A few years ago I blindly reached out to Big XII beat reporter David Ubben, hoping to get his thoughts on the goings on with Texas Tech and the Big XII. He was quick to agree and we had a lot of fun with the back and forth.
With the launch of Staking The Plains I thought it would be a good idea to reconnect with David to find out how much he really hates us and to get his general thoughts on the Big XII as a whole. Once again he was graciously agreed. Here’s how it went.
Travis: So, our new site, Staking the Plains, has been fully operational for a few hours now. Can you describe for us how much you hate it?
David: You know those annual player reaction videos during fall camp when a coach surprises his players by canceling practice and going bowling or to the movies? I had the exact inverse of that reaction.
But seriously, you guys do a good job. I’m excited to keep track of your coverage moving forward.
Travis: Thanks man, we appreciate it. For the second part I mean. It’s definitely exciting.
Texas Tech lost a high profile QB commit and a high profile WR commit towards the end of recruiting season. But, Coach Kingsbury was able to hold onto most of his guys and even had a few late switches that helped bolster the class. What are your thoughts on the incoming class for Tech?
David: I don’t cover recruiting from a hands-on perspective, so it’s hard for me to have much insight beyond watching highlight videos and some brief conversations about incoming players with coaches. Still, it was a solid class from Texas Tech from a rankings standpoint. Obviously Breiden Fehoko is a guy that jumps out as a possible immediate impact, but Kliff Kingsbury sounded really excited about getting Connor Dyer and Cody Wheeler on the field.
Travis: Kingsbury’s squad really struggled last season, finishing a disappointing 4-8. Do you see any bright spots or signs of hope for the Red Raiders as college programs head into spring practices?
David: The Red Raiders’ won’t have one of the league’s most compelling springs apart from the quarterback competition, but Tech isn’t that far off from being an eight or nine-win team. The offense is good enough to give them a chance to beat almost anyone. Everyone saw that in the season finale against Baylor. The defense just has to improve and Texas Tech is basically playing with a self-imposed handicap every game when you look at its turnover and penalty numbers. Those aren’t problems fixed by talent and they’re not insurmountable. If Tech can become even mediocre in turnover margin and penalty yards, it’s easily a bowl team in 2015.
Like we saw in Baylor’s early years under Art Briles, however, if you can’t stop people, you’ve got no shot at winning a Big 12 title. People like to talk offense in the Big 12, but the teams that have won titles have been outstanding on defense, either overall or in snatching turnovers. The Red Raiders are well below average at both. That’s one reason to be excited about David Gibbs jumping aboard. His defense forced 30 turnovers a year ago. Only two teams in all of college football forced more than 34.
Travis: Of course the biggest grab for Kingsbury and staff is Breiden Fehoko, a five-star DT from Hawaii. Can you share your thoughts on his potential impact for the program?
David: I sat down with Kingsbury last week here in Dallas, and you can tell he knows Fehoko is the kind of player he might be able to build a defense around. He’s been careful not to saddle him with unrealistic expectations, especially in Year 1 when he’s still getting used to the college game, but when was the last time Texas Tech had this kind of talent on the front line of the defense? The Red Raiders have had some productive tackles like Colby Whitlock and Kerry Hyder, but Fehoko has more raw talent and upside than anybody I can remember the Red Raiders ever putting on the field.
Travis: I really think he’s the kind of guy that a program can be built around, but I’m glad to know that Kingsbury is being careful and not putting too much on his shoulders just yet.
Let’s shift gears. A few days ago Seth compared the current situation in Norman to what happened in Austin during the last couple of years of Mack Brown’s tenure, and I think he’s onto something. Do you think Bob Stoops can right the ship and appease the OU faithful, or are we potentially looking at the beginning of the end for the Stoops era?
David: Yeah, that’s something I’ve seen tossed out there a few times. Oklahoma’s situation isn’t nearly as dire as Texas’ was after that 5-7 season and the bottom didn’t drop out nearly as far, but this is definitely a reboot. Stoops can “right the ship” I suppose, but because he set the bar so high, he doesn’t get credit for accomplishments plenty of other programs would be ecstatic to brag about. The Sooners shared a Big 12 title in 2012 and won a BCS bowl last season before 2014’s nightmare finish. Even that finish would look very different had a somewhat fluky Bedlam loss gone a different way.
Stoops and the Oklahoma fan base have basically hit the 15-year itch, if that’s a thing. When you win a national title in Year 2, you make life a little harder on yourself, but it’s not like Oklahoma has struggled for a long period of time and last year wasn’t that bad.
Is it the end of the Bob Stoops era? That’s tough to say. I wouldn’t blame him if he left, but Oklahoma’s hands are pretty tied. Stoops has to be sick of winning 10 games and having a restless fan base all offseason. On the flip side, considering how Stoops’ tenure started off, I don’t blame Oklahoma fans for wondering why it’s been six seasons since the Sooners were anywhere close to being in the national title conversation late in the year. I sense some unbelief from Oklahoma fans that Stoops is the guy to get them back to that level, but Oklahoma would look completely ridiculous firing him or pushing him out the door. Also, the list of coaches who could do better in that spot is a short one–there’s no guarantee you could convince one to replace him. Stoops has essentially let the Notre Dame and Florida jobs pass him by over time and been loyal to two bosses in David Boren and Joe Castiglione, who he loves and have been loyal to him. It’s hard to see Stoops going to the NFL and the sentimental school he might leave Oklahoma for–Iowa–isn’t coming open as long as Kirk Ferentz keeps enjoying the most absurd contract in college sports.
For now, Oklahoma and Bob Stoops are sort of stuck with each other, which isn’t nearly as bad a thing as either side might think. They can make the best of a really good situation.
Travis: Yeah, Kirk Ferentz continues to have the best job in America, and it’s not even close.
So on a personal note. When we talked a few years ago you were looking for a regular pick-up game in the metroplex. Did you ever find a weekly game? And as a follow-up, I heard Doug Gottlieb arguing with his staff on his radio show a few days ago about the proper pronunciation when inviting friends to play. Which is correct: “Wanna play hoop?” or “Wanna play hoops?”
David: Ha, I play with some guys at much church, but we had some schedule tweaks and are back on hiatus, so I’m back on the market for a weekly game for the time being.
And it’s definitely “Let’s play hoops” or “Let’s hoop.” I’ve never heard someone say “Let’s play hoop” and if I did, I would assume they are dangerous and mentally unstable.
Travis: Anybody that says “let’s play hoop” also probably complains about their hot water heater.
I occasionally see you on Twitter discussing various food joints around DFW. If given the opportunity to choose, what would you eat for your last meal? No limitations, whatever you want.
David: Man, that’s a tough call. I don’t really have a favorite food, I just like a lot of rotation. The Dallas restaurant scene has improved so much in the last five years since I moved here. I’m waiting for some benevolent soul to give me a side gig as a food writer. Stampede 66 is probably my wife and I’s favorite restaurant in Dallas, but right now, pad thai is probably on the short list of my favorite foods. However, I count a steak from Bob’s Steak and Chop House as the finest piece of meat I’ve ever eaten, right alongside that glistening, sweet glazed carrot. If I was having a last meal, I might go with that steak again, followed up by a gigantic creme brulee and a fried Snickers from the State Fair of Texas. The only thing better than dessert is two desserts.
Travis: Sweet glazed carrots are vastly underrated. If you get a good glazed carrot, it can make you a better man.
So do you think the folks in Austin will give Charlie Strong time to fully implement his system, or have we gone past that in this new world of “results now or else?”
David: As long as Strong shows a little bit of progress, I do. It all comes down to quarterback play. You saw it with TCU last year. Trevone Boykin was a below average quarterback in 2013 and the Frogs’ solid defense didn’t matter. They were a 4-8 team. Suddenly, he becomes the best player in the league and TCU is magically a national title contender.
Charlie Strong is going to have a salty defense as long as he’s in Austin. The way he’s already developed and recruited make that obvious. However, in the Big 12, you can only expect so many 20-17 games. You need to be able to score 40 in any given week to have a chance to compete for a title. When was the last time a Big 12 team who couldn’t won a league title? If Strong can find a quarterback–and with the way they’re developed in this state, finding a young one is getting easier and easier–Texas fans won’t have to be patient very long.
Travis: Let’s talk a bit about writing. You write features almost on a daily basis, much more often than I do. I noticed on occasion last year that I would struggle to find a storyline and a topic that I thought would be appealing enough for my audience. Do you ever get into ruts and struggle with a narrative? If so, how do you get out of it?
David: Not too often. If I do, the answer is almost always to do more reporting or dive back into my notes. Sometimes it takes a few tries and some head-scratching to say things the right way, but I don’t know if I’d say that’s struggling with the narrative as a whole. My general rhythm during the season is to get the Power Rankings out on Monday, get on the phones and chase a few breaking news items or injury updates on Monday and Tuesday before the Pregame Huddle on Wednesday, which was a new feature this season that I felt worked really well. Then picks on Thursday and I tried to do some kind of feature on a theme, player or issue on Friday.
In my experience, you know the quality of a story by the quality of what’s left behind in my reporter’s notebook. If I have a lot of stuff I hate cutting but needs to be cut, the story’s probably pretty good. If my notebook is almost empty, it’s probably not a great story.
Travis: I absolutely love that tidbit. I’ll definitely pay more attention to what’s left in my notebook when trying to gauge whether or not an article has the potential to be compelling.
So who are the favorites in the Big 12 next year and what surprises do you think might be in store for fans, whether it’s a team or an individual player?
David: TCU and Baylor are going to be head and shoulders above everybody else in the Big 12. This will be the least wide-open Big 12 title race in some time. Oklahoma State might get in the mix, but the Frogs and Bears will both win 10-12 games next year and besides OSU, the Big 12 might not have another nine-win team.
Travis: Biting my tongue biting my tongue biting my tongue bita ma tung…
Any tips for us as we venture out on our own with this new endeavor?
David: Work hard. Any good blog or team site that establishes a readership has one thing in common: Outstanding content. The whole “content is king” thing is a cliche for a reason. Put out a strong product and consumers will come sooner or later. That’s true in almost any business and writing on the internet is no different. You just have to find that niche and figure out what a strong product looks like from your perspective.
I really can’t thank David enough for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Even though every fan base in the Big XII thinks David hates them, he is really a good guy, and has always been helpful with advice.
Of course this all could be just a really big ploy to get me to invite him over for dinner so he can punt my dog over the fence, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Follow him on Twitter at @davidubben for insightful commentary and some really funny takes on the otherwise humdrum of everyday life in suburban America.
And definitely hit him up if you’ve got a regular pick-up game in DFW and are in need of another player.