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!
Austin Ward (1:47 PM)
Hey everybody, welcome back to another BuckeyeNation chat. One note here on the start time -- I've got to push it back to about 2:15 due to a short meeting. Feel free to fire off the questions and get them ready for me, and I'll get to work on them as quickly as I can. Looking forward to the conversation this afternoon!
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Which Ohio State Buckeyes who were Selected in the 2013 NFL Draft will be great in the NFL?
Austin Ward (2:13 PM)
It's not the longest list in Ohio State history, of course, but I think the guys who got drafted went to great spots for them that should allow them each to be really productive. The guy who I think actually wound up in the best situation is Reid Fragel, who I was really surprised lasted as long as he did on the board. He's only scratching the surface of what he could be at tackle in terms of his technical ability, and there's no question he's got the physical tools to get the job done. He could wind up being a huge steal.
Pam (Princeton, NJ)
Mark Schlabach has the Buckeyes #1. Have you talked with Coach Meyer about how he feels about being picked over 'Bama?
Austin Ward (2:15 PM)
Urban Meyer doesn't pay a lot of attention to the polls even during the season, so a way-too-early look like Mark's this week won't register on his radar. We also haven't had a chance recently to talk to him about it, but if we did, I'm sure he would downplay that as opinion. I also don't think it will change the approach or give the Buckeyes an inflated sense of themselves because they already expect to contend for a national championship this year, and with that bar set, they should already anticipate things like polls and awards talk centering around the program.
A.McCray (Xenia, Ohio)
Austin, what's your take on the impact of scheduling the new realignment (2014) will have on the Bucks? 9 conference games mean less quality non-conference games and a greater chance to get beat-up during the season. Why the change? It seems the SEC model would work for the B1G as well. Thoughts?
Austin Ward (2:19 PM)
Assuming strength of schedule becomes a factor for the selection committee as most assume it will, eliminating one of those pushover games in favor of a an additional Big Ten game should be a benefit for Ohio State. It does bump up the risk of a potential loss, of course, but the margin for error in a four-team playoff is also slightly larger. With the SEC's new agreement with ESPN, it also could wind up with a nine-game conference schedule to expand its inventory. As for getting ready of the quality nonconference games, Gene Smith has been adamant that they will be part of Ohio State's future and not affected by the change in scheduling philosophy within the conference -- so it should mean fewer cupcakes.
Last year early in the season our defense struggled mightily versus spread teams who had competent QB's. Do you think that with a more talented and experienced secondary that won't be an issue this year? (Excluding the fact that we won't face that many competent QB's this year)
Austin Ward (2:22 PM)
The biggest issue wasn't so much the style of play of opposing offense, in my opinion, it was the poor fundamentals and a conservative approach by the Buckeyes on defense that gave them troubles. This was addressed by going back to basics in terms of tackling, and also by a change from the top down in terms of the way the Buckeyes played coverage (more man) and dialed up much more pressure in blitz packages. Certainly having a secondary as deep and talented as Ohio State has on hand this fall will help in both regards, because Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and probably Doran Grant can be trusted to win their matchups, freeing Fickell up to do more creative things in the front seven and make those less talented quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Hunter (New Jersey)
Your thoughts on The Game possibly getting moved to the 3:30 time slot or even an evening kickoff?
Austin Ward (2:25 PM)
I'm more interested to hear what the fan perspective is on potentially moving the game, because I've not been around the history and tradition as long and don't have any real attachment to the start time. I personally don't see the problem with night kickoffs, because the exposure of a national audience in the evening would be invaluable for both programs because the ratings would surely be enormous -- especially if it becomes a bit easier to watch The Game on the west coast. Plus, I can only imagine a game with that much energy already could go to an even higher level with a full day to, um, prepare.
Jared (San Diego)
Is the 2014 recruiting class, since it will probably be 18 players max, be more about rounding out the roster for the next few years, and less about overall star power?
Austin Ward (2:27 PM)
I typically have to prefer those recruiting questions to BuckeyeNation's resident expert on that topic, my colleague Brad Bournival. He's got all the answers in terms of both individual targets and the emphasis for the class, but I can say when you look at the current roster, there are clearly areas that will have to be addressed in a big way with the next class -- starting on the offensive line. So, that doesn't figure to really be about "star power," per se, but the Buckeyes aren't having a hard time attracting the top talent in the country.
LG (Columbus Ohio)
I hope the Buckeye;s go 12-0....what a joke of a schedule. I am willing to bet ANYTHING their final SOS will be out side of 50th in the nation. So the question is, with a joke of a nonconfrence schedule and playing in a mediocre B10 conf(they avoid Neb and Wisc), if they lose one game do they deserve to be in the National championship game......let alone a BCS game? Try not to be too biased. Thank you for your opinion.
Austin Ward (2:31 PM)
Considering that even in a down season for the Big Ten last year Ohio State's strength of schedule was ranked No. 13 by Sagarin, I think that would be a pretty horrible bet, LG. But if the Buckeyes do lose a game along the way, they probably will not be making the national title game this year -- but would still be a stone-cold lock to play in the BCS.
LG (Columbus Ohio)
Buffalo, San Diego St, Cal and a D1-AA team? Really? Is that even fair? What a joke. Sry no props from anyone not wearing Scarlet and Gray if they go 12-0. Playing in an average B10 as well, while avoiding 2 of the 3 best teams in the confrence. How do you expect college fball as a whole to take a (potential) 12-0 team seriously?
Austin Ward (2:33 PM)
Have you seen Louisville's schedule, LG? Or how the majority of the SEC schedules outside of the league? That doesn't make going 12-0 easy for anybody in college football, and a potential Big Ten title game would obviously eliminate the "avoidance" of another top team in the league.
TC Sherman (Ft worth)
Austin, besides Braxton who would you suggest would be team MVP for the 2013 season?
Austin Ward (2:35 PM)
Braxton Miller is obviously the easiest answer, and he's the guy who turns the team into a threat to win the national title. But you know that already, so I'll pick a defensive MVP -- Ryan Shazier. There are still a few issues to be sorted out in the front seven and even if Curtis Grant continues his development at middle linebacker, he's probably not going to be the heart-and-soul leader of the defense that typically comes with playing that position. I think Shazier has the ability to do a lot of the vocal and by-example leadership even from an outside linebacker position, and his numbers already speak for themselves.
Name two break-out players this year (Offense/Defense) whom we may not be talking about right now.
Austin Ward (2:38 PM)
P -- With all the talk about the other weapons on offense, and even with the tight ends getting in the conversation some, I don't think the ability Jeff Heuerman brings to the table should be overlooked. He was very impressive in the passing game this spring, can create significant mismatches in coverage and has better speed than many would think. He will really add some variety and I think be a productive asset. Defensively, there might not be much chatter about Joshua Perry, but he already bulked up during the winter conditioning program and looked like a monster, so it's hard to imagine what the summer might do to him. He's an intelligent, athletic linebacker, and he figures to be an integral part of the defensive plan.
Dan (PHOENIX, AZ)
Hi Austin, Who do you feel will be the premier RB and who will be the starting receivers this year? Braxton Miller will need better production from the these groups in order to stay healthy. The poor guy can't run as much as he did or he will get hurt again. Thank you!
Austin Ward (2:41 PM)
There's no question that Carlos Hyde remains the top running back for the Buckeyes, and his emergence in the second half of the season did take a lot of pressure off Braxton Miller in the ground game. Hyde really seems to have got his priorities in order, and Meyer will be counting on him heavily to continue building on that inside-outside combination they showed last fall. It will be imperative for the wide receivers to take the same steps forward that Hyde has, and Philly Brown and Devin Smith both appeared to be on that upward curve throughout spring. Brown already has a lot of catches on his resume, but he looks more dynamic with the football in his hands. And Smith is still the same home-run threat occasionally dealing with inconsistency in his hands, though his route-running is sharper and his athletic ability is off the charts.
Austin Ward (2:48 PM)
All right, folks, that will do it for me today. Sorry for the late start, but we're working on some new features in terms of covering both the Buckeyes and the Big Ten that I think you'll like and that is taking up a bit of our time. See everybody for the next chat!