Chat with Austin Ward
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, college football reporter Austin Ward stops by to chat about the state of the Big Ten.
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 Ward (12:00 PM)
Good afternoon, everybody. Hope you all enjoyed signing day and everybody's team got exactly the players it needed. I don't know about you, but that only got me more ready for spring football to get rolling.
Who will have a better year next year? Michigan or Michigan State?
Austin Ward (12:04 PM)
I haven't seen any developments since the end of the season that would convince me Michigan is going to be better off than Michigan State next year. The Wolverines signed a better recruiting class based on the rankings, but that roster was in much more need of an upgrade than the one that just helped the Spartans win the league and the Rose Bowl. Certainly there's a lot of defensive talent to replace, but the cupboards aren't bare and that is one of the most well-coached units in the entire country in my opinion. I'm not sold on Michigan's hire at OC, either.
Pete (Eau Claire)
In Brian's last chat, he stated he felt that Wisconsin playing LSU in the season opener makes it more likely that Stave would start since Coach Anderson would not want an inexperienced QB to face that opponent. I think he's 100% wrong because LSU as the opponent makes it is more likely Stave is on the bench. Stave has shown repeatedly he is incapable of beating a quality opponent. To do that, Wisconsin needs a QB who can make big plays and extend plays with his legs. If Wisconsin trots out Stave against LSU, UW will lose another close game. If Stave is on the bench, UW will have a shot. LSU knows what Stave does and can plan accordingly. With Stave on the bench, LSU won't know what to expect and UW will have the element of surprise. Better to go with the unknown that gives you a shot at victory than repeat the same close losses with Stave.
Austin Ward (12:07 PM)
I'm with Brian on this one, Pete -- at least for the moment. There's a lot of time between now and that game, and perhaps the Badgers will see something that changes their mind during spring practice or fall camp. But throwing an inexperienced quarterback out against a tenacious defense like LSU's for his first start is not a recipe for success, regardless of the element of surprise. The Tigers aren't likely to be caught off guard by anybody Wisconsin trots on the field under center, and a new starter is almost certain to be overwhelmed by the speed of that defense, the game and the early stakes.
Jonathan (Washington DC)
Any thoughts on Maryland's haul? Not highly ranked, but kept some big local talent home.
Austin Ward (12:09 PM)
I was somewhat surprised by the Damian Prince decision, but that does speak to Maryland's ability to at least keep some high-end talent from its backyard in the fold. Offensive linemen like that don't typically go down as "sexy" pickups when compared with skill positions, but building a roster with four-star blockers is the absolute best way to set a foundation to compete down the road.
Ed (Queens Village)
Do Big Ten plan to give championship game to other cities besides Indy?
Austin Ward (12:13 PM)
The next two title games will be played again in Indianapolis, and sometime in the near future it will start accepting bids for the games starting in 2016 and beyond. As Adam Rittenberg reported, the title game is likely to stay centrally located in the league, but certainly Chicago is going to be in the mix to host the game. I think maybe a city like Detroit would try to throw its hat in the ring, but really there's not much to complain about with Indy -- and the SEC has proven that sticking with what works for the title game is an effective strategy.
One thing I've always wondered is why the 2-3 star recruit (on as scale of 1-5) chooses attending schools like Ohio State and sit the bench for 4 years when they could play for a MAC team and maybe be a star? Ever here any discussions of that?
Austin Ward (12:15 PM)
That depends entirely on the individual, Keith, because there are definitely a number of kids who make that choice to drop down a level and get more playing time. For others, the chance to get an education at a school like Ohio State or Michigan while trying to get on the field in the Big Ten means more than getting the chance to shine elsewhere. It all comes down to personal preference.
RM (Columbus )
Any chance that Malik McDowell signs somewhere else since he hasn't signed with Michigan State?
Austin Ward (12:17 PM)
With the way his recruitment has gone, I suppose nothing can be ruled out. But it seems unlikely to me that he ends up anywhere other than Michigan State. If Ohio State was really the runner up, it will now have a harder time squeezing him into the class after taking Darius Slade as a surprise signee yesterday. That gave the Buckeyes 23 players, and it will already have to perform a bit of roster surgery to make the numbers work as it goes through its last season without the full complement of scholarship numbers.
Jason (Ellicott City, MD)
How will UMD face in the big 10? I know 1- 5 star recruit isn't much, but is it a start?
Austin Ward (12:19 PM)
I think the Terps can be competitive in the Big Ten, but I'm not sure they'll be able to hang with the best in the league right away. It doesn't help them at all to be jumping into the East with Ohio State and Michigan State rolling with Michigan and Penn State not far behind. But as mentioned previously, there is talent in the Maryland area, and if it continues to be successful in keeping those kids close to home, I think it can ultimately be a factor in the league.
Do you think Ole Miss can make some noise in the SEC next year
Austin Ward (12:23 PM)
Michael, you've stumbled into the Big Ten chat, so I'm probably not the best handicapper of the SEC. But based on what the Rebels are up against in their division, I have a hard time seeing them cracking the top-three.
F S Key (Baltimore)
The last time I heard this many Maryland questions, Esiason was still the QB.
Austin Ward (12:25 PM)
I hear you, F S Key. It's a brave new world, and I'm glad I at least did a little reading on the Terps over the last couple days. Speaking of which, we'll have a day on the Big Ten blog next week devoted to the program as it prepares for its move, so stay tuned for that.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Mark it down: Chicago will never get the Big 10 title game as long it continues to have the worst field in all of NCAA/NFL football.
Austin Ward (12:28 PM)
That is a factor that would have to be considered, GBK, but it could be outweighed by everything else Chi-town could offer the league in terms of exposure, dollars, ease of travel, hotels, etc. Personally, I think ensuring the best possible experience for fans has to be balanced with giving the players both safety and the chance to play their best game, which is why I'm not opposed to a city like Detroit being in the mix thanks to its dome. But, again, I think the game could stay in Indy forever and there wouldn't be any reason to complain.
jon (harrisburg, pa)
Austin - your ranking of the top 3 Recruiting classes in the big 10
Austin Ward (12:32 PM)
Strictly according to the ESPN.com rankings, which relies on guys much more qualified to evaluate high school kids I've never seen play, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State led the way. If I was going to tweak them at all, I would give the Spartans a bit more credit for the way they finished -- it certainly caught the attention of Urban Meyer, who called them a legit "adversary" during his press conference yesterday. The Wolverines also missed out on a few notable players and seem to be losing some momentum, though by the numbers the class is still among the best in the nation. And the late surge by James Franklin also deserves praise.
Concerned Brutus (Woody Hayes Atheltic Center)
Austin, straightforward question here: Now that signing day is over and given all the new recruits, which overall position group needs to develop faster for the upcoming season - Offensive Line or Secondary/Linebackers?
Austin Ward (12:35 PM)
Brutus, there is absolutely no question that the linebackers at Ohio State have to come along the quickest if the program is going to compete for a national title again next season. The loss of Ryan Shazier is obviously significant, and replacing him is no small task to be sure. I am curious to how exactly the Buckeyes are planning to fill that void, because the two most touted guys they've signed over the last two years, Mike Mitchell and Raekwon McMillan, both project as inside linebackers. Curtis Grant is already in the middle, though it wouldn't be a stretch to think he could be passed on the depth chart by one of them depending on how the spring shakes out. The secondary, even without Roby, Barnett and Bryant, has plenty of talent. And I think the offensive line is in pretty decent shape, even if it will be largely inexperienced.
Steven Wright (Ohio)
Will Steven Wright be added to Ohio State's class of 2014? I sent in my signed letter of intent. Whats the deal? I run a 6.4 40 and have a 14" vert.
Austin Ward (12:45 PM)
My sources tell me that's unlikely, Steven. That 40-yard dash time is about 2 full seconds off the pace Urban Meyer covets, and while I'm not sure exactly what the standard is for vertical leaping ability, the Buckeyes have a tight end who can jump about two-and-a-half feet higher than that. That LOI might have been accidentally lost.
Cameron Callen (Renton, WA)
How will UW fair this year under new coach?
Austin Ward (12:48 PM)
That depends which new coach and which UW we're talking about, Cameron. If you mean the one I attended, I think the Cowboys made one of the best hires in the country this offseason. Craig Bohl is a proven program-builder, and while that doesn't happen in just one year and the first season could be a struggle, I think Wyoming will finally be back in league contention in the next couple years. If it's the other UW, well, that guy is a proven winner, too.
Thoughts on Wisconsin next year for coach Anderson's sophomore year?
Austin Ward (12:52 PM)
I think next season could be a slight step back for the Badgers given the holes they have to fill, but even saying that, I still think Andersen and his staff could keep them in contention in the division. It helps that they aren't likely to suffer much of a decline rushing the football, but as we mentioned previously, there is something of a question to be answered at quarterback. The program is so firmly established at this point that it's hard to envision even a step back like I think may happen dropping them lower than an eight- or nine-win season.
Ben (Naples, FL)
Hope you are avoiding as much snow as possible Austin; which is the bigger game for OSU this year: Sparty or TSUN?!
Austin Ward (12:57 PM)
Ben, yesterday was absolutely brutal. It took me more than an hour to go about five miles down to campus for the press conferences. I trust the weather is just fine in Naples though.I'm going to straddle the fence just a bit to answer that question, but I think it will make sense. Nationally, I think Michigan State-Ohio State is going to be one of the most marquee games on the schedule, and from that perspective given the division and potential playoff implications, that will make for the bigger game. But I still think The Game will always mean more to fans of OSU and Michigan, regardless of what else might be on the line. And in the playoff era, even if so much would have to happen, a loss for the team that comes up short in the MSU-OSU game -- if they don't lose any other time -- wouldn't necessarily knock them out of national title consideration.
who do you see playing in the BTCG in Indy at the end of the 2014 season?
Austin Ward (12:59 PM)
I am fully expecting both races to be exciting, but if I have to pick right now, I would give the nod to Braxton Miller finishing his career at Ohio State by winning the East with Nebraska pulling out the West. As with any February prediction, I'm sure we'll all look back and laugh at me later.
Steven Wright (Ohio)
Did you watch any of the puppy bowl last sunday? What a complete rip off, they didn't even play football. They just ran around pooping and peeing and wrestling with each other. It was puppy bowl X. I thought meybe they'd bring back some of the dogs from puppy bowl I. They'd just lay around and sleep.
Austin Ward (1:00 PM)
All right, folks, thanks for joining me. My time is up here and I've got to run. See you all next time!