohio State's chances against arguably the best player in college lacrosse, Rob Pannell? Are you heading to Philly if the Buckeyes advance to the Final 4 this weekend?
Austin Ward (2:48 PM)
Man, Tony, you're making me look bad with these questions I can't answer. My focus even in May is locked in on football, so I haven't had a chance to cover any lacrosse. Can't really break that one down for you, and I wish I was hitting the road if they advance because that's such a cool event, but I'll be on the sidelines for that as usual.
I was wondering how Jayme Thompson has been doing. I have a good feeling about him and a scouting report I read seemed to back me up. Do you think he could be a good starter down the road?
Austin Ward (2:50 PM)
Chris, Thompson won't be on campus until next month when the incoming class arrives, so I haven't seen him work out with the Buckeyes at all and it's tough for me to project how he fits in with the system, transitions to college life and all those other things until he does step foot on campus. There's certainly a lot to like about his physical ability, and the Buckeyes would definitely benefit greatly if he makes a smooth adjustment with Barnett and Bryant gone after this season at safety.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Is the Virginia Tech game in 2014 the beginning of a home and home series? If so, you have to excited about that one. Blacksburg is crazy place to play?
Austin Ward (2:53 PM)
That is a two-game series with the Buckeyes playing the visitor in 2015. I have never covered a game in Blacksburg, and that is definitely one I'd like to experience. I've heard great things about it, and Virginia Tech fans were a pleasure to meet in the past when I covered them in a bowl game.
Mitch (Ann Arbor)
What's your opinion of the Rutgers/Maryland additions? I think it will take a little for them (more Maryland) to get up to B1G football quality, but I think playing in the new markets will create more buzz than some are giving credit for. Michigan at Rutgers will be fun - can't wait to go.
Austin Ward (2:55 PM)
Those programs weren't exactly the two I was expecting when the Big Ten expanded, but they each make sense for what they bring to the table. No, there's not a lot of recent success in football to look at, but I think the influx of cash and attention is going to go a long toward helping them both play a little catch up with the rest of the league.
Why can't Brad do these chats so some recruiting questions can actually be answered?
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
Brad has a couple different ways to answer those questions, starting with his mailbag (which I think is accepting queries as we speak). Maybe we'll be able to look into ways to get him involved in these as we move forward, but I know for a fact that right now he's busy diving into some offers/targets the Buckeyes are handing out/chasing. Typically in these chats, the questions about the kids already on campus far outweigh recruiting questions, which is why I'm here.
fact or fiction. Hyde becomes meyer's first 1000 yard rusher this year?
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
That's got to be an absolute fact if Hyde stays healthy. He could have easily hit that mark last fall even with that minor issue early in the year, and he's only looked better in the spring.
Brian (Cape Coral, FL)
Why are people complaining? It's a free chat? Jeez, be grateful there's someone willing to chat about only Ohio State football!
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
Haha, thanks for the support, Brian!
How big of a concern is the depth on the Offensive Line?
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
I don't think it's much of an issue for this season, Rob. I expect Decker will win the starting job at right tackle, which allows Farris to be the sixth guy and capable of backing up at guard as well as tackle. Elflein gives valuable depth on the inside as well, and Boren is another guy who could really be a nice security blanket as he develops. In all, there's much more comfort for Meyer and Warinner now than there was a year ago.
Thanks just curious as to why things don't get mixed up some w/ the chats.
Austin Ward (3:02 PM)
No problem, Matt. For me, since Brad is so much more involved in that aspect of covering Ohio State and has a much better handle on it, I prefer to let him offer the meaningful insight on the recruits.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
How much will the Buckeyes need Dontre Wilson to make an immediate impact as a freshmen?
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think Meyer is close to his goal of getting the speed level on the Buckeye squad up to par with his Gator teams?
Austin Ward (3:04 PM)
I don't know that's it an absolute necessity for Wilson to make an impact as much as it would be a luxury, if that makes sense, Tony. The Buckeyes are going to be hard to stop whether they are able to turn Wilson or Marshall loose as an H-back or not, as they showed last year without that dynamic playmaker. Now, obviously, they'd rather have that element of the offense available, because it just takes things to a whole other level. As for the team speed -- oh yeah, the Buckeyes are closing in on that. Just wait to see what Noah Spence looks like this fall.
Austin Ward (3:05 PM)
All right, guys. That'll do it for my time this week. Great questions and comments -- kept me busy and thinking! Hope to see you all in here next time as well.