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February 21, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Austin Ward

Austin Ward
  (2:01 PM)

Hey everybody, welcome back. If you can believe it, spring football is less than two weeks away. I, for one, am ready to get back out there and see some action again -- that lack of bowl practice impacts beat writers, too.

Marty (Nazareth Pa.)

Austin do you think theirs any chance that the Buckeyes will be willing to play the Nittney Lions in Ireland? I think both programs would make out on that deal.

Austin Ward
  (2:04 PM)

Can't see that ever happening for a number of reasons, Marty. For one, both teams already make out quite well financially, so it would take an absolutely stunning amount of money to entice either party to leave behind what it could make for a conference game at home to ship the product over the pond. Home field is a prized commodity in any game, any league, any time, and one team would have to give that up in a given year. I know there's some appeal to those games, but an Ohio State-Penn State matchup doesn't really need a gimmick to make it more entertaining. And if that game falls in the middle of October, who is going to want to deal with all those logistics? Just doesn't make sense for me.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Who will be the Starting Quarterback for Ohio St. in 2013?

Austin Ward
  (2:05 PM)

This can't be a real question. The Buckeyes have a guy who finished in the top five in the Heisman race returning, so it's a pretty safe bet to expect him to be back at quarterback this fall.

Mark (Columbus, OH)

GO BUCKS! What do you think about the recruiting class this year?

Mark (Columbus, OH)

Who stands out in the recruiting class this year?

Austin Ward
  (2:08 PM)

There's not much room to criticize the work Urban Meyer and his staff did with a full year to recruit, though it is worth noting that the Buckeyes didn't get enough help on the offensive line -- something that will have to be addressed with four seniors starting at that position this fall. But, it's hard to see any other negatives. The need to restock the front seven was addressed in a major way, especially on the line. Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson were critical pickups at linebacker. Offensively, the Buckeyes landed the kind of speed Meyer craves and could well put some true freshmen on the field in the slot or the Pivot position. Really a great haul overall, not that it should really be a surprise with Meyer's track record and a 12-0 season to work with.

Nathan (Ohio)

Who will Ohio States biggest obstacle be this year and why?

Nathan (Ohio)

Will the Buckeyes win the BCS National Championship this year?

Austin Ward
  (2:11 PM)

The last week of the regular season looks to be the biggest challenge at this point, and that probably won't come as a surprise. With some better play-calling on offense in November, Michigan might have been able to put up a barrier to a perfect season for Meyer already. The Wolverines should be better equipped on offense with a stable quarterback situation and The Game is on the road, so there are two significant factors right there for the Buckeyes to deal with. I'm not ready to pronounce the Buckeyes a favorite to win it all by any stretch yet, but I think they've got a great shot at making it to the final game.

ibetonart (Ohio)

I think D Watson flipping depends on one thing...Chad Morris. If that cat gets a head coaching job as I think, no I KNOW he will after this coming season, Clemson will take a GIANT step backwards IMO. Before Morris Clemson was underacheivers with Morris as OC they are special and have a dynamic offense. Morris is going to land a big school gig I think SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 type job after this season.

Austin Ward
  (2:13 PM)

I defer the recruiting analysis to our expect at BuckeyeNation, Brad Bournival, because he's the one with all the answers on that front while I focus on the guys already on campus. But that take certainly makes sense to me.

seth (Liberty Center,OH)

Who is your pick to play significant minutes first...Wilson or Marshall? I tend to lean towards Marshall based on size alone. Your thoughts?

Austin Ward
  (2:15 PM)

I lean towards Dontre Wilson at this point based on the feedback from the coaching staff and the comparisons with his speed and elusiveness to Percy Harvin -- and the talk already of him being a candidate to play the hybrid role. That's not to suggest Jalin Marshall doesn't have the game-breaking ability the Buckeyes were looking for at all, because he's also going to be right there in the mix to contribute right away. But with Wilson's track-star speed, I'm siding with him in a tight race right now.

Tory (Buckeye In Iowa)

Austin, with Boren,Simon and fellow Seniors gone, who will be the big leader on the Defensive side. Until Boren joined the LB's mid year, the D lacked vocal leadership on the field. Who fills that gap, this years D could be a BEAST, if the leadership is there. Thanks

Austin Ward
  (2:18 PM)

That's a great question, Tory, and that is pretty close to the top of the priority list for the Buckeyes heading into spring practice and offseason workouts. Ryan Shazier is the only returning starter in the front seven, but to this point he's never really been mentioned as the vocal kind of leader that Simon and Boren were -- which isn't really an issue because his play speaks for itself. However, somebody is going to need to take charge, and the most likely candidates at this point are in the secondary when experience is factored in. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett have been identified as guys capable of shouldering that load, and Bradley Roby is another who can get in the ear of his teammates.

Hallan (Boston)

I don't think the buckeyes b-ball is elite, I just don't know why though, it hasn't been the same

Austin Ward
  (2:19 PM)

The issue for the basketball team is the lack of interior presence and a true secondary scorer -- which really could be the same thing depending on the player. Imagine what this team could have been if it hadn't just lost somebody that fit that criteria perfectly early to the NBA Draft.

Tory (Buckeye In Iowa)

Austin, besides Ryan Shazier, who do you think will fill out the starting lineup for the Linebackers, this group needs a LB to really step up in the middle.

Austin Ward
  (2:22 PM)

There's lots of hype around Mitchell and Johnson, and with good reason based on their natural ability. But I've always felt the position is too difficult to really count on true freshmen consistently, which makes the haul the Buckeyes had at linebacker in last year's class even more valuable heading into spring. Between Camren Williams, David Perkins, Joshua Perry and Jamal Marcus, Ohio State should be able to find two starters -- but it might only need one if Curtis Grant finally flips the switch and becomes the middle linebacker everybody expected him to be already. If he doesn't, I would expect Williams to get the first look at middle linebacker and Perry to have a crack on the strong side.

ibetonart (Ohio)

I think people over look Mike Thomas. I think he is going to be a good one here and this year he may break out. Am I crazy to think this?

Austin Ward
  (2:24 PM)

Not crazy at all. The expectations might have soared a bit out of control for him thanks to that productive spring game, and while those exhibitions don't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, the talent he showed on that field shouldn't be dismissed. Learning a system, adapting to the pace of the game, becoming a great route-runner, etc., doesn't happen overnight, but Thomas has been widely praised for his work ethic, and he's got the physical ability to be a factor on the perimeter. If he's ready to take the next step and Philly Brown perhaps plays more in the slot, there should be chances available for Thomas pretty quickly.

Andrew Z (Struthers, OH)

Although very premature, what are the odds Braxton stays for his senior season?

Andrew Z (Struthers, OH)

Your thoughts on the spring game being held in Cincinnati?

Austin Ward
  (2:29 PM)

I think it's pretty reasonable to expect that Braxton will be back for his senior season at this point, mostly because he's still got a lot to prove in terms of his throwing mechanics and ability to read defenses right now. Given how quickly he was thrust into the lineup, he really hasn't had as much time to develop as most would expect a third-year starter to have. I think the way the NFL is evolving offensively will help boost Miller's draft stock, but at this point it's hard to imagine it being high enough to tempt him to leave. It's important to note and easy to remember after last season, regardless of how the next level evaluates him, there's really not much wrong with his game in the spread offense right now.

Steven (Duluth, GA)

Rod Smith may very well be the most talented RB in the backfield, but is third on the depth chart. He is also going to have to contend with Ezekiel Elliot and Dunn for playing time. He has had his fumble problems, but has also been awesome at times. Will he ever get the opportunity to be the #1 guy?

Austin Ward
  (2:31 PM)

Those are solid points, Steven, and it's really going to be up to Smith to prove that he deserves that shot. When the Buckeyes gave him chances to carry the load in meaningful spots last fall, he delivered at times and looked every bit like the most talented tailback on the roster. Then there were the two or three carries that were disastrous and brought back the old issues. A guy can work on protecting the football and improve that aspect of his game, no question about it. It's harder to teach a guy to run the way Smith can, so if he is committed to shoring up that weakness, he could certainly become the No. 1 guy in 2014.

Andrew Z (Struthers, OH)

Recently Nick Saban offered "The Big Three" in the Cleveland Glenville pipeline. Renewed rivalry between Saban and Meyer?

Austin Ward
  (2:33 PM)

That rivalry might have taken a quick breather, but it's certainly back on now. Meyer continues to bang the drum that the rivalry with Michigan is all that matters, but it should be clear to everybody by now that the competitive fire in him burns for championships -- and he knows which guy is currently on top in college football.

Hallan (Boston)

Is it possible Braxton miller changes his mind and bolts for the draft and turning mock drafts around??

Austin Ward
  (2:33 PM)

Do you mean right now, Hallan? If so, no, it's not possible in any way for him to leave for the draft.

Steven (Duluth, GA)

Fact of Fiction: Ohio State will have a 1,000 yard receiver this year?

Austin Ward
  (2:36 PM)

I think it's fiction, Steven. The rushing game is still going to be the emphasis for the Buckeyes as their constructed now, and even with the expected improvement throwing the ball, Philly Brown was more than 300 yards short a year ago with 60 catches -- and there should be more guys competing for receptions as Thomas, Spencer and the newcomers work into the system. Devin Smith could prove me wrong though because his ability on deep balls makes him a threat to pile up big numbers in a hurry.

Tory (Buckeye In Iowa)

Austin, Who on this years schedule would be the team to give us a scare, besides THE GAME, I feel Northwestern at home could be a tough one. Fistzgerald always gets the most from his players. Also Purdue as of late has played there best ball against the boys in scarlet and gray.

Austin Ward
  (2:39 PM)

That is the exact game I would pick as a real dangerous one for the Buckeyes. Northwestern isn't going to have the same caliber of athletes as Ohio State, and that always figures to be the case. But the job that coaching staff has done is incredible, and the Wildcats have certainly closed the gap some and made up for the rest with intelligent decisions on the sideline and great execution. Winning at Northwestern shouldn't be considered a lock, and it's right there with Michigan in giving the Buckeyes two daunting road trips to manage if they're going to the title game.

Tory (Buckeye In Iowa)

Austin, Thanks for taking my question, new to this SportsNation chats. Do you know the situation with the Kicking game? Saw Basil listed as K/P, doubt he will be in charge of both, always thought Frank E. could add some depth if he switched over.

Austin Ward
  (2:50 PM)

That looks to be a work in progress still, Tory. The Buckeyes haven't officially indicated that Epitropoulos will be moved from receiver or that he's being considered to fill the punting void, but I expect they'll be looking at that option during the spring. Basil can handle both roles, and given how aggressive Meyer can be on fourth down, that's not exactly a work load that would wear out his leg. Truthfully, he wasn't used that much as a kicker last season either. The more pressing concern would be what to do the following season when Basil is gone, which is why I expect Epitropoulos will be tested out sooner than later.

Austin Ward
  (2:56 PM)

Great stuff from everybody today -- really a good turnout. I'm guessing there must be more people like me ready for spring football. Keep those questions and comments coming, because we'll be doing these chats all year long. But today's is coming to an end, so I'll catch you all next time.