Nebraska plays Texas in baseball this coming weekend at Disch-Falk field in Austin!!!!!
I imagine that the excitement of playing Texas again has been severely muted by the Huskers' 0-4 start but Nebraska and Texas have had a great rivalry in baseball, having met 57 times since 1954. Texas holds a one game advantage in the series at 29-28. Nebraska held the advantage over Texas until the last year in the Big 12. That means if we didn't suffer the downward spiral that happened under Mike Anderson (Nebraska dropped the last two series 1-2 each), we would be one of the few teams that held a series lead over the 'Horns.
To prepare for the upcoming series, I contacted some old buddies at SB Nation's Burnt Orange Nation and we exchanged a series of questions for each other. It was fun, and a damned good excuse to call Augie Garrido a sonuvabitch again.
Anyway, here's our Q&A with the Texas guys:
2012 wasn't a kind year for you guys, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, while Texas A&M, Baylor and Rice all hosted regionals. What happened last year? (This is your chance to admit that Texas hasn't been doing so well since Nebraska left the Big XII, come on, you were pining for us, weren't you?)
2012 was, as Augie Garrido recently put it, a great example of Murphy's Law playing out on the ballfield. You guys probably remember that his teams are always built on principles of small ball: pitch and field at an elite level, and manufacture enough runs to win consistently. The problem with that approach is that it's pretty fragile; i.e., only so many elite pitchers are going to come to one school when there are only three weekend rotation spots. So when we lost Sam Stafford for the season, that was a huge piece of the puzzle out the window.
The offense is similarly dependent on a lack of injury--especially when those injuries happen to the one or two guys who can actually, you know, hit. Cohl Walla was one of our best hitters his freshman year, and then we lost him to a torn ACL last season. Add the fact that the fielding, especially in the infield, was uncharacteristically suspect and you have all the pieces needed for a down year. And as you so kindly pointed out, that happened to coincide with very good years for our three main in-state rivals. So it stung a little more.
That's the cliff's-notes version. We explored this question very much in-depth in one of our season previews.
The series with Nebraska this weekend is on the Longhorn Network. While we love to abuse you guys about it, is it doing any better than it was? (And if it isn't, how upset are Texas fans about it and not being able to watch ‘Horns baseball?)
Yes, it is doing a good bit better than it was. It is now available on two growing nationwide TV providers--Verizon FiOS and AT&T UVerse. It is also available regionally on Cox, and on almost every provider in Texas. What the Network's detractors always fail to note is that all the niche sports networks have taken time to be widely available and generally successful. Remember how much we all loved to rip on the Big Ten Network? Well, now we both have it and neither of us lives in a Big Ten market. The NFL Network's Thursday night games were ridiculed because "no one can watch them." Now not only do most folks have the NFL Network, but many are also addicted to its cousin, NFL RedZone.
Obviously the Longhorn Network, by design, has a narrower base of interest than those examples. But ESPN clearly thinks it's a money-maker, or else they wouldn't be showering UT with riches for the rights to it. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't remind the Huskers that Texas was outvoted 11-1 when we proposed a Big 12 Network along the lines of the Big Ten Network, which is why we moved forward on our own instead in the first place.
In any event, the LHN will, in general, increase rather than decrease fans' access to baseball. Those of us without the Network yet mostly have friends who have it, and with a password it can be streamed online. So rather than the single camera behind the plate, we now get to watch most home games with full production value. It's awesome. Truly, truly awesome.
TCU is projected to win the conference with Texas behind Oklahoma at third. How has the dynamics in the Big XII changed with TCU and West Virginia joining the conference?
In the long term, we see those three plus Baylor as the clear "haves" in the new Big 12. Overall in the last two years, we have traded Nebraska, A&M, and Mizzou (not counting Colorado on account of they don't play baseball) for West Virginia and TCU. Honestly, we keep having to remind ourselves that Missouri is no longer in the conference. We barely noticed them when they were here.
So if you see Texas A&M for TCU as a direct trade, it's essentially a wash. Both are very high-level programs. TCU should be significantly better than the Aggies in 2013, but in the long term they are on about the same level. On the other hand, although Nebraska-for-West Virginia may not be a major difference in 2013, obviously the Huskers have a much stronger baseball tradition and overall program than the Mountaineers. We're hoping that the two schools' conference changes will reverse that long-term trend; i.e., WVU leaving the Big East for greener pastures may improve the quality of its baseball program. But time will tell on that one.
So when we still had you guys, the baseball conference was five big-time programs (UT, NU, OU, A&M, Baylor), five also-rans who could occasionally play above their heads (TTU, OSU, KU, KSU, Mizzou), and two non-baseball schools. Now, it's four big-time programs, five also-rans, and one non-baseball school. So the dynamic is essentially as it was.
He's the most hateable coach in the nation, but I miss that sonuvabitch Augie Garrido. He was certainly a crowd favorite in Lincoln. He's 74 - has there been any talk about him retiring or a succession?
Well, we certainly don't think he's so hateable. But we get that he's kind of a weird dude and that he has won a whole hell of a lot of ballgames and championships, so haters gonna hate.
That said, there is a lot of hand-wringing and self-flagellation among Texas fans that goes something like this: "Oh my God! All three major sports are terrible! We have to rely on volleyball and golf for a modicum of success!" The fact that baseball had one bad year, which followed a trip to Omaha, is completely lost in the hysteria over the undeniable declines in football and basketball, and there's talk of how crazy it would be if Mack Brown, Rick Barnes, and Augie were all fired at the same time and there was a full-on reset for Longhorns, Inc.
From a strictly baseball perspective, all of that is badly overblown. We don't think Augie is on the hot seat, and we have seen no indication that he is looking to retire. He might do so soon, but as far as we know he'll be there as long as he wants to be (barring a string of seasons like 2012) and we have no idea who might be next in line. We do believe it's one of the top 5 (top 10 at worst) baseball jobs in the country, so we should be in position to snag someone good. But, you know, that doesn't always work out.
How's the Horns' pitching staff looking this season? Who should Nebraska baseball fans be watching?
The pitching looks very good in the admittedly small sample size we've seen so far. One of the biggest stories has been Ty Marlow, an infielder/pitcher who started his career as an Aggie and transferred to Austin via junior college. He pitched us out of a huge eighth-inning jam in the season opener and has another scoreless inning under his belt as well. We expect closer Corey Knebel to quickly reach All-American form, and he showed a flash of that in a two-inning save this week against UT-Arlington.
As for the starters, the Friday and Saturday slots are pretty well spoken for: Parker French is the staff ace and will throw on Friday, while Nathan Thornhill--who took the loss last Saturday--should be solid in the Saturday slot. Obviously another couple of rough outings will change that, but we anticipate he'll look better this week. The Sunday slot is still up for grabs between last weekend's starter, Dillon Peters, and Tuesday's starter against UTA, Chad Hollingsworth. Both looked great in their season debuts.
The offense was so much better last weekend than in the 2012 season opener against Duke, it was hard not to be ecstatic (with the understanding that it's silly to get too excited over a single series). The Longhorns pounded out 35 hits and were paced by cleanup hitter Mark Payton and freshman phenom shortstop CJ Hinojosa. Both hit over .500 for the weekend and they combined for four extra-base hits. As longtime watchers of Augie's teams, you will be unsurprised to learn that Texas has not hit a homerun this season.
Tuesday was more what we're used to--a 2-1 victory won by the pitching and defense, with the only scoring in a five-hit effort coming on a two-run Erich Weiss single in the third. Overall, though, we anticipate Texas will score runs more effectively than last year (it'd admittedly be hard not to). Especially with Walla theoretically returning to the lineup, first as a DH then eventually in the outfield, there are certainly more dangerous bats than in 2012. But for Nebraska, the main guys to watch will be Payton and Hinojosa.
What do you expect out of the weekend, and are you looking forward to seeing Nebraska back at Disch-Falk?
We expect to win the series. We never expect a sweep, because that's a silly thing to expect. And we certainly don't expect to see Nebraska start the year 0-7. So we'll say Texas takes two of three.
And YES. We do, in fact, miss playing the Big Red and are excited for your return to the Disch. We always thought it was a great, respectful rivalry without much in the way of real antipathy, and hope you'll come back often.