Chat with Austin Ward
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, reporter Austin Ward stops by to chat some college 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 noon ET!
Austin,I know the Oregon-Stanford farther down the road, but can you see the winner of this game (pending they run the table) being the team to dethrone Alabama?Thanks
Austin Ward (12:05 PM)
Both those Pac-12 teams are going to have other challenges in a league that has plenty of depth now, but I think either of them could give Alabama a run for its money. The Crimson Tide have their own issues to sort out right now, starting with the loss of such a talented defender to indefinite suspension. If Oregon played Alabama this week, I would definitely pick the Ducks. But there are several other contenders still alive who might be able to knock off the Crimson Tide -- that Stanford team you mentioned, as well as Clemson or Ohio State. I'm not as convinced as I was a month ago that Saban will be raising another crystal football.
What do you think of Cleveland.com's new model?
Austin Ward (12:06 PM)
There's definitely no shortage of information there, Mike. All good guys running their coverage as well.
who do you think will win in the nebraska-illinois game on saturday? Why?
Austin Ward (12:07 PM)
It would have been hard for me to imagine when the season started, but with what Illinois has been doing offensively with Cubit calling the plays and Scheelhaase carving people up, I think it can knock off the Huskers. Those defensive problems are real, and I'm not sure that one week is enough time to fix them all.
Austin i think everybody expects this to be a blow out win for osu, but am I wrong to think that the game will be much closer then people think?
Austin Ward (12:09 PM)
I don't think you're wrong, Ian, but I think it really depends on how much success Northwestern is able to have with its offense if the game does wind up being tight. The Wildcats just aren't going to be able to slow down Braxton Miller and Co., and really I don't think anybody in the Big Ten can. So if that versatile Northwestern offense is able to make some big plays happen in the passing game against a secondary currently in flux, it could make for a competitive evening with a lot of points on the board.
Hey Austin, Do you think it's only a matter of time before Von bell takes over at safety for the bucks?
Austin Ward (12:13 PM)
Matter of time? Absolutely -- but I don't think that moment will come this season. Definitely at some point down the road he's going to be the answer, Sylvain. But I don't really think he's ready for a full-time role at this point, and while he's in the conversation with Pitt Brown and Tyvis Powell, he's running third in that race right now. Making an impact as a true freshman on defense just isn't that easy, no matter how talented a player is. So if the Buckeyes can use these extra reps Bell is seeing now in practice to get him more comfortable for nickel and dime reps, I think that would be considered a success as they eye next season.
Mick (Little Italy)
Austin- Do you think people are underestimating Northwestern's defense? And do you think the Buckeyes will try to shut down the run first (like they did at Wisconsin) or try to defend the spread passing attack?
Austin Ward (12:16 PM)
I don't think so, Mick -- the Wildcats are just 87th in the country defensively and they're giving up more than 300 yards per game passing. Those numbers will have Urban Meyer and Tom Herman licking their chops. I really don't think Northwestern has much of a shot of slowing down the Buckeyes when they have the football. As for when Northwestern is on offense, I don't think Luke Fickell will be in base personnel nearly as often as he was against Wisconsin, but that doesn't necessarily mean he won't be trying to stop the run first. The Buckeyes will have to do it differently, likely with an extra defensive back on the field to be ready for the spread game, and I wouldn't think Bradley Roby will be left as isolated as he was a week ago with all the numbers committed up front.
Austin, (I've got 50yd line tickets for Saturdays game against Northwestern) Most people predict Venric Mark to be a game-changer for Northwestern, but given the way OSU shut down Wisconsin's run attack and the fact Mark is coming off an injury, are people expecting too much?
Austin Ward (12:19 PM)
He can certainly be a game-changing back, Rick, but Melvin Gordon and James White are too and the Buckeyes had an answer for them. The front seven has really progressed and come together much more quickly than Ohio State probably even imagined, with Curtis Grant living up to potential finally, Joshua Perry developing physically, Ryan Shazier doing what he does and the talented defensive line getting good push up front. As mentioned before, the Buckeyes will have to defend Northwestern differently and are on high alert watching the skill on that side of the ball, but that injury factor is definitely something that bears watching.
Mat (Harvest, AL)
Is Virginia Tech a top 25 team? If so, does that mean Alabama has the best three wins so far this season?
Austin Ward (12:22 PM)
I don't think the Hokies belong in the top 25 the way they're playing right now, but that doesn't mean the Tide haven't put together an impressive resume to date. Really, Alabama might need Virginia Tech to start looking tougher because its schedule coming up doesn't look much different than Ohio State's in terms of ranked opponents left.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Austin, Northwestern doesn't usually tank until November, so how worried are about visiting Evanston for the biggest wildcat game since Darnell Autry suited up?
Austin Ward (12:24 PM)
The Buckeyes don't really seem that concerned about the environment. Even with all the hype with GameDay coming, a night game, the undefeated record for the Wildcats, Ohio State is still probably going to have a lot of support in the stadium and has actually played some of its best games on the road under Meyer. He seems to have a knack for getting his team to avoid all distractions away from the Shoe, so that doesn't seem to be anything that is worrying him this week. All his attention has looked to be on plugging the hole left by Christian Bryant.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
I agree it was time to for Kiffin to go. But couldn't Pat Haden have found a better place to fire him than on the tarmac at the airport? He could've called him in the office on Sunday, right?
Austin Ward (12:25 PM)
Do you think the guy who bolted Tennessee in the middle of the night deserved better? My question is why didn't he fire him after the bowl game last season, not why he did at the airport.
Derrin (Plano, TX)
Blake Bell will face the stiffest test of his young career this weekend going up against a tremendous TCU secondary. Do you think Gary Patterson earns his second win in Norman on Saturday?
Austin Ward (12:26 PM)
I don't think so, Derrin. The Horned Frogs look to me to be still having a tough time in the transition to playing a full season of competitive games, and the Sooners appear to be back on track on both sides of the ball.
Mike P (Greater KC)
Austin we have seen two major BCS schools fire coaches with in the first 5 weeks... From this point forward who in your mind is on the hot seat / needs to leave / will be gone come end of season... Mack Brown, Bo Pelini, Brian Kelly (IF ND doesnt have the same success) Art Bryllis (Baylor), Muschamp (Florida), Pinkel (Mizzou)
Austin Ward (12:29 PM)
Surely I get to pick more than one, right? It's hard for me to envision any scenario where Texas isn't looking for a new coach, and really it seems as overdue as the change at USC. Pelini could find his seat scorching if the Huskers don't take care of business this week, and as mentioned, his defense could put him in a really tough spot against Illinois. Kelly isn't going anywhere, though, that much is for certain.
Jeff (Tampa, FL)
Are the SEC defenses overrated/down this year or are the QBs just that good right now?
Austin Ward (12:32 PM)
With all the talent the top defenses had to replace from a year ago, some troubles were bound to pop up for those traditional powerhouse units in the SEC -- but the perception of them obviously isn't helped when they have to match up with the likes of McCarron, Murray, Mettenberger, Manziel ... any quarterback with a name that starts with 'M' I guess. The Big 12 has gone through this cycle before. It doesn't mean those defenses can't get the job done, but they are really being tested by top-flight quarterbacks and offenses that are just as loaded with skill.
Gameday is wise to have picked Evanston as the game will be close. Who gets the 12 th man advantage here, considering how well Ohio travels and how the Wildcat students seem to keep studying?
Austin Ward (12:35 PM)
Northwestern has had plenty of time to plan for this game and try to ensure a hostile environment as Ohio State comes to town, but there's not much chance it will be able to lock one of the largest fan bases in the country out of the building. I don't expect the crowd to be 50-50 (or worse for Northwestern, like it was last year against Nebraska), but I don't think there will be a home-field advantage either. Call it 60-40 in favor of a 12th Man for the Wildcats. If they could use an extra body to stop Braxton Miller, that might actually make a difference.
Who wins and why, Penn st/IU?
Austin Ward (12:36 PM)
The talk of the Hoosiers being ready for a bowl game were a bit premature in my mind, and the nonconference results proved how difficult that task was going to be for that program. If the Nittany Lions were able to address some of their tackling issues as they prepped for this one, I think they'll have enough success on offense to get a valuable win over the Hoosiers.
Who takes home the Little Brown Jug this year? What is your call on the final score?
Austin Ward (12:38 PM)
Even with Michigan's recent struggles, Hoke has too much talent on hand to lose this game. He's had a week to regroup with Devin Gardner as well, and that should have helped work out a few early kinks. Minnesota has been painful to watch more often than not on offense, and it still doesn't seem to be sure what it's going to do at quarterback this week. I'll take Michigan 27-10.
We have all been hearing this speculative buzz about Saban taking over the Longhorns. Is there any, any bit of substance to the notion, and if so, do tell.
Austin Ward (12:40 PM)
There's nothing of any substance to this story, aside from the fact that people with ties to the Texas program have reached out to Saban in the past to gauge his interest. From all accounts, he doesn't have any -- and I think Alabama would pay any amount to keep him in Tuscaloosa.
Ohio State's schedule is disgusting. Buffalo, Fla A& M. Youngstown State not availableWhy don't they play real OOC games against real teams?
Austin Ward (12:42 PM)
Bill, you must not have looked around the country to see how most teams schedule outside of league play. The Buckeyes annually put together one of the most aggressive nonconference slates in the country, but they had the rug pulled out from under them a bit this year when California fell apart and Vanderbilt pulled out at the last minute. Ohio State has signed up for games with Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Virginia Tech, to name a few, in the coming seasons. By comparison, Alabama just cancelled a home-and-home with Michigan State.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
It's not about him, about you, and doing things the right way. Don't stoop to Kiffin's level. Be professional.
Austin, If you were Pat Haden who would your first choice to replace Lane Kiffin be?
Austin Ward (12:45 PM)
My first call would be one that probably every AD at a major program has made over the last few years -- have to at least try to get Chris Petersen to consider leaving Boise State. This year and this opportunity might finally be what it takes to get Petersen to move and see what he can do with resources behind him.
I live in Cali and outside of Nebraska Pelini is made fun of everywhere? Will Pelini be in Lincoln next year or gone???
Austin Ward (12:47 PM)
I don't think he'll be back, James, but depending on how the Huskers hold up defensively this week, there might be a much clearer picture of how long Pelini will be around. Illinois can make things tough on any defense with Scheelhaase playing the way he has lately, and Nebraska couldn't even slow down Wyoming.
Steven Wright (Ohio)
Now that it's been proven that bigfoot is real. Do you think that he should be eligible to play college football? Given he can pass the entrance exams. He'd make one heck of a tight end
Austin Ward (12:48 PM)
Matchup nightmare, Steven. Don't know how his hands are, but he'd be a physical blocker and could definitely offer a big target in the red zone. Might have to go straight to the NFL if he can't get through the Clearinghouse.
Keith (Seattle, WA)
Which young defensive lineman has been most impressive for the Buckeyes in your opinion? Has one them surprised you either in a bad/or good way?
Austin Ward (12:50 PM)
True freshman Joey Bose has really jumped out with his athleticism, and the Buckeyes needed him to deliver more than anticipated while Adolphus Washington was out with his groin strain. Washington and Noah Spence haven't been surprises for me, because it was clear in the spring those two were ready for the big stage. It's actually been a veteran who has been the biggest revelation with Michael Bennett thriving at defensive tackle.
miami hurricanes are just crushing teams right now! How good can miami hurricane team be and will they be tested when they play against georgia tech this weeknd?
Austin Ward (12:53 PM)
Hats off to the 'Canes for their start to the season. The Florida win isn't looking quite as impressive to me now, and I also don't think Georgia Tech is a team Miami should lose to. The real test of how "back" the Hurricanes are is still almost a month away, though -- I think they should still be unbeaten by the time Miami-FSU rolls around, and it will once again be worth watching.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you still think Michigan will be toughest game for the Buckeyes given the Wolverines recent struggles and them being turnover prone?
Austin Ward (12:55 PM)
I've thought Northwestern would be the toughest matchup for the Buckeyes all along. Michigan presents its own set of challenges because of the rivalry and the passion and playing at the Big House. But defending Northwestern's offense is much more difficult for a rebuilt Ohio State front seven, regardless of whether the Wolverines get things figured out.
Can OSU vie for the title if Oregon and Clemson win out?
Austin Ward (12:58 PM)
The debate if that scenario plays out is going to be really heated, Tom. I think voters are going to have a hard time excluding the Buckeyes if they go undefeated for a second year in a row and boast a winning streak that would be sitting at 25 games after the Big Ten championship. That's only one factor, of course, but that's going to be a hot topic if it reaches that point.
Steven Wright (Ohio)
Yeah! one bigfoot question through! Yeah!
Austin Ward (12:59 PM)
There were way too many for me to include or that would have been the only topic of conversation, Steven. Rest assured, I saw all the comments, and it was at least entertaining for me.
Austin Ward (12:59 PM)
All right, everybody, that's it for me. Sorry I couldn't get to all the questions this week, but next time I promise to do better. Enjoy the football weekend!