If you didn’t catch Part I of this interview, go back and read it now. I chatted with David Ubben (@DavidUbben) about all things Big 12. Earlier we looked at the new coaches in Austin and Norman, and David gave us a surprise pick for Big 12 champion. In Part II we dive into the other stuff: Iowa State! It’s a thing, Kansas State really never dies, and we get David’s picks for the Big Ten-Big 12 matchups. It’s a good time.
Jesse: The next question is about a team you don't have to talk about a lot. The Big Ten and Big 12 are only playing three times. So the Iowa State Cyclones. What are they now? I was talking to some guys on our staff. Iowa State is a thing Iowa has to deal with. Does the Big 12 fear them anymore? Is Matt Campbell the real thing?
David: I think they joined Kansas State as being a curveball in this league in that they are a team that wants to focus on running the ball and make that their calling card. Matt Campbell did that at Toledo, and I think he wanted to make that happen at Iowa State. Obviously, that's easier said than done because of how difficult it is to recruit to Iowa state.
That Iowa-Iowa State rivalry is a lot more heated than people realize. It’s a lot of fun, and they've played some really great games over the years too. Iowa State more often than not in the last couple of decades has not been able to back it up, but a lot of years, those games have been really really fun. That Triple-OT game a couple years back was a classic.
Jesse: You mention Kansas State. What do you think of Bill Snyder? He's been running the ball since I was a baby. Is this his last stand? What do you see out of KSU? Are they still going to make this happen with everyone but the quarterback and I-back on the line?
David: I wrote about this earlier this month. Bill Snyder when he has a returning quarterback has been special. This will be the seventh time that he's had a returning fulltime quarterback. The first five times he won 11 games, and the last time he won 9 games. They're going to have an underrated offense because you can't get them off the field. They just scheme you to death.
I think Alex Barnes is going to have a breakout year. He had a nice season last year and I think he'll become more of a household name this year at running back. Then you have Jesse Ertz coming back. He had a nice year last year after a rough star, and this is still a team that closed the year winning six out of seven games. I think they are going to do the same thing they always do when they have a lot of experience, and they have fourteen starters coming back, They just don't lose games they shouldn't lose and they give everyone a tough game. When it gets tight late, that offense can be really frustrating for teams. I like their chances to get to the Big 12 championship game.
Jesse: I like it. I mean, I hate Bill Snyder, but I respect the hell out of the guy. It's that Nebraska in me. I still know more about the Big 12 than the Big Ten and I can't quite quit it.
David: Nebraska in the Big Ten is an interesting relationship. I don't think they want to be back in the Big 12 but I think it hasn't exactly been what they thought. I think when they were thinking of the Big Ten, they were like "oh, we'll be playing Ohio State and Michigan every week", and then they get buried in the West with the less sexy side of the league.
Jesse: Last big picture question. You've followed the Big 12 for a really long time but you've also followed college football in general. It seems like ten years ago when I was “Big 12 or Die,” I would have said the Big 12 is the best conference in football for a while there or at least it looked like it. Now there is an annual article, "is the Big 12 dead?" or “is it fragmented?” or “are they going to go crazy and add BYU and Boise State?” As you look forward, what is the future of these two conferences? Are they still kind of even? Just top tier and a lot of lower? What do you see as the future of where they are going overall?
David: The bottom two thirds of the league are probably about equal. But, if you look at that top tier, it’s not. I am struck by last year when I was at the Ohio State-Oklahoma game. We were actually just talking about this a couple weeks ago. When was the last time OU was on the field with a team that had a totally different class of athletes than them? Oklahoma for the better part of Bob Stoops tenure has been the class of the Big 12 and they went out on the field with Ohio State last year and they looked like they didn't even belong. That was staggering to see. Curtis Samuels getting the ball in the open field looked like he was running away from Junior High kids.
When you look at that, and you look at the trajectory of Michigan. Iowa has had some nice years, and Penn State will certainly be very good this year. Really, the whole top of the Big Ten. The Big 12 just isn't the same caliber of teams at the top third of the league. When it comes to perception, that's what matters. Certainly the Big 12 right now would be sitting at Number 5 (of the Power 5 conferences). The Big 12 has gotta take care of that non-conference play and I'm not sure if they'll be able to do that this year.
All of those things, though. Not making the playoffs. Making it one year out of three and getting pasted by Clemson the year you make it. Having fewer draft picks than the American. All of those little things add up. it's a fun brand of football, but if you don't win games, you don't put up the numbers, and you don't recruit well. The Big 12 slide is a recruiting problem more than a perception problem. They are not keeping the kids from Texas. I did a study of that a couple years back. Something like 2010 or 2009, 48 of the top 50 kids signed with Big 12 teams. In 2015, the year I finished it, they ended up with like 22. A&M takes a lot of those, but they're losing kids elsewhere as well. That's why the Big 12 has taken a slide. I think this year it was something like 30 of the top 50 stayed in conference.
Jesse: That's kind of a big problem. Texas is the heart of the Big 12 and you need those kids to stay home.
David: I think from 2007-2010, they were keeping an average of 96-97% of the kids from Texas. It was really rare when one left. The Oregon Ducks grabbed a couple of guys - Lache Seastrunk for example. JT Barrett left for Ohio State. But, it was mostly kids staying in Texas. It's been an issue for a while. Texas A&M’s exit to the SEC precipitated a lot of it. Every year, they're taking fifteen to twenty, but the SEC has taken a lot of those guys as well. Bama is grabbing guys, LSU is grabbing guys. That stuff happens constantly.
That's the simplest explanation. The Big 12 has declined since 2009 when they last played for a national title. It's decline starts around there, and it's a recruiting issue. It's just that simple. I'm not sure how you fix it either. Herman helps. Lincoln helps. But you gotta win on the top level. Otherwise the top kids don’t' want to go there.
Jesse: Okay, we’re closing up shop here. Give me your picks for these games. Texas-Maryland. Iowa-Iowa State. Ohio State-Oklahoma. I can guess what you're going to pick, but I'll let you tell me how you see these playing out.
David: Texas will be good enough to get it done against Maryland. I think Maryland is a little bit of an unknown quantity in some ways and so is Texas, so that's the most unpredictable.
It's hard for me to see Iowa State getting it done. I think they'll be better this year, but I don't know if they're going to be good enough to beat Iowa.
Oklahoma, god bless ‘em, but going up to Columbus... have fun... Have fun Lincoln... I think they'll be coming home with a loss in that one.
Jesse: The shoe is a terrifying place.
David: Yeah, no kidding.
Again, a huge shout-out to David Ubben. He answered my ridiculous twitter DM and took time to tell us all about our friends down south. If you need a Big 12 fix, or just want some good College Football writing, check him out on twitter and on Sports on Earth.