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 College Football Game that Ohio State has Played in this season?
Austin Ward (2:01 PM)
It's hard for the Buckeyes to complain about any of them since they've won them all. Obviously the one that troubled them the most was having to struggle the way they did against Purdue and win in overtime, so that was their worst outing. But they'll gladly take the result.
Do you believe Braxton heisman campaign is a little premature due to the fact that this young man has a long way to go before he is even considered to be a good passer?
Austin Ward (2:04 PM)
I don't think the campaign is premature at all. I don't think Braxton is going to win the Heisman this year, but it's well within reason to think he'll be in New York as a finalist given the incredible impact he's had for an undefeated team. If the Buckeyes struggle over the next two weeks, he might wind up losing that invitation. But it's not going to be because he's not yet an elite passer. In reality, while the Penn State performance was troubling, there has been marked improvement in his throwing ability this season -- the consistency just isn't there yet. But his numbers, nearly 1800 passing yards and 14 TDs to complement almost 1200 rushing yards and 13 more scores, stack up with anybody at the position in terms of impact.
Do you believe urban Meyer recruiting legacy is overrated? In 2 classes he has yet to bring in a top 10 recruit.
Austin Ward (2:05 PM)
I don't even know where to start with this one. No, I don't think for a single second that his recruiting is overrated. His legacy is far more than two classes in his career, obviously, and will be defined specific to Ohio State by more than the first 12 months on the job.
Harry Zhao (Columbus, OH)
Hi, Austin, What's your envision of Buckeyes' next year title run? I'm not convinced we will be good enough to beat a SEC champion based on the personnel we have and how our O and D are currently at? Can off season make that big a leap?
Austin Ward (2:07 PM)
The biggest hurdle is going to be on defense, Harry. I think anybody, SEC or not, is going to have an exceedingly difficult time slowing down the Buckeyes on offense next year. Essentially everybody will be back who has had a big impact this year save for Reid Fragel, plus Braxton Miller will have had another year to develop. As for that other side of the ball, the Buckeyes are looking at replacing a minimum of six starters on defense -- and could potentially lose Roby and Hankins early to the NFL Draft. How the freshmen that haven't played all that much this season develop will determine if the Buckeyes can truly win a title next year, because there is no doubt the offense can put them in position.
Chris Owens (Columbus, Ohio)
Give us a bold prediction for the game this weekend!
Austin Ward (2:09 PM)
The Badgers have been too inconsistent with their rushing game, even though when it's rolling it can be very difficult to stop. The better defenses they've faced have been able to keep them in check, and a power-rushing attack and a third-string quarterback plays right into Ohio State's hands. I believe the unbeaten season rolls along, something like 31-17.
Seriously Antwon? are my fellow buckeye brethren this stupid?
Do you see any of the young linebackers getting play tomorrow, or do you see the Sabino/Klein/Shazier/Boren group because of the level of the game?
Austin Ward (2:11 PM)
Vladimir, I don't even know if Klein would be included in that mix unless something goes wrong health-wise with the others. Klein has been a trooper with a disc injury in his back, but I'm not sure he'd be able to help all that much, and the Buckeyes haven't been inclined to expand that rotation much at linebacker in the first place. To be fair to the young guys, several of them have had injury concerns late in the season as well, but Meyer has really been amped up this week thanks to what Sabino can give them in terms of flexibility with the 4-3 and the Nickel.
What's the likelihood of Luke Fickell leaving for a head coaching job within the next couple years? Also other coaches like Whithers and/or Herman?
Austin Ward (2:13 PM)
Of those guys, Kevin, I think Herman is the assistant most likely to land a big-time job in the next couple years -- perhaps as soon as after the 2013 season. He's really done a great job with the offense and will have Meyer's seal of approval, but I think everybody on the staff would get a bump from winning a national title (or competing for one), so it's kind of in their best interests to stick it out unless somebody comes in with a huge offer now. I don't really think that will happen at this point, but Withers will also be intriguing to programs with his previous experience and reputation.
What are the chances Bradley Roby leaves for the NFL after this year? and what round would he be picked if he did enter the draft?
Austin Ward (2:15 PM)
That's a great question, Jake -- and not just because I've been writing about that today for a story that will run tomorrow on BN. Until this week, I really didn't think Roby was seriously considering an early departure for the program, and while I still get the impression that he wants to play for a national title, he's also going to listen to the feedback about his draft grade. If it were me, I think he's a first-round talent having watched him closely all season. But for some reason, scouts and experts haven't evaluated him that highly at this point -- which could work in Ohio State's favor, to be honest.
This is for Antwon, Meyer had a top 10 recruiting class and we have the number 6 kid this year which would be in his two classes.
Austin Ward (2:16 PM)
Thanks for the assist, Chris.
Can you elaborate on this QB that is playing for Wisconsin? I haven't seen him or their team play much at all this season and don't know what to expect.
Austin Ward (2:21 PM)
The Buckeyes haven't seen that much of him either. Curt Phillips came in due to injuries last week against Indiana and he only threw 7 passes in the blowout thanks in very large part to the success the Badgers had on the ground. He's a mobile guy, but he's had to deal with several knee injuries in his career which obviously derailed the impact he could have. But the Buckeyes are expecting Wisconsin to do a few things to capitalize on his legs, perhaps some zone-reads and designed runs -- but he's inexperienced as a passer, so it remains to be seen just how creative the Badgers get when they have Ball and White to hand it to.
Who has more rushing yards this weekend, Miller or Ball?
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
I'm taking Braxton, Andrew. For one, like I mentioned in the previous question, I think the Buckeyes will be able to sell out to defend the run more than Wisconsin will since they'll have more of a threat to pass. Plus, the Ohio State defense is at its best against an offense like Wisconsin's, and they've had some success against Ball in the past.
Telebucks (Lucas County, OH)
Is Urban Meyer a Republican or a Democrat?
Austin Ward (2:23 PM)
I have no idea, and that's exactly how he wants it.
Harry Zhao (Columbus, OH)
Thanks for the response to the question about next year's title run. Got another question on Big 10 in general. Previous years as long as we run the table we will be for sure in the title game. With a trending down big-ten and poor national perception of this league, it concerns me not only for next year's schedule, but also the competition level where we are at. Competing in a bad league will make you feel good about yourself but being crushed in the big time national stage. The reality is I don't see this is improving in the upcoming years. Michigan might be a little better. Wisconsin, Neb, NW and Michigan St. could be good teams, but questionable for producing more than 1 top 15 teams considering only Neb is in top 15 now. Really nothing you can do about it. Big 10 doesn't seem to be as united as SEC as well. Never hear any chant "BIG", lol
Austin Ward (2:30 PM)
Those are fair points, Harry, and at least for one more year that will be a factor -- because there doesn't seem to be much chance a Big Ten champ would be left out in the cold in a playoff. Even this year if the Buckeyes were eligible and that system was in place, I think they would be in there. Now, as to the strength of the Big Ten, Ohio State would obviously benefit from Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin providing some company in the polls, and I think they will. I honestly have a hard time understanding what happened to the league during nonconference play, but it seems unlikely for that to happen consistently. And, no, I don't think any league will ever be as united and proud of the SEC, you're right.
I understand that players develop at different rates, example: R. Shazier vs. C. Grant. And I also understand the demand for quality players along the defensive line as Ohio State has focused on DE's and DT's the past two recruiting classes. But the weak point seemingly on this defense is Linebacker and there are no current LB commits in this year's class. Why does it seem that the LB position was somewhat overlooked in this year's recruiting cycle?
Austin Ward (2:33 PM)
I don't think it was necessarily overlooked, and there's still at least one big name out there that Ohio State desperately wants to land -- but the Buckeyes did make an emphasis of restocking the cupboards at linebacker last year, and by most accounts did a pretty good job of that. Ohio State spent five of its scholarships on that position last year, and while guys like Jamal Marcus, David Perkins, Camren Williams and Joshua Perry didn't have a big impact this season, that is extremely common for true freshmen. Perhaps it would have been more ideal to have a commit or two in place by now, but much of the groundwork to fix that problem was really done a year ago.
Do you think the outcome of the next two games will impact whether Roby and Hankins stay? If so, how?
Austin Ward (2:35 PM)
That's a tricky one to answer. Maybe if the Buckeyes go undefeated, Roby could convince himself that he already contributed to a team that could have or should have won a title. But I'm not really qualified to analyze people's minds like that -- and honestly, I'm not sure that I want to. So, to answer your question as best as I can, I think it would depend on how they play and if they stay healthy. If the Buckeyes get picked apart through the air over the next two games (unlikely in my mind) there could be more doubts about how high to draft Roby after two seasons of action. If the rush defense is blown up in the middle, then Hankins might dip. But of the two, I think Hankins is much more of a sure thing to leave.
Surprised that OSU is the underdog this weekend?
Austin Ward (2:37 PM)
I was pretty surprised by that fact, for a number of reasons -- starting with Wisconsin's quarterback situation. That line indicated to me that Vegas believes the talent level is even between the two teams overall and gave the edge based on home field, which is a fair assessment. But the Buckeyes have handled road trips very well, and they have Braxton Miller ...
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Does Urban Meyer add a big time receiving threat to this year's recruiting class? And do you think any of the linebackers coming in will be an immediate impact player and help sure up the unit next season?
Tony (Richmond, CA)
A little test on chat today. :)
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
Fair enough, Tony. I think a couple guys who have already pledged could provide some help at receiver, though playing time could be hard to come by unless a Jalin Marshall or Taivon Jacobs can really come in and blow people away with their athleticism -- which is a possibility. The work is not done there yet, of course. As for linebacker, Mike Mitchell is the big fish they're after, but I just think it's really difficult for a true freshman to have a big impact at linebacker right away and I don't think any major program ever really counts on that happening. I believe it will be up to the guys that were in the previous class.
Luke G (Ohio)
Austin, as someone who went to school in Tennessee (SEC Country), what would you say is the impression of Ohio State down south? If there is a consensus. I'm always curious how Southern recruits look at Ohio State. No feelings will be damaged, please be honest about your impressions!
Austin Ward (2:45 PM)
Thanks to my ties to Columbus and the wonderful insight into the Buckeyes I have always been afforded thanks to my wife, I have always had an appreciation for the support the program gets and have actually likened Ohio State to an SEC-type situation on a number of occasions. Perhaps that offends lifelong Big Ten fans, but I offer it as a compliment. Overall, among many, many SEC fans, there was fatigue over the Ohio State teams in the mid-2000s for what they viewed as a soft schedule and a squad that couldn't compete with Floridas, LSUs and the like -- and shouldn't even get a shot. I don't think that will be the case as often now with Meyer up here building an SEC-type team to go with a fan base that can go toe-to-toe as well.
Tressel le Vest (Akron)
Austin, love your coverage. So here's the question of the day. Which coach on Saturday goes more out of their respective tendencies to get this win. I know against Neb, Urban did that fake punt and almost cost him. Also, several 4/1 and he goes for it. I see the Miller passing to TE over the middle to keep Wiskys backers honest as the game changer. Also D Smith from OSU has been way too quiet, how do you see our WR matchup with Wisky secondary? Who has the edge. Thanks Austin, keep up the good work
Austin Ward (2:47 PM)
Thanks very much for the compliment and the good question. I think Ohio State has to play away from tendency more often offensively, and it is also in a better position to do so coming off a bye week and with a healthy roster. That's significant, because while Wisconsin got to test the water a bit with its reserve quarterback and coasted to an easy win, it will be limited in what it can do with Phillips and will likely have to trust its execution of traditional packages with the running game. The Buckeyes have the benefit of not only an extra week to analyze themselves, but also to look at what Wisconsin does defensively -- and I think Meyer and Herman will have a lot more different looks in the passing game in store for the Badgers.
The non conference schedule looks weak again next year. Do you see any real competition from Buffalo, Florida A&M, SDSU and Cal?
Austin Ward (2:48 PM)
Not really, Andrew. San Diego State has been a competitive program over the last couple years, but I don't see that as a big hurdle for the Buckeyes. The trip to Cal is interesting because of the travel concerns, but that squad might be looking at a new coach and a difficult transition. Very, very manageable nonconference slate.
Thad Matta (The Schott)
Does anyone care that we take on Rhode Island this weekend?
Austin Ward (2:49 PM)
Only two more weeks of football, Thad!
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think Thad Matta will try to add to his 2013 class with some of the top remaining prospects likely signing in April? Are the Buckeyes in the hunt for Jabari Parker or Dakari Johnson?
Austin Ward (2:51 PM)
Tony, I always strive to be totally honest with you guys here -- I can lend a small hand on occasion with the recruits on the football side, but I have just scratched the surface with the guys that are already on campus for hoops and really have no insight into Matta's recruiting at this point. I hope you guys understand, but that's just not my area.
Austins Wife.... (Kitchen...)
Austin...the bye week...how does it help more? OSU to rest, heal, game plan, and strategize...? Wisky, stays sharp, keeps in great groove, hammers Indy and keeps momentum going forward?
Austin Ward (2:52 PM)
That's the age-old question of bye weeks -- and I think both teams benefitted from what they did last Saturday. However, I think it helped the Buckeyes the most because they had an extra week to make sure Sabino was healthy and up to speed defensively, and he wasn't the only one that needed a bit of time to rest after 10 weeks of action. As I mentioned, I think the time to scheme against Wisconsin's solid rush defense was also a big boost for the Buckeyes, because Meyer has always had great success with extra time to prepare for an opponent.
Is Gene Smith kicking himself for not self-imposing a bowl ban last year? Or did they just not think their actions would justify one?
Austin Ward (2:54 PM)
They really didn't think the sanctions would include one, which in hindsight looks like a worse decision with every passing game. There seems to be this belief in the athletic department that even if they had self-imposed one the Buckeyes still could have faced a ban this season, but I think that's something of a coping mechanism. If they didn't even think they'd get a one-year ban, why would they have thought there was a possibility for two? I think it was really a serious misjudgment.
Austins Wife.... (Kitchen...)
Austin, I am a total homer fan but I sense OSU is a school that has huge momentum nationwide right now....I think Urban and Braxton have opened so many eyes after Tressels boring Offensive philosophy....do you sense a recruiting momentum as well from what you hear? I am hearing us in on more big recruits nationwide than ever before. Is this more Urban, Braxton, or the by product of an undefeated season so far?
Austin Ward (2:56 PM)
There's no doubt the momentum has picked up, and the undefeated season is a significant factor. It's much, much easier to get recruits to listen to the pitch when there are results on the field. Since I'm running low on time and need to sneak in a few more questions, I'd put them in order as: Meyer, Undefeated, Braxton.
larry bodnovich (masury, OH)
Urban talks about being a grown a$$ man. Who are your top 5 grown a$$ men on the team, and if i still live with my mom, does that exclude me?
Austin Ward (2:57 PM)
That might rule you out, Larry!John Simon, Zach Boren, Johnathan Hankins, Jack Mewhort, Nathan Williams
what do you see giving first? Wisconsin's running game vs OSU defense, or OSU running game vs Wisconsin's defense?
Austin Ward (2:58 PM)
I expect it will be Wisconsin's rushing attack, simply because it's not quite as diverse as what the Buckeyes can do offensively.
Austin, is there a chance Carlos Hyde get 1,000 yards rushing this year? And with Jordan Hall taking a Red Shirt year and coming back... what do the Buckeyes do next year with all those running backs?
Austin Ward (2:59 PM)
I have been watching those numbers for Hyde closely, and it wouldn't really take too crazy of a couple weeks for him to get there. If I had to bet, I think he'll probably come up just a bit short. And with Hall, Hyde, Smith and Dunn -- hey, Meyer will finally have that depth and some options that he's been begging for all year in the backfield.
OSU also misses MSU and Nebraska next year and have road trips to Evanston, Champaign and West Lafayette before ending the season in AA. Does going through that schedule undefeated even earn them a berth in the title game?
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
Hard to envision that it wouldn't, Andrew -- because they've already helped put themselves in position this year since they're likely to start in the top five, and going undefeated is still extremely important to human voters.
Austin Ward (3:00 PM)
All right, folks! Awesome stuff today, gotta run -- enjoy the game this weekend.