Every year, Off Tackle Empire aims to give you the most in-depth previews and articles for you to chew on as you get ready for football. Also every year, Off Tackle Empire generally gives you broad, oft shallow musings that have jokes about the Midwest and food references. These things - while not always mutually exclusive - are put aside as we launch the 2017 Beyond the Empire series.
For those of you uninitiated in the ways of OTE, Beyond the Empire is our annual conversations with those that follow teams outside the land of Casseroles and Snickers Salad. Kicking off this year’s festivities is none other than David Ubben (@DavidUbben), current staff writer at Sports on Earth and Big 12 follower since when even I was a Big 12 follower. In his somewhat misguided decision to allow me to interview him, we covered him missing Nebraska as part of the Big 12 (sorta), Texas and Oklahoma, new coaches, Kansas State never dying, Iowa State being a thing, and a surprise guess for Big 12 champion.
Note, the the following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, and also so that you don’t have to read about my drooling over living in Texas. It’s unbecoming. Let’s go!
Jesse: (Ed Note: Yes, I started with this question. I have no regrets.) First off as a Nebraska fan who went to the Big Ten, you miss going to Lincoln, right? Like that's the number one thing you miss.
David: I really do. Lincoln is definitely one of the best places to see a game. Not having Nebraska in the Big 12 a void for sure, along with College Station. Those were probably the best two gameday atmospheres. Oklahoma and Texas are bigger obviously, but they only seem to get up for the big games. I covered OU for a year for the Oklahoman and 60% of their games aren't quite as intense as the size would have you believe. Texas is even lower than that. They get rocking in big moments, but A&M and Nebraska were consistently the best atmosphere for games so I definitely miss getting out there I go to A&M a little bit for Sports on Earth, but not as much as I used to in the past.
Jesse: I would love to go. I'm down in Austin now. I keep telling myself I need to get to all of these 'meccas' so to speak, but it's easier said than done. I have a one and half year old. It's just not easy right now.
David: Yeah, have you been to a Texas game? I'm sure you have. You would know what I'm talking about.
Jesse: I still haven't. I moved last year right before football season. All of my friends keep telling me to check it out, but they say its all about the tailgating. They're sort of like, "the football game is alright," but we'll have a good time before it.
David: There is good tailgating at Texas, but it's kind of weird because it's everywhere on campus. There's a couple of big lots but it's all over the place. Texas is it's own place. Such a big place, but it gets cavernous fast, especially when they start losing.
Jesse: Huh, that’s probably as good a place to start as any. Big Ten country knows about Tom Herman. He has his own fan club in Columbus and what not, but what do you think of the guy? Is Herman ready to get things started? Is that UT offense going to take off? Is he some kind of QB whisperer? What are you seeing and thinking going into the 2017 season?
David: I buy into it. Tom Herman’s strength is where Charlie Strong's weakness was. That is, just understanding both the intricacies of scheming an explosive offense and the importance of doing so in the Big 12. I’m not sure if Charlie ever quite got that. On multiple occasions he used “quarterback” and “game manager” in the same sentence. When you look across the Big 12, and look at the teams who have won championships for the better part of a decade plus now, you know they've had Heisman caliber QBs.
If you don't have that, your odds of competing in this league are not great. You look at Baker Mayfield, Trevone Boykin, Bryce Petty, Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones. Guys who have won Big 12 titles were big time quarterbacks. When you look at where Texas has gone wrong since 2009, it generally begins and ends with quarterback, and I think Tom Herman is the guy to come and fix that. I'm a believer in Tom Herman and I believe he's going to kill it in Austin.
Jesse: Who do you think is going to start at QB for the Longhorns? It seems like everything is good to go, but down in Austin everyone is always talking.
David: Yeah, you talk to people and they are cool on Shane Buechele. He’s pretty accurate in the intermediate game, but he throws about as good a deep ball as anyone in the league. I think people didn't realize how hampered he was by an offensive scheme that Texas wasn't built to run. They had some guys who could play, but players were underutilized.
Part of what I think people lose sight of is the fact that he was a True Freshman last year. He made a lot more plays than he made mistakes, and he didn't have a lot around him. His receivers were unreliable. His offensive line was okay in terms of pass blocking. But, you were still talking about a True Freshman. So yeah, I think coming back this year, it's not a guarantee, but I'd be shocked if anyone makes a run at that job.
Jesse: That makes sense. With that in mind, you believe in where Herman is going. There have been a lot of changes in the Big 12 in general, especially in the coaching ranks. Is he primed to take a swing at the title or is this still Oklahoma and everyone else.
David: I think this year, it's not really Texas's year. You have to be mindful of how quickly he did turn Houston around. They were a very average 8-5 team the year before he got there, and then literally overnight all of a sudden they are a powerhouse and making a deep run to a New Years Six bowl and winning it.
Of course, when you look at the Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are the class of the league, but I don't know if I buy them as playoff contenders. Kansas State will be right there behind them, and then you look at that next class of Big 12 teams: TCU, West Virginia, etc., I see Texas is in that group. I don't think the Longhorns would surprise anyone if they made a run and showed up at the Big 12 title game, but if I was a betting man, I would say it's one of the Oklahoma teams. I would bet more on Oklahoma State and probably Kansas State in the title game.
Jesse: That's interesting. When I was reading some of the national previews, it seems to be Oklahoma and then Oklahoma State. Why would you put OSU over Oklahoma?
David: It's really that explosiveness on offense, and that carries you a long way. These are the best two teams on paper, but neither are necessarily great. I really think OSU's offense is probably the best passing attack in the entire country and Justice Hill is really underrated. His profile will rise nationally this year. Overall, when you look at this offense, I think it compares to the 2011 offense that Oklahoma State rolled out to a Big 12 title. In fact, I think they're going to be just as good
Jesse: I guess that makes sense. They have the right coaching pedigree, and they have the background. It's just interesting. That in mind, how do the Oklahoma Sooners play under Lincoln Riley. This has been Bob Stoops for as long as I can remember. “Bob Stoops vs. Lincoln Riley” I saw you wrote about it and had a chance to talk to Riley a little bit.
David: I've talked to some coaches about this, and I think I quoted Dana Holgorsen saying, “When you're young you're going to make mistakes.” So, I think there will be a learning period. You're talking about a 33 year old guy. He’s the youngest coach in the entire country in charge of one of the 10 biggest programs in the country. That's a unique challenge, and there's going to be bumps in the road. Having Bob Stoops still there will be good, and he's going to be around and travel a bit. Riley will do great longterm but I think there will be a little step back initially as he figures everything out.
Check out Part II coming out later this afternoon!