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DTN Interviews SI's Austin Murphy

Much thanks to Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy, who was gracious enough to answer a number of questions regarding Texas Tech, the BCS, and college football in general. Please check out Austin's latest story, A Race To The Finish, regarding the Heisman Trophy race.

Back in the summer, you picked Texas Tech as one of your sleeper teams, though you stated recently that you never really expected this much out of the team. What was it about Texas Tech that made you think they could pull off what seemed unthinkable?

I’d visited just after spring football to sit with the Captain, who’d graciously agreed to provide SI with a gatefold diagram of one of his plays for our annual college football issue. I recall having some apprehension, after being in his office and meeting room for 45 minutes, that while the conversation had been scintillating, it hadn’t been about football … Anyway, my belief in his offense was reinforced. (To spend time talking about it with him is to is to be reminded that it’s actually the opposite of a gimmick; that, like everything tested and proven in this sport, it’s deceptively simple, and execution-based.) But I also began hearing about maybe an added or different emphasis on running the ball; and spent more time than I ever have at Tech talking about defensive players. Mostly, I predicted good things for this team on the basis of wishful thinking. Can you imagine Leach giving daily press conferences at the BCS title game? It’ll be worth rising with a hangover to go see.

The President-elect has weighed in on the college football playoff issue, where do you stand?

I was actually pleased to see the Senator come in fairly strong on this topic. It was nice to be reminded by a guy with a Harvard law degree and strong modicum of common sense that, Of COURSE a playoff is the fairest, most equitable, most commonsensical way to determine this.

I’ve been amused by the patronizing responses, from Messrs. Beebe and Gee, re. "Oh, isn’t is wonderful, isn’t it endearing, that the president-elect has taken an intererest in our sport. But if he were up to speed like we are, the scales would fall from his eyes, and he’d grasp that the decisions must continue to be made by the presidents and administrators of the power conferences, who have a deeply vested, completely economic interest in maintaining the status quo."

The truth is, these guys represent an axis of obstruction.

President Gee in particular makes himself ridiculous when he talks about the threat a playoff poses to the academic interests of our student-athletes, when basketball and baseball and for Crissakes even members of the golf team spend more time on the road; when teams from D-III to I-AA (I’ll adopt the new nomenclature next year, perhaps) have been proceeding through playoff brackets for decades, and the earth continues to spin on its axis.

Good for Obama. I don’t expect quick change. We’ll have universal health care before a playoff system. The conspirators in this case are too deeply entrenched. But by all means expose them to the disinfecting power of light and common sense.

In your opinion, how good is the Big XII South in comparison to the SEC and teams in the Big 10?

My general sense of things is that the SEC may still have more, better athletes, top to bottom. Defensively, they’re still ahead. The Big XII is a testament to the power of ideas; coaches are doing more progressive things on offense, as demonstrated by this year’s Heisman race and, frankly, the Top 10 throughout much of the season. Vast simplification: SEC may have better athletes, by a smidge; Big XII has had better, more entertaining football this season, by a longshot.

In the unfortunate event of a 3-way tie in the B12 South, regardless of what the BCS will say, which team would YOU give the shot to play for the B12 Championship?

This tie of which you speak presumes a Tech loss tomorrow night. If I’m going to break this tie, I need to know the margin of victory. If Sooners shut down Harrell & Co. and hang 60-plus on Ruffin et al, it’s much easier to forgive them that so-so second half at the Red River Rivalry. That’s as much of an answer as I’ve got in me . . . 

It sounds like you've spent quite a bit of time in Lubbock, in and around Captain Leach and the entire team. We've read plenty of stories about Leach's quirky personality and the offense ahead of it's time, what's your draw to Lubbock, Texas Tech, and the Captain?

In 1999 I took a six month sabbatical from SI – I’d been covering the NFL – and moved my young family to Collegeville, Minn. We spent a season with a D-III program called St. John’s of Minnesota. My book about the experience is called The Sweet Season. The head coach there, John Gagliardi, has more wins than anyone in NCAA history – he’s in the mid-400s now, blew by Eddie Robinson a few years back.

The draw was how he won: with a list of 60-odd "No’s" – no blocking sleds, no whistles, no idiotic calisthenics that have no application to football. In short, this guy was a kind of football mystic, and had figured out a way to succeed complete outside the conventions and received wisdom of what I think remains one of our most hidebound and traditional sports. We’re all drawn to original thinkers, guys willing to stand by the courage of their convictions, and I think the foremost example now works in Lubbock. That’s the draw.

Gotta fly! Thanks for this opportunity! Good luck tomorrow. Hope to see you in … Miami.