Some of our younger readers may not know this, but the Big 12 used to have 12 teams. One of those teams is a school called the Nebraska Cornhuskers and as luck would have it, your Longhorns are heading to Lincoln, Nebraska to play the Cornhuskers this weekend. This trip should allow Texas to get comfortable playing in the state of Nebraska ahead of their return trip this June. In order to celebrate this momentous occasion, we exchanged questions and answers with Keith Yaple of Corn Nation. The games this weekend are on the Big 10 network and this Texas fan is outraged at having games I care about being aired on some obscure cable network that I don't get.
Many thanks to Keith for wanting to speak with us and you can read our answers to his questions here.
BON: Hey, Nebraska. How...how have you been? We saw Maryland the other day and she said you were really great, happy with your new friends. And we're, we're just so glad to hear that. Happy you're happy, you know? It's all we ever wanted for you, was to be happy. We've been...we've been good too. Texas A&M left us after you--oh, you hadn't heard? Well, looking back it was clearly a dysfunctional relationship and we're doing fine as far as that goes. TCU? Yeah, she's great, thanks for asking. And WVU is at least very colorful. Still got that new-romance thing, honeymoon phase and all. It's good. Yeah. It's good. So great to see you.
Keith: Oh you know, we fired a football coach, had a dumpster fire of a basketball season, and are currently on an eleven game winning streak in baseball. We still are not full share revenue members of the BIG, but at least we get to play Rutgers, the school that invented football. Baseball wise you know we only got 17,000 people in the stadium for the first weekend of play which is alright. We also found a decent but not flashy pitching staff, and people are starting to remember the glory days like 1999 where Texas was swept at Nebraska. We may even host a regional and have plans of possibly meeting you at a super-regional just like good old times for a three game series. We would prefer if we hosted though.
BON: Five years into your conference switch, what effect do you think it has had on Nebraska baseball? Did the move to a Northern conference without much baseball tradition set the program back at all?
Keith: The program was a complete dumpster fire when Darin Erstad was first named coach. He had to pick up the pieces and start new. He challenged the team, and they came to work. Erstad has found quality players and has allowed Nebraska to come back into the national picture. This team can make some noise being in the north. Playing in the BIG has allowed Nebraska to see how privileged it is. These kids go to a game at Michigan State where there are 500 fans, and that is treated like a sellout. With the commitment that the BIG (except Wisconsin) is making towards baseball, the conferences reputation will continue to improve. Nebraska is at the forefront of the conference when it comes to fans and facilities, but the rest of the league is gaining momentum. Indiana is actually a legitimate national title contender I believe, while Nebraska may be.
BON: As for this year, you guys have started out 3-0 in the Big Ten by sweeping Michigan, and hung tight with Texas A&M and LSU in Houston earlier this year. This after a strong 18-6 finish in the Big Ten last year to seemingly get your program back on track. With Nebraska looking up, Indiana starting to look like they're here to stay, and Maryland ranked in the top 15, is Big Ten baseball on a sustainable upswing?
Keith: Big Ten Baseball is on the upswing thanks to an increase in commitment to the sport. Before Nebraska ever came into the conference, the baseball programs were content to pound on one another and have a little dinky tournament and put one team in the tournament to try and win. Now teams are scheduling tougher opponents, and trying to get in the NCAA tournament without having to win a conference championship. Just look at the BIG tournament last year in Omaha where the Sunday crowd was 20,000 fans. The Big 12 championship drew 7700. Teams are also spending money on their home stadiums to make them at least look presentable. Northwestern comes to mind, but also Michigan, Indiana, and Purdue have all put money into baseball. If you build it, they will come.
BON: Tell us about Kyle Kubat and his 1.60 ERA and 4-0 record. What's his out pitch? Is he completely dominant, or the type of guy who's good at working around base runners? What does Texas need to do to score some runs against him?
BON: Boyd's World has Nebraska at 28th in ISR and they've been in the top 25 conversation on a couple of other sites. Do you think that's a fair assessment of the baseball team or are they riding some momentum from a relatively easy part of the schedule with an 11 game winning streak against powerhouses Northern Colorado, Florida Gulf Coast University, Indiana State and Michigan?
Keith: Northern Colorado is just scheduled because their mascot is a bear, and they bring polar bears to the park where they set up a petting zoo outside of the ballpark. Seriously a loss to Northern Colorado is a death blow for a team that usually goes 8-38 and many fans despise that series. However, saying that Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State are easy teams is far from the truth. FGCU was pegged as a regional team, and has some quality ball players not to mention Mike Meyers is an outstanding starting pitcher. Indiana State made the tournament last season, and was thought of as another quality team.
As far as Michigan goes, well they just have imploded due to injuries and also thinking that the plate is six feet wide. They walked 85 batters last weekend, so it was hard to not win. Baseball is fun like that sometimes.
BON: How have the new balls impacted Nebraska? Has it benefited the offense, hurt the pitching, both or neither?
Keith: What new balls? Nebraska appears to have very similar offensive numbers to last season, hitting a bit worse due to the loss of a pair of key bats. Nebraska is not an extra base hit team. They ground and pound wearing teams out and taking a lot of close pitches. As far as the pitching goes, the Huskers are actually pitching better as a team this year than they did last year, and it is not even close. Nebraska will make an occasional error but has allowed only one unearned run all season. The pitchers make their pitches with whatever ball is given to them, they don’t care which ball it is.
BON: I see Nebraska has only hit 5 HR all season despite the team offensive numbers being very respectable. Does this team not have a ton of power or could it be due to cold weather or another explanation?
Keith: See some of the parks that Nebraska has played in. The Houston College Classic had a few loud outs, but mainly it is just the size of the parks. Wind has not been a friend to Nebraska either this season, as 30-50 mph gusts have been frequent at Hawks Field. To hit a home run in Nebraska, one has to be lucky or have a large amount of power. There have been three or four home runs off foul polls, while there have also been three triples hit over 400 feet to the gap. The parks the Nebraska has played in have been huge, but Nebraska prefers to sacrifice and move runners over as well. Nebraska will try and string together rallies that tire pitchers, rather than using the bloop and blast method. Cold weather is just an excuse, it was 90 the other week in Lincoln.
Thanks again to Keith for the insights. Game One is tonight at 6:35 PM and can be seen on BTN Plus, which is apparently an opportunity to pay extra for additional Big Ten Network events that is only available if you have BTN on your cable package, or something. Tomorrow's game is on the regular BTN, but for tonight you can listen to the game here. Hook 'em!