New York, NY—Iowa linebacker James Morris was a stellar performer on and off the field this season. The senior was the only player in the Big Ten with at least 90 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions on his way to second-team All-Big Ten honors. Morris was also named to the Capitol One Academic All-American team and a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, where I was able to sit down with him and talk some football. Scroll down to listen to the entire podcast.

On stage you spoke about ‘corralling’ the program. You went from 4-8 to 8-4. How important was it for your senior class to go out on a good note?

It’s meant a lot. As you said, we had a 4-8 season and that was miserable. We lost six straight games towards the end of the year and that was something we knew we didn’t want to do again. I’ll say it right now, before the start of 2013 season our goal wasn’t to be 8-4, obviously we wanted to win every game we played, but you know as a college football fan, you know how rare that is. We were pretty aware early on after our first game (loss to Northern Illinois) that that wasn’t going to be the case. So for us it was a matter of coming out, trying to improve, trying to get better every week, making sure that when Saturday came we were in a position to compete and have a chance to win a football game and we did that more times than not. So we feel good about that. We felt like we improved. We’re 8-4, we’re playing in a good bowl game and have the opportunity to win nine games against a great opponent and that’s something we can be proud of. We’re not playing in a BCS game, we didn’t win the conference title, but we feel like maybe we’re getting there. We’re trying to lay the foundation to where we might be able to actually achieve those things in the future. 

Does it bother you that Michigan State was 12-1, a conference champ and they were not part of the conversation to make the BCS Championship Game? 

Oh, yeah, I never even thought about that, because so much of it is when you win versus when you lose. Michigan State lost early, to a good opponent. If you look at how Michigan State was built, coming in, all the question marks they had on offense. Inconsistencies at the receiver position, didn’t know who their quarterback was at the time. Max’s (Bullough) brother (Riley Bullough) was the starting running back in spring ball. They were getting a lot of things figured out and against Notre Dame they kinda of got settled in, in the second half of that game and then we played them. They’ve been trending upward ever since that game. In my opinion they’re an attractive team but it’s interesting how you look at the way they’ve been playing the last couple of weeks and they’re not getting any conversation. There’s also the component of where maybe offense sells, points sell. You look at these two teams playing (Florida State and Auburn), Heisman Trophy candidates on both teams, score a lot of points, that SEC Championship game... In every argument I just made for Michigan State you can probably make the same argument and then some for Auburn too, in how they’ve played at the end of the year.

How important is New Year’s Day for the Big Ten? 

The Big Ten for whatever reason seems to be a conference that a lot of people like to kick dirt on. Some of it’s deserved and some if it isn’t. There are a lot of good football players in the Big Ten. Within the last five years or the last decade, since, I don’t know what National Championship Game it was, but it was when Ohio State played Florida and they got beat pretty badly. It just seems like ever since that time the Big Ten’s sort of been second fiddle to the SEC in some regards. So for a Big Ten team, who is an underdog to come out and play well against an SEC opponent that would benefit the reputation of the conference and hopefully try to dispel some of those myths and stereotypes that the Big Ten is somehow inferior. We can talk about it all we want, we gotta go out and do it. Now it maybe the case that the SEC is vastly superior to the Big Ten and this is just wishful thinking, but I’m hoping that’s not the case. I’m going to do everything I can in my power to make sure that we’re prepared and that when we go out there we play well and have a chance to win the game. Time will tell, we’ll know on the first.

*To read this interview in its entirety, click here.