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 is the worst Ohio State College Football Game that you have seen this season?
Austin Ward (2:02 PM)
The worst game the Buckeyes have played this year might be the sloppy one that closed out the nonconference slate against UAB. Seemed like Ohio State was sleepwalking through that win with an eye ahead to Big Ten play. There have been a couple other victories that weren't pretty (Purdue, Indiana), but the results have all been the same, so Urban Meyer will gladly take them.
The Buckeyes will likely return Miller, Hyde, Hall, Dunn and Smith next year. Is there a better stable backs in the country?
Austin Ward (2:07 PM)
That's certainly going to put the Buckeyes on a short list, Andrew. Off the top of my head, I would expect Alabama's stable to be a candidate for that as well given the way they've racked up five-star guys with no problem over the last few years -- but you are absolutely correct that Ohio State is in extremely good position to keep pounding people on the ground, especially with four offensive linemen coming back as well.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
What's the latest recruiting news on Quick and Foster? How do you rate the Buckeyes chances?
Austin Ward (2:09 PM)
My man Brad Bournival has a much better feel for that than I do, Tony -- so I'm not sure my take on it would be worth all that much, just to be honest with you. It is hard for me to think the Buckeyes don't have a lot to sell talented playmakers like that, and with the momentum they currently have at 10-0 and the evidence of what this coaching staff can do already out there for players to see, I have a hard time thinking they can't land the guys they want.
I have been watching the Buckeyes a long time 40+ years) and the way Kenny G. and the D pulled off that overtime win was one for the ages. And that game is the reason I NEVER leave a game early or turn off the TV until the final whistle is blown
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
That was one of the more impressive rallies, given the circumstances, that I've ever seen, Pam. I'm not going to lie, I had to completely scrap the initial Instant Analysis piece that I had ready to post when the game ended thanks to the work of "Coach" Guiton.
Urban Meyer (Columbus, OH)
Will I get a raise/huge bonus if we go undefeated in the Big Ten?
Austin Ward (2:12 PM)
Well, there are already some pretty substantial bonuses agreed to in your contract, Urban. If the Buckeyes go undefeated, I would imagine you'll be getting paid not only for the division title and Big Ten title game appearance that can't be made, but also as if Ohio State was going to the BCS. That's some pretty good coin.
With the bball season starting tomorrow, who do you see emerging as the no.2 scoring option behind Thomas? This seems like the biggest question mark to me.
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
I don't know if LaQuinton Ross is ready to quite live up to the immense hype, but I came away pretty impressed with his offensive game in the exhibition contest last week. He forced a shot or two, but he seemed to be in good rhythm and his 13 points really seemed to come pretty easily. Will he ultimately be the second option? I think he could develop into that, though a guy like Sam Thompson probably has an edge on that for now. It also won't surprise me if Craft starts to assert himself as a scorer more often.
With no Buckeye football this weekend, can you give us an insight into the OSU/Marquette basketball game friday night?
Austin Ward (2:19 PM)
That's a pretty good early test for the Buckeyes right off the jump, and I think it will be interesting to see if Matta expands his rotation more than usual the way he's been talking about throughout preseason. An opener typically requires some help off the bench as guys get acclimated to playing at a high level again in meaningful situations, but how will the Buckeyes manage the group of five they keep on the court? This will be a good early barometer, also, to see how Ohio State handles a slightly different defensive approach without Sullinger as it frees up the post players to attack for more blocked shots.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams will emerge as major contributors this season for the Buckeyes? Are the Sullinger-less Bucks overvalued at this point entering the year?
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
The Buckeyes didn't look like the No. 4 team in the exhibition win, but there are any number of excuses that can be made for that closer-than-expected result. What I found most informative in my first look at the Buckeyes was how athletic the entire group is, and I think the change in style without Sullinger to a more uptempo approach is going to make them extremely dangerous. Maybe their current ranking is a touch too high, but I don't see any reason why this team can't get back to a Final Four with Thomas and Craft leading the way, because as I mentioned, I think Ross is ready to take the next step and Williams provides a lot of the dirty work that will be necessary.
Jordan (kansas city)
Give me an unbiased answer to this question.Who will win the osu/Michigan game?
Austin Ward (2:24 PM)
As the regular chatters now, I have picked Ohio State to win that game since before the season -- and I feel more strongly about that seemingly every week. The Buckeyes have been even better than I anticipated in the spread offense and the defense is improving. And Michigan has at times been an outright mess with the football in terms of turnovers, now also has some uncertainty with Denard Robinson and will be on the road with OSU potentially playing for a perfect season. I don't see any edges I could possibly give to the Wolverines right now.
I'm very concerned with the depth for next year's defense as it stands now. What can you say to make me feel better?
Austin Ward (2:28 PM)
I think there is reason to be concerned about the depth next year when you look at the key losses: Simon, Williams, Sabino, Howard, Goebel, now Boren and potentially Hankins. However, the Buckeyes should be just fine in the secondary and have some really talented young pieces ready to backup the starters, and the linebackers figure to be in much better position than this season all things considered -- assuming they develop as expected through the spring and offseason. Ohio State recruited well there and is starting to restock the cupboards, and it will start with an absolute machine in Ryan Shazier, which is obviously a bonus. It's hard to contribute in the front seven as a true freshman, so it's important to keep that in mind when you look at guys like Spence, Washington, Schutt, Marcus, etc. The future is bright on defense, even if the Buckeyes might not be totally ready to roll out two solid units quite yet.
What do you think the odds are on Big Hank staying for next season? Obviously that would be a massive loss for the defense, with Simon, Williams and Goebel already leaving.
Austin Ward (2:30 PM)
I have a hard time picturing him coming back, Adam. Hankins has not really talked publicly about it at all this season, so I don't know how he's really feeling about his future, but I would imagine it's going to be extremely difficult to walk away from those millions of dollars given how high he's projected to go in the first round. In my mind, it would be an upset if Hankins stays for another season -- but it would be a major boost if he did, without question.
Obviously Fickell came under fire this year. What are the odds Fickell is let go after this season or departs for another opportunity? Any chance other coaches are departing or there will be some coaching changes made?
Austin Ward (2:34 PM)
There could be programs that come after guys on the Ohio State staff, but I would be pretty surprised if Meyer elected to make a change or let them go without a fight. This is, after all, a team on the doorstep of 12-0. Fickell, as mentioned, took a lot of heat, but as I've said all along, Meyer is aware of the roster limitations. And when they went through those hiccups against Nebraska and Indiana and Meyer got more involved, the staff adjusted to a more pressure-based approach with more man coverage and has thrived down the stretch. I think Tom Herman is going to be a head coach for somebody in the near future, but he might have his pick of jobs if he's around to help the Buckeyes go on a championship run that is shaping up for next year.
Before this season, we could identify the one offensive weakness of the team (WR) and one defensive weakness (LB). What do you think they are looking to next season and will this incoming class be able to address those issues in the short term?
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
Looking forward, I think those are likely to be the two position groups that are the biggest question marks going into next season as well -- though I think both of them will be improved from what they are now, so that's not really an indictment of the receivers or linebackers. Really, on offense it's hard for that position not to stand out with essentially the entire offensive line coming back, Miller and Guiton at QB, Hyde-Smith-Hall-Dunn in the backfield and two solid tight ends. It will be interesting to see if a freshman can come in and be a gamebreaker there, but the Buckeyes will also have Devin Smith, Philly Brown, Michael Thomas, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields back. As for linebacker, I think the wave of current freshmen and will be much better suited to help out next year after another full slate of offseason workouts and spring practice -- again, I think that's a really tough place to play as a true freshman.
Any chance that Roby leaves after this year? He's a redshirt sophomore which would make him eligible, no?
Austin Ward (2:42 PM)
He is definitely eligible, Andrew, and I continue to be amazed that he doesn't get more attention from the draft experts. That may work in Ohio State's favor though. That being said, and I have not asked Roby this directly yet, he has said on several occasions that he wants to win a championship with the Buckeyes, and I don't think he'll be inclined to leave when he could do that next year while also having a chance to really boost his stock as a junior.
Should we be concerned about Dunn or Ball transferring? Don't see many carries for then next year again and then you have Smith setting himself up to be the starter in 2014.
Austin Ward (2:46 PM)
I don't think there's any reason to be worried about that for either of them. Dunn showed what he's capable of doing in the backfield when he got the chance against Illinois late, even carving up the Illinois first-team defense behind Ohio State's second unit on the offensive line. And Ball has been injured all season and was destined for a redshirt early on, so he still hasn't even had a chance to really show what he could offer the Buckeyes. Another factor that I think could or should be considered -- Meyer has proven that he won't limit himself to just one option in the backfield, even though at times this season he's had no choice.
Where do you see the Buckeyes finishing in bball this year? Top 2 or 3 in the conference?
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
I think the fact that it's such a difficult question to answer speaks to how entertaining the league is going to be to watch this season. I would be really surprised if the Buckeyes finished outside of the top three, and I think if they come together the way they're capable, there's no reason to just assume that Indiana cruises to the title ahead of them either.
Who would you say fans should watch out for this offseason that might not have done much or anything this season but could be a big impact player next season? Maybe one on each side of the ball.
Austin Ward (2:50 PM)
Good question, Adam. I think one guy on offense that will be ready for a major impact -- and will also have to make one -- is Taylor Decker. It's easy to forget that he was in a battle for the starting job throughout camp with Reid Fragel before losing out, and Fragel has obviously shown that he's no slouch out there at right tackle. Give the freshman more time to develop physically with that 6-foot-7 frame, and he could be a monster up front. Defensively, I expect the defensive linemen will all be major factors next fall, but to go a bit deeper, I would pick David Perkins or Jamal Marcus at linebacker. Those guys haven't really picked up the defensive scheme quite yet, but I'm very impressed with the physical tools and the way they've flown around on special teams.
This question has been asked a bunch recently and I've seen different answers. Which game do you see as "tougher" for the Buckeyes: Wisconsin (obviously because of Camp Randall) or Michigan? And I guess by tougher, which game would we be more likely to lose.
Austin Ward (2:56 PM)
I think a strong case could be made either way, Adam. There's the rivalry factor with Michigan, and if Robinson plays, a mobile quarterback the likes of which have given Ohio State problems. But I think the tougher game will be the visit to Wisconsin since it's on the road and the Badgers could make it a grind-it-out game. I think the Buckeyes have advantages over both teams and I expect them to win out, but next Saturday would be the bigger hurdle in my eyes.
M Bradshaw (MD)
I'm no longer a Buckeyes fan after they gave 4 more years. I'm out!
Austin Ward (2:57 PM)
That's an interesting approach to fandom.
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
All right, folks. Great questions as always -- enjoy the weekend and whatever games you end up watching. We'll be back next week as the Buckeyes get ready for the two-week stretch that will determine the legacy of Meyer's first team with the program.
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
See you then!