NORMAN — Paul Finebaum expects Alabama to easily roll past Oklahoma in next month’s Sugar Bowl, and is picking Missouri to slip past Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
I spoke with Finebaum, who hosts a daily radio show that is as much a part of the SEC culture as anything, by telephone Thursday about the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, Bob Stoops and the Alabama-Auburn rivalry.
I also interviewed Finebaum for our weekly “Collected Wisdom” feature, in which he spoke about his career, his relationship with callers and, of course, the infamous Harvey Updyke saga. That article will print in Sunday’s editions of The Oklahoman.
Q: Do you give Oklahoma any chance at all in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama?
A: None. I really don’t. And I’ve always been a big Bob Stoops fan, but I just … listen, I know what people will say about five years ago with the Sugar Bowl and Utah, but I’ll be shocked if Alabama doesn’t just come out and unleash unholy anxiety on the Sooners.
It’s bad to have to lose (to Auburn); it’s worse to have to listen to it every day, and this is really their only chance. I know that sounds predictable. I haven’t seen a whole lot out of Oklahoma this year other than two days — maybe Notre Dame and State — that really has impressed me at all.
How do you see the Cotton Bowl playing out?
I like Missouri a little bit, but I’m pretty torn. I know you’re not supposed to like both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but I was in Stillwater with Gameday — I still haven’t thawed out by the way — and I really liked that school and that fan base. I was impressed with what they did that night (against Baylor).
I may be the only one who came away from the Georgia Dome really impressed with Missouri that night. I thought they played brilliantly; they just happened to come up against a team that probably played one of the better games of the year in college football in terms of high-octane offense. I think it’ll be very close, but I would probably go with Missouri on a last possession or something like that.
You mentioned being a fan of Bob Stoops. I’m curious what you thought about his comments on the SEC last summer.
I really thought about calling his wife to see if maybe he had hit his head somewhere. I just didn’t understand it. He does have experience. He’s been in the league; we all know that. He’s played the league. The one thing about Bob is he’s not afraid of anyone, and I like that. But I thought he was picking on the wrong group. I realize the conversation is not apples to apples, but considering how embarrassing the Cotton Bowl game was, I just didn’t understand why he would pick a fight with the SEC, knowing that anyone could bring that up. It just didn’t make any sense.
I think in a college debate class, he would probably have a better argument when everyone would have to stick to the facts, but that’s not what he had. I thought he really opened himself up. If you’re gonna say that, go ahead and prove it on the field. I was surprised because I’ve always been a huge fan of Stoops.
I think some people in this area have been surprised by the success Texas A&M and Missouri have had in the SEC after being middle-of-the-road Big 12 teams. What do you make of that?
I think immediately, you ratchet up your recruiting. For Texas A&M, it was just a reawakening for them. Suddenly everyone started paying attention to them. Recruits started paying attention to them. I think it helped Missouri a little bit. Missouri just really didn’t quite fit into the Big 12, and some wondered whether they fit into the SEC, but I think they had a fundamentally sound program. It was just never consistent. It helps from a recruiting base, but also, when you’re in that league, you know you have to step up your game and ratchet up your enthusiasm, where in the Big 12, everyone has their little niche, but for so long, it’s been about Texas. And quite frankly, it isn’t any longer.
Around here, we’re used to the OU-Texas rivalry and Bedlam, but how would you characterize the Alabama-Auburn rivalry?
I think it’s closer to Bedlam. OU-Texas, you have the two blue-chip universities from neighboring states. With Auburn-Alabama, it’s about football, but it’s also about a class system. The Alabama people look down at Auburn people. They look at them as, ‘They’re farmers, while we’re doctors and lawyers.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. One has the tradition and one doesn’t. What you’re hearing now is fascinating, because Alabama was not expecting to be heading anywhere except to Pasadena, so it was bad enough three years ago, but this is worse. This was just taken away. This was off the charts. For a week, everyone seemed numb. But now it’s starting to turn. It may take a break for Christmas, but it won’t take much of a break in the next two weeks.
I think it’s fairly close to Bedlam. Not only do you share the same state, you share the same media — you understand that — so there’s no running away from it. The hardest part I think for Alabama fans to understand is that Auburn was done. We’re 55 weeks away from a 49-0 beat down. They’re asking themselves, ‘How did this happen?’ It’s one of those things you simply can’t explain. I think that’s why they’re still in shock. You go back to the Sugar Bowl in two weeks. That at least gives them a chance to unleash their anger on someone else until they get back home to Alabama and start cheering for Florida State.