The football offseason can often times be a dull affair for fans. Recruit here, interview there, twitter hype video in late June but it‘s never enough. This summer, however, hosts one of the world’s most coveted tournaments: The World Cup. Whether a soccer fan or not, The World Cup is a more than recognizable name across languages and cultures. Don’t even bother arguing; where 105 million people tuned into the Super Bowl last year, the 2014 World Cup final was viewed by 1 BILLION people. The total of the whole tournament was upwards in the 3 billion viewers range - that’s insane. To honor such a beloved sport and tournament (and to help you bridge the gap between football and futball, voetball, futbol, etc) we at Viva the Matadors have compared Big 12 teams to World Cup competitors. Let’s dive in!
Baylor (bears): Russia (bears, duh)
First on the list is a team that needs no introduction, just like its counterpart! Baylor is represented in the current World Cup by the very host of the tournament: Russia. Not only do both Baylor and Russia constantly end up under the microscope of the media, but they also have unexpectedly good teams. Despite the opinions (and sanctions) of others it would seem that trouble broods success. Even though Baylor had an unimpressive season last year, you would be hard pressed to count them out this year. Russia likewise made a statement that it will not go quietly out of the group stage, defeating Saudi Arabia 5-0 in today’s match up. It is also possible that they flop the rest and fail to advance - even as the host country. Let the “luls” ensue.
Kansas: Saudi Arabia
In short: they’re just happy to be here. Saudi Arabia is a team that doesn’t expect to qualify but they’ll be dang sure to give it their all. Unfortunately their all really isn’t enough. Today they lost by a 5-0 margin to Russia, which resonates so well with Kansas during the football season. Yet Saudi Arabia qualified this year and for at least a week will either take a beating or surprise the world and knock off either Uruguay or Egypt; just like Kansas beat Texas. Yes. We still remember. Either way... good job Saudi Arabia.
Kansas State: Switzerland
Kansas State IS Switzerland. Both teams have been playing the same foundational style forever and sometimes they win, sometimes they lose - but they never... NEVER deviate from the process. Expect them to consistently be in the World Cup as Kansas State is consistently in the middle or upper-middle of the Big 12. It is rare to hear anyone say they’ll actually contend for the title, but don’t expect to beat them easily. Foundational strategy is hard to beat, y’all.
Belgium is another one of those teams that consistently finds itself in the World Cup, and some years are better than others but they’re always dangerous. This, to me, seems a perfect fit for TCU. Every year the Horned Frogs start off extremely hot and take the college polls by storm, but instead of winning it all they find a way fudge it at the end. Belgium, you guessed it, is similar. In 2014 Belgium had an almost clear path to the World Cup finals after beating the USA 2-1, but laid an absolute egg against Argentina in the following match. Regardless, Belgium enters this World Cup with the same vigor as they did last time and are looking to get to at least the quarter finals. The large difference between these two teams is that one of them actually sells out their stadium...
West Virginia: Japan
West Virginia. Japan. Two entities that are far away from the competition they participate in. As a result of that great separation, it is easy to overlook their skill. Japan comes into this World Cup with interesting company in group H. Senegal, Poland and Colombia will be vying to get out of the group stage and are undoubtedly looking at Japan as an easier win than the rest. The Japan national team will be looking to prove critics wrong, however, and will be eyeing a first place spot behind the striking power of Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa. West Virginia will similarly look to take the Big 12 title this year behind the arm of Will Grier and the multitude of graduate transfers they claimed so far. Don’t sleep on them!
This one was easy. Oklahoma’s counterpart in the World Cup is Spain. You want talent? Look to David De Gea, David Silva, Diego Costa, Thiago Alcantara and Andres Iniesta for results. Oklahoma, similarly, usually has a bout of talent and a good coach - but, uh oh, not so fast. Manager (soccer lingo for coach) Julen Lopetegui of Spain was relieved of the job before the World Cup this year. Very much like Bob Stoops recently left his position as head coach at Oklahoma last year. Despite coaching changes, Spain is still Spain and Oklahoma is still Oklahoma. You will expect them to get out of the group stage and conference but you won’t be surprised if they fall flat in a playoffs setting. It will actually be infuriating how fast they crumple despite dominating the other games of the tournament/season. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST FINISH IT?!
Oklahoma State: Portugal
Portugal is a very small piece of the massive Iberian Peninsula, and Spain doesn’t let them forget it. Much like the Oklahoma State and Oklahoma rivalry, Portugal and Spain are nemesis extreme. Spain considers Portugal to be the “little brother” for a variety of reasons but that doesn’t mean Portugal isn’t ready for a fight. Outside of the rivalry, the world expects Portugal to qualify for the World Cup and to get deep into the elimination games. Lofty expectations for a “little brother” team, but it’s near identical to the way sports pundits treat Oklahoma State. Sometimes they capitalize behind the feet of Ronaldo (and hands of Rudolph) but often times they never seal the deal; much like Belgium (TCU). We’d love to see these teams play underdog cards and get out - it just rarely happens.
Iowa State: Iceland
This honestly hurts me to write, as I plan on rooting for the Scandinavian teams (Iceland and Sweden), but its an apt comparison. Iceland, a small and considerably overlooked island in the juncture between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, is the Iowa State of the World Cup. This is their first ever World Cup and their odds to win it are 250 to 1. Iowa State, similarly, is hard to pick as a favorite in the Big 12 because you aren’t sure if they’ll pull it altogether or not. Even so, these two teams have had improbable success recently and don’t look as if they’ll be taking their feet off the gas anytime soon - so... yeah could be a good year for the both of them. I’m not saying root for ISU though, but maybe Iceland.
With substantial pedigree to lean on, England is inarguably comparable to the Texas Longhorns in the World Cup. This year alone they have youth, a hotshot new coach (Herman for Texas, Southgate for England) looking to prove himself, and a fan base that is eager to say “This is our year, remember when we won the World Cup?!” Yeah granddad, the 1960s were a great time rolls eyes*. Regardless of how you feel about these two teams, it is true that they pack a lot of talent on their squads. It is also true that they continually waste that talent by not utilizing their players well or star-players having off days, etc. Consequentially, England will probably make it out of the group stage - but it’s easy to expect an early failure in elimination games. The best part about these teams is that no matter the record they will always, always say something about their past. Classic.
Texas Tech: United States
I broke the rules for this one, but I had to. I HAD TO. Texas Tech is a team built from here-and-there recruiting and hardly finds itself in preseason polls above 7th place in the conference. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) never really has “star” players (in the global sense) and nobody believes they will ever win a World Cup. Always the underdog: Texas Tech is the United States of the Big 12. It’s honestly sickening how much fans put into the teams and how little they get out, it’s hard to ever expect to win a game unless your playing Kansas - and EVEN THEN it can be troublesome (ask Texas). Sometimes, however, there’s those glimpses of glory. The 2008 Texas game, the 1994 Colombia game, and more all continue to spike belief that the team can pull it together and have a miraculous year. Yet we’re still waiting! Coaches on hot seats, players unsure, and fans pissed off are all marks of the USMNT and Texas Tech. Even so we continue to think “next year,” and every year its a similar story of mediocrity. Now the USMNT has to watch the World Cup from home, what will Texas Tech make of 2018?
How do you think we did? Have other countries that would fit Big 12 teams better? Let us know in the comments below!