SEC: Oklahoma Sooners

Twitter can be such a beautiful thing, but it can also be an outlet for impulse emotions and knee-jerk reactions that can leave you embarrassed and backtracking.

Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy is on the backtracking front after taking a shot at Alabama coach Nick Saban on Twitter Tuesday night, when he went after Saban's backing of the now tabled 10-second proposal that had most offensive coaches in a real tizzy.

Here's what Gundy tweeted from his account (@OU_CoachGundy):
Looks like someone came up short again. You better take that SEC country somewhere else. Let's Play Faster. #Boomer

You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out the subject of Gundy's tweet. And Gundy didn't have to be an Einstein to realize that he might want to retract those electronic shots he fired. Within an hour of throwing that tweet together, Gundy deleted it and add an apology (which has also since been deleted):
I apologize for my last tweet. My passion for OU football is crazy. I respect the great college football teams. #Boomer Sooner

— Cale Gundy (@OU_CoachGundy)
[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyNick Saban hasn't responded to Cale Gundy's tweet, and it's unlikely he will.
I get it. Gundy wanted poke fun at Saban and the fact that he stands with the controversial proposal that was created to slow down no-huddle offenses. He wanted to jab him for not getting something he'd like to see implemented at the college level. And he also wanted to point at the guy his team beat by two touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Saban's team was the favorite to win its third consecutive BCS national championship, and people are out for blood when you fail to meet expectations.

It makes sense because OU likes to run the hurry-up, and its offense left the Crimson Tide's defense panting down on Bourbon Street. I'm all for having fun on Twitter and showing that you aren't a robot coach, but you have to be careful poking the bear that is Nick Saban. We don't know when Saban will get a rematch with the Sooners or Gundy, but you'd better believe this is something that will be in the back of his mind the next time that opportunity comes.

Saban might not publicly respond to Gundy, but he'll be thinking about it. His team will know. The people around him will know. And he'll wait until he gets his chance to strike.

Maybe, he'll just retaliate by taking it out on the hurry-up offenses he faces in 2014. I'm sure he's anxious to make on on-field statement.

NEW ORLEANS -- Oklahoma exploded in the first half, then held on for a 45-31 victory over Alabama at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday in one of the biggest upsets in BCS history.

Here’s how it happened:

It was over when: Trailing by a touchdown with less than a minute to play, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron dropped back to pass. But before he could unload the pass, Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker came swooping around his blindside to knock the ball loose. Sooners defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped up the fumble and rumbled 8 yards into the end zone to clinch the stunning victory.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who was absolutely sensational in just his fifth career start. Against one of the top-ranked defenses in college football, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. All of those numbers were easily career highs. Knight threw one interception, but even that pass was on the money, as it bounced off the hands of receiver Jalen Saunders. Knight was special, outplaying a quarterback on the other side who finished second in the Heisman voting.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma’s 31 first-half points were the most the Sooners had scored in a first half all season, and the most Alabama had allowed in a first half this year, as well. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Alabama had given up 31 points over an entire game just seven times under coach Nick Saban before this Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma came into the night averaging 31 points a game.

Unsung hero: Grissom had a monster night to spearhead the Sooners defensively. He finished with two sacks, a third-down pass breakup and two fumble recoveries. The first fumble recovery came at the Oklahoma 8-yard line, thwarting a promising Alabama scoring drive in the second quarter. The second ended the game. It was easily the best game of Grissom’s career. He spent much of last season as a reserve tight end.

What Alabama learned: The Crimson Tide just aren’t quite as dominant as they’ve been in the recent past. Oklahoma might have played out of its mind, but this was also a team that lost to Texas by 16 points and to Baylor by 29. Even with McCarron gone, Alabama will be a national title contender again next season. But the Crimson Tide must shore up some weaknesses, specifically a secondary that got completely torched by a freshman quarterback.

What Oklahoma learned: The Sooners can play with anyone in the country. Alabama has been the preeminent program in college football the past five years, which includes three national titles. But this was no fluke. The Sooners outplayed the Crimson Tide in just about every facet of the game. It has been 13 years now since Oklahoma won a national championship. But with Knight back at quarterback and a couple rising stars on defense, the Sooners could be geared up for a special season in 2014.

Join us for Sugar Bowl Live (8:30 ET)

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:00
AM ET
Can Alabama continue the SEC’s dominance in BCS bowl games? Can Oklahoma end its struggles in BCS games and give a boost to its coach’s offseason claim about the SEC?

Two of the most storied programs in college football history meet in New Orleans and we’ll be here chatting about it throughout. At 8:30 ET, join Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon and SEC reporters Edward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough as we discuss the game. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Allstate Sugar Bowl preview

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:00
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NEW ORLEANS -- Thursday night’s Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma features two of the most storied programs in college football history. Here’s a preview of one of the most intriguing games of the bowl season:

Who to watch: Alabama's AJ McCarron, who, with two national titles, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Even though the Crimson Tide came up just short of advancing to another national championship game, McCarron has put together another fabulous season. He was a first-team Walter Camp All-American, won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the Heisman voting. On top of owning virtually every passing record at Alabama, McCarron also has a career record of 36-3 as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. A win over the Sooners in his collegiate swan song would cap the finest quarterbacking career in Alabama history in fine fashion.

What to watch: How Oklahoma performs against the preeminent program from the preeminent conference in college football. Even though the SEC has reeled off seven straight national titles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has questioned why the SEC is accepted as college football's top conference, even calling it "propaganda." Stoops also has suggested the SEC's defensive reputation has been overhyped, because of substandard quarterbacking in the past. Stoops, however, has never disrespected Alabama, and this week called the Crimson Tide the best team in the country despite their loss to Auburn. Still, the fact remains, the Big 12's reputation will be squarely on the line this game, especially after Baylor's disastrous showing against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma's reputation will be on the line, too. The Sooners can prove on the national stage they're on their way back to standing alongside the nation’s elite programs. Or they -- and the Big 12 -- will take yet another perception hit heading into the College Football Playoff era, where perception will be paramount.

Why to watch: This will pit two of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history. Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 17 national championships, including four in the BCS era. Despite their histories, the Crimson Tide and Sooners have met only four times before: the 1963 Orange Bowl, 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and then a home-and-home in 2002-2003, which the Sooners swept. Nick Saban and Stoops, however, have faced each other only once, in the 2003 national championship game when Saban was at LSU. The Tigers won that game 21-14.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17. The Sooners have thrived as the underdog, both in the past, and here late this season. But Alabama is another animal, and Oklahoma, which has been inconsistent offensively all season, will struggle to move the ball against linebacker C.J. Mosley & Co.
Alabama reporter Alex Scarborough and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the biggest storylines in Thursday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup between Alabama and Oklahoma:

The last time the Crimson Tide just missed out on a national championship game and ended up in the Sugar, they didn't seem to be very motivated. Will they be motivated this time?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's hard to imagine AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide coming out flat against OU in the Sugar Bowl.
Alex Scarborough: With AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley guiding their respective units, I don't think motivation will be a problem. The leadership on this team is too strong for Alabama to come out flat emotionally. There are too many seniors who don't want to go out on a sour note with back-to-back losses. Revenge, even though it can't come in the form of a national championship, is at play against the Sooners. That loss on the road at Auburn has eaten away at the Tide for a month now, and I believe this team is eager to get that monkey off its back and change the narrative of its season. As Brian Vogler told the media a short while back, this game is all about respect and proving again that Alabama is one of the best teams in the country.

Jake Trotter: I don’t think motivation will be a problem for Alabama. Then again, it could be. After all, the Crimson Tide have played in the national championship game in three of the last four years. Playing in the Sugar is a step down. One thing we do know is that Oklahoma will be motivated. This is the biggest bowl the Sooners have played in since the 2008 national championship game against Florida. As a double-digit underdog against the preeminent program in college football at the moment, it’s a guarantee Oklahoma will be fired up to play well.

For OU to pull off the upset, what is the one thing that has to happen?

Scarborough: Aside from Alabama surprising me and coming out flat, I think it comes down to the defense. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will put up plenty of points on offense, but can Mosley and the secondary rebound after what was a testing season defensively? Alabama was excellent in terms of production this season, but our colleague Edward Aschoff was wise to focus on the importance of the Tide facing another zone-read team as both Auburn and Texas A&M had success moving the ball against them. Even Mississippi State had some success spreading the field and pushing the tempo. Alabama has to set the edge and stop the run early against Oklahoma, forcing Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or whoever plays quarterback for the Sooners into obvious passing situations. If Oklahoma finds itself in a lot of second-and-mediums and third-and-shorts, Alabama will be in trouble because while there's plenty of talent at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, there's a significant drop off at cornerback once you look past Deion Belue.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight and the Sooners need to get off to a good start if Oklahoma is going to pull off the upset.
Trotter: The Sooners have got to get off to a good start. Whether Knight or Bell (or both) is at quarterback, this is not an offense built to come back from behind. After falling behind early to Texas and Baylor, Oklahoma had to scrap the game plan and start throwing the ball. And the end-result was a pair of blowouts. Conversely, if Oklahoma can start fast, then hang in the game past halftime, the pressure will swing on Alabama, which is expected to win this game big. And like at Oklahoma State, the Sooners would be a successful trick play or big turnover away from taking the Tide to the wire.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Scarborough: This is going to be a very interesting game for Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest. He's had a fairly solid junior season, but he hasn't done what many expected when the season began and there was speculation over whether he'd turn pro early. Well, he's already said he intends to return to school, and with Mosley moving on, he'll be the man leading and executing Kirby Smart’s and Nick Saban's defense in 2014. How he does against Oklahoma is an important step in that progression. He needs to show he can both lead his teammates, as well as show the sideline-to-sideline type of tackling that Mosley brought to the table. As more teams go to the zone-read offense, that part of the game becomes more and more important. And if I can add a second player to watch quickly, keep an eye on freshman tailback Derrick Henry. He's a talented big man at 6-foot-3, and the buzz is that he may be poised to pass Kenyan Drake for second on the depth chart.

Trotter: Receiver/returner Jalen Saunders is Oklahoma's X-factor. In the Sooners' upset victory over Oklahoma State, Saunders unleashed a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone in the final seconds. For the Sooners to have a chance, Saunders must deliver another monster performance.

Oklahoma focused on stopping Mosley

December, 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- When asked about his very first impression of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard was as concise as he could be, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
AP Photo/Dave MartinButkus Award winner C.J. Mosley leads Alabama in tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries this season.
"That dude's good; very, very good," Ikard, an All-American, said.

"He's obviously the most talented linebacker in the country."

Mosley, an All-American himself and the recipient of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, is quiet and gentle away from the field but a thunderous wrecking ball on it. He can cover the field from side to side, drop back to defend the pass, rush the passer and stuff the run.

He's the heart of Alabama's staunch defense and enemy No. 1 for Oklahoma's offense.

Ikard and his teammates agreed they'll game plan to try and thwart Mosley's effectiveness in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl. You'd think that added attention would put some pressure on Mosley, but this is nothing new for the nation's best.

"I can't really control that," Mosley said. "I just gotta do what I have to do and make plays when my name is called."

He's made plenty of plays this year for the Crimson Tide. A year removed from leading the Tide with 107 tackles while sharing time, Mosley leads Alabama this season in tackles (102), tackles for loss (nine) and quarterback hurries (eight) as a full-time starter at weakside linebacker. He's also defended five passes and forced a fumble.

"C.J. Mosley is probably the best player we've played against this year, probably one of the best I've played against in my four and a half years here," Ikard said.

"You always have to be aware of where 32 is at."

And that isn't easy to do. He's so active that one blink and you'll lose him. But spend too much time locking in on him and you'll lose focus, making it easier to blow an assignment. It puts many offensive players, especially offensive linemen, in precarious situations.

Like a playmaking receiver who can line up inside, outside or in the backfield, you have to account for Mosley in some form or fashion whenever he's on the field or he'll make you pay.

"Your eyes are just attracted to him just by the way he runs around and makes big plays," Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said.

"We're going to account for him like anybody else, but he's definitely a force to be reckoned with. He's all over the field and he's a great leader out there."

Despite lining up in the middle of Alabama's defense, the Tide's defensive quarterback finds ways to get to the ball, no matter where it is. He's so dangerous because he's so multitalented. He pores over extra film for hours each week, while still trying to motivate and push his teammates with his relentless practice habits.

The quiet tone and smoother demeanor he shows the media is only a small part of who Mosley is. He's an animal on the field, and the Sooners understand the challenge of making him obsolete is quite an undertaking.

"He's a great player. He won the Butkus Award for a reason," Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay said. "He's fundamentally sound, he gets to the ball, his technique is great."

But for all the good Mosley does, he admits he isn't perfect. He's actually pretty goofy in the way he looks when he plays. Though he carries an impressive, stone-like 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame, his legs can get the best of him at times with his "unorthodox" running style that gives him some awkward-looking strides when he runs. His legs sometimes get caught under him, making sprinting tough.

It doesn't impede his pursuit too much, but it does receive a few giggles in the film room from his teammates.

"I've been doing that since high school," Mosley said with a laugh.

The Sooners might have 10 other players to account for when Alabama's defense takes the field, but everyone knows the Tide's defense goes the way of its commander. Mosley is the linchpin, and disengaging his playmaking ability will go a long way for the Sooners inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"That kid is the defense, if you ask me," Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said.

"It's been a blessing having him on this team, and I'm definitely going to miss him next year."

Alabama ready for more of the zone-read

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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NEW ORLEANS -- When No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) looks at its matchup with 11th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide can't help but see similarities to their last opponent.

You know, the opponent that derailed Alabama's national championship hopes with a miracle of a kick return and a run game that churned out nearly 300 yards on the Tide's vaunted defense.

Oklahoma, which is averaging 235.8 yards per game this season, isn't quite Auburn, but it does possess that pesky zone-read that gutted the Tide on the Plains. For all the inconsistency that Oklahoma has had this season on offense, Alabama isn't overlooking the Sooners' running game, which could pose quite the threat if it gets going early.

"It's very important [to stop the running run early] because once they get started, they keep on rolling," cornerback Deion Belue said. "They're a tough team as it is because their offensive line is big and strong. The thing is stop the run. If all else fails, we have to do that. If not, they can keep on rolling and then they have the option to run and pass any time they want to."

The thing with Oklahoma is that the offense can get a little complicated at times with quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight sharing time. A starter hasn't even been announced for Thursday, but the good news is that both can run the zone-read, which has been pretty successful for the Sooners this season.

Oklahoma averages 7.2 yards per zone-read play when Knight is in and 4.5 yards per play with Bell, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Knight has gained 257 yards and is averaging 10.3 yards per play when he keeps the ball on zone-read rushes, which is the best among AQ players with at least 25 zone-read runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So while the Sooners aren't sure who will be under center first, Alabama knows to expect plenty of running plays, regardless.

"We're just going to look at it as them trying to take our manhood, kinda, and try and down us a little bit [with their run game]," defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oklahoma has run 138 zone-read plays this season and averaged 18.7 zone-read plays (130 yards per game) in each of its last three games (all wins) after averaging 9.1 plays per game (47.2 yards per game) in its first nine games.

"We're going to be all right against it," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "We've repped it. That's the same offense the last we guys we played [ran]."

In Alabama's 34-28 loss to Auburn, the Tigers gained 270 rushing yards on 38 zone-read plays (7.1 yards per carry), including seven runs of 10 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Alabama entered that game allowing 3.6 yards per rush on such plays, which second best in the SEC.

Senior running back Brennan Clay (913 yards) has been the bell cow back for Oklahoma, and while he's been very impressed with Alabama, he thinks Auburn's 296-yard outing against the Tide created a blueprint for how to hurt a rush defense that was allowing just 91 yards a game before facing Auburn.

"They're not the gods that everyone [claims] them to be," Clay said. "I feel like everyone was putting them on such a high pedestal, but anyone can get beat on any given day. It's whatever transpires in between those lines on the football field is what matters.

"If we come out being aggressive, being able to establish the run, make big plays, we'll be fine."

Establishing the run is easier said than done. Before Auburn, Alabama had allowed 100-plus rushing yards just four times and surrendered just five rushing touchdowns. With about a month to prepare, Alabama won't be startled by what it sees inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Thursday.

This isn't a defense prone to continuing its mistakes.

"They're just very technical. They don't make a whole lot of mistakes, they're really physical, they know how to make plays and stop offenses, especially high-powered offenses," Knight said. "That's been a staple of their program the last couple years."

What's also been a staple of this defense is winning up front. Getting the push up in the trenches will be important for both teams, and Oklahoma All-American center Gabe Ikard said winning there will dictate the game. Fail against their big uglies, and Ikard said Oklahoma is toast.

"They're extremely powerful and big up front -- biggest defense we've seen, most physical defense we've seen, best defensive we've seen all year," he said. "It's going to be a great challenge to control the line of scrimmage against those guys. They're D-linemen are bigger than anybody we've seen this year, and that includes Notre Dame.

"If we can't run the ball, it'll be a long day for us."

Sugar Bowl glance: Alabama-Oklahoma

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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There's one thing the Allstate Sugar Bowl has in spades: tradition.

Alabama and Oklahoma are members of college football's aristocracy with a history of winning that goes back decades. From Paul Bryant to Bud Wilkinson, dusty images come to mind with these two schools. And it's only fitting that they'll meet in New Orleans, which holds its own storied place in history.

But what about the game itself? It's still a few weeks away, but let's break down some of the aspects that might make Tide-Sooners an interesting event to watch on Jan. 2.

Key storylines

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIAfter leading Oklahoma to a Bedlam win, will Blake Bell get the call against Alabama?
Letdown factor: Both Alabama and Oklahoma came into this season with eyes on Pasadena, Calif., and the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, but neither wound up in a position to make the long trip to the West Coast. How will that play a factor when the two teams meet in New Orleans? Is there any kind of unfinished business both programs feel? For Alabama, at least there's the idea that coming out and winning big might show the country that despite a last-second loss to Auburn, the Tide is the better team. A convincing win won't vault it to No. 1 in the rankings again, but a No. 2 finish could be cause enough to show up in New Orleans ready to compete.

Who starts at QB?: Oklahoma will begin bowl practice soon, but who starts under center is still a significant question mark. As Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel explained, he'll go with, "Whoever it takes." Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight is nursing an injured non-throwing arm, though it's unclear the severity of the injury. Meanwhile, junior Blake Bell, who came on in relief of Knight against Oklahoma State and led the Sooners on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, seems like the hot hand. But he entered the game third on the depth chart behind Kendal Thompson so making any assumptions here seems futile.

Stoops vs. the SEC: Some folks just don't like to dredge up the past. But after what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has said about the SEC in the past year or so, it's hard to forget. Stoops has called the league with seven straight BCS champions overrated, top-heavy and overstated in terms of its defensive prowess. It's all propaganda, he claims. A veteran of the Big 12, he's been mostly alone in his criticism of the SEC, which has made him a favorite target of college football fans in the South who like to chide other conferences already. But Stoops will have his chance to answer their criticism and state the case for his own. A win over the Tide might spell vindication.

Players to watch

Oklahoma DB Aaron Colvin: He's a big, physical corner who might be able to give Amari Cooper trouble. At 6-foot and 192 pounds, he's an aggressive type that doesn't intercept the ball a lot -- he has just one this season -- but does draw his fair share of flags. He's fifth on the team in tackles (49) and tied for sixth in passes defended (4).

Alabama LB Adrian Hubbard: We saw it play out last season where Hubbard came from nowhere to close the season strong (three sacks in the final games) and flirt with the NFL as a redshirt sophomore. He ultimately stayed for his junior season, but we could see a repeat of last year as Hubbard has racked up three sacks and 11 tackles in the Tide's past four games.

Oklahoma DL Charles Tapper: The Sooners have struggled some on offense this season, but their youth on defense is cause for hope. Trapper, a big 6-foot-4, 261-pound defensive end, is one of those bright spots. As a sophomore, he leads the team with nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Alabama QB AJ McCarron: It's ironic to consider that McCarron's final game at UA will come against a team he nearly signed with as a player coming out of high school. The night before he was set to decide, he said he was thinking he'd go with Oklahoma. Why? He liked their program and Sam Bradford. But as he said, when you're a teenager, "Your mind changes about 20 times a day." In the end, it's safe to say McCarron made the right decision as a win over Oklahoma would be the cherry on top of a career that's seen him win two national championships as a starter and earned him a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Stats to keep an eye on

2: Oklahoma has a history of being a talent-rich program on offense, but this season's been different as the Sooners placed just two such players on the first- and second-team AP All-Big 12 Team. And those two selections -- center Gabe Ikard and kicker Mike Hunnicutt -- aren't what you'd call impact players.

18: The Sooners have flipped the script after being known as a passing team under former quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. This season Oklahoma's relied heavily on the run, ranking 18th in the country with 235.8 rushing yards per game.

20: Alabama's still shaking off the reputation of a slow and plodding offense. And while it may be true the Tide doesn't huddle, it does get big plays. In fact, UA ranks 28th in the country with 68 plays of 20 or more yards. Meanwhile, Oklahoma ranks 86th with only 48 such plays.

Stoops set to answer for SEC jabs

December, 10, 2013
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Talk is cheap, but it's never left the hype machine feeling shortchanged.

As if an Allstate Sugar Bowl featuring two of college football's most prestigious programs wasn't intriguing enough, we get to rehash a good old-fashioned war of words in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 2 showdown in New Orleans between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma.

Bob Stoops, the Sooners longtime coach, hasn't been bashful in his criticism of the Southeastern Conference, of which the Crimson Tide are a charter member. He's called it an overrated, top-heavy league with a history of overblown defensive prowess. And that's just what he's said on the record in the past year or so.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Bob Stoops gets a chance to make a statement against the SEC's Alabama Crimson Tide.
The last seven BCS national champions be damned, Stoops has been on a one-man mission to change the narrative surrounding college football's most dominant conference. He's shouted at the gates of Mike Slive's castle over and over again, and rather than send one of the commissioner’s meager lords to answer Stoops’ cries, the doors have opened and Alabama has come to call.

The Tide, owners of three of the last four national championships and arguably the best coach in college football, will represent the league in a game that many fans of the SEC hope shuts Stoops up once and for all.

Only don't count on it.

When Stoops was asked Sunday about his history of opining on the SEC it was as if he misunderstood the premise.

"What comments?" he asked in return.

Well let's see. You could start with the part about his seeing the SEC's dominance being sold as "propaganda." Or you could point to his comments about the league's poor defense in which he sarcastically mocked teams for struggling to defend Texas A&M, meanwhile neglecting how Oklahoma was blown out by the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl last season, 41-13. But instead the reporter in question noted how Stoops said that the bottom of the SEC was overrated.

"I'm not playing the bottom half," Stoops responded. "If the SEC is Alabama, there is nothing to talk about, right? If you want to say the SEC is Alabama, then sure, they're the ones that have won all the national championships, or most of them. Now, if you want to play in the bottom half, that's a different story. But we're not playing the bottom half, are we? So there's not a lot to talk about, is there? "

Stoops, however, failed to realize that when he initially made his disparaging comments about the bottom half of the SEC, Auburn and Missouri were included among that group after coming off dreadful seasons in which they combined for two wins in league play. But Auburn beat Alabama only a few weeks ago and on Saturday it bested Missouri in the conference title game. The bottom of the bottom half is now set to play Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

The last time Stoops went to the Big Game he lost to SEC champ Florida in 2009. In 2004 the Sooners lost to USC and the year before they lost to an SEC team again in LSU, who happened to be coached by Alabama's Nick Saban at the time.

Just don't look for Saban to take up for the SEC against Stoops and Oklahoma this time around. Providing bulletin board worthy quotes isn't a part of his M.O. He'll let the game on the field do the talking. The most you'll get from him was the blunt response he gave during the offseason: "I’ve got more important things to do than sit around and read what Bob Stoops has to say about anything."

But leave it to Bob's brother, Mike, who coaches the Sooners defense, to smooth the waters somewhat. Maybe he thought we'd had enough gossip already.

"I think they have great programs," he said of the SEC. "The athletes they have down there, the coaches they have down there, it's rated as the top conference in college football for many years, having won seven national championships, having a chance to win eighth. They've got great athletes. Every time you step on the field with a Southeastern Conference team, they're very well coached and they play very hard. They're very complete when you look at any of these top Southeastern Conference teams."

But one Stoops doesn't speak for all, and when brother Bob goes toe-to-toe with one of the SEC's best in Alabama, he'll either answer his critics or eat his words.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)

OKLAHOMA SOONERS BREAKDOWN
Outside of his 2000 national championship, this season might constitute Bob Stoops’ best coaching finish.

[+] EnlargeSaunders
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsReceiver and punt returner Jalen Saunders is an integral part of the Sooners' success. He had a return touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the win over Oklahoma State.
After the Sooners were blown out at Baylor a month ago, most pegged Oklahoma for an 8-4 finish. Instead, despite juggling three different quarterbacks, the Sooners rallied for road wins over red-hot Kansas State and Oklahoma State to secure their fourth consecutive double-digit win season and first BCS bowl since 2010.

The way the Sooners won Bedlam underscores just how improbable a finish it was. Oklahoma didn’t even score an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds of the game, yet somehow toppled the heavily favored, then sixth-ranked Cowboys, 33-24.

Unlike the Jason White, Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, the Sooners are not equipped to win in shootouts. But led by a veteran offensive line, a reliable running back in Brennan Clay and its mobile quarterbacks, Oklahoma does have a strong running game, ranking 18th in the country.

Even without a surefire all-conference player, the Sooners also have their best defense since 2009. They are undersized up front, but the pass defense is prolific. Aaron Colvin is a proven lockdown corner, and Eric Striker is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football.

The true strength of this team, however, is special teams. Jalen Saunders, who had a touchdown return in Bedlam, is one of the most electric returners in the country. Roy Finch leads the Big 12 in kickoff returns. And Michael Hunnicutt is a reliable field-goal kicker.

It will be interesting, as it has been all season, to see what the Sooners do at quarterback in the bowl. Freshman Trevor Knight won the job late in the season and was terrific at Kansas State. But he suffered a dislocated shoulder just before halftime at Oklahoma State. Knight should be fine for the bowl. But Blake Bell, who struggled in the losses to Texas and Baylor, led Oklahoma on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that beat Oklahoma State. -- Jake Trotter

vs.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BREAKDOWN
The sting of losing the Iron Bowl remains. The Crimson Tide didn't expect to fall to the Tigers in the final week of the regular season, miss out on the SEC championship game and, as a result, a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at a third-straight BCS championship. All of which begs the question: How will Alabama respond now that it has been relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl? And does Oklahoma stand a chance?

[+] EnlargeCyrus Jones
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCB Cyrus Jones and the Alabama secondary will have its hands full with OU's receivers.
Judging by previous experience, expect Alabama to arrive in New Orleans with something to prove. The last time the Tide missed out on a shot in the title game, it went to Orlando and beat Michigan State in the most lopsided Capital One Bowl in the game's history.

But Alabama isn't the same team it was then.

On offense, Alabama is actually much better as Doug Nussmeier has guided UA to 38.8 points per game -- the most in the Nick Saban era. AJ McCarron might not win the Heisman Trophy, but he has a shot at making it to New York having thrown for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The offensive line that was rebuilt after being the best in college football a year ago has actually allowed 12 fewer sacks this season than the last. And the running back tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake hasn't disappointed either, combining for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense, though, has endured its ups and downs. Against Texas A&M, it gave up the most yards in school history, and against Auburn, it allowed the most rushing yards since 2011 (296) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback (99) in the Saban era. Discipline was an issue in those games and the back end of the defense was a troublesome spot throughout as strong safety Vinnie Sunseri was lost to injury midway through the season and the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue was a revolving door with John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith all taking unsuccessful turns.

The Tide’s defense will be tested by Oklahoma. With a few QBs that can run, if Alabama doesn't come out ready to play, it could turn into a shootout as the Sooners possesses the kind of spread offense that has given the Tide trouble (http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/75890/alabama-at-loss-defending-spread-offenses). LSU had the best tandem of receivers Alabama faced this season, but Oklahoma might have the best receiver corps with three wideouts with 20 or more catches. Jalen Saunders has 615 yards and five touchdowns of his own and Sterling Shepard, who has 428 yards and six touchdowns, is the kind of shifty receiver that can hurt you. -- Alex Scarborough

Kickoff Live

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
11:35
AM ET
Editor's note: To watch the show on your smartphone, click here.

Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter and Max Olson as well as “Big 12 This Week” host Chad McKee join host Chantel Jennings to preview the Red River Rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma this Saturday in Dallas. Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and ACC reporter Andrea Adelson also join the panel to talk about the other big games around the country in Week 7.

Video: Take your pick: Week 5

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
11:30
AM ET


Robert Smith picks the winners of the biggest games in Week 5 of the college football season.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer join Twitter, demonstrating the power the social media vehicle has on recruits; Cameron Robinson’s decision is pushed back to next week, and one team is feeling better about its chances; and former four-star athlete Chase Abbington is making a big splash in the junior college ranks.

Welcome to Twitter Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer
Twitter has become one of the biggest recruiting tools for college football coaches. Not only do they use it for communication with prospects, since the rules on electronic communication are more lax than phone calls. Tweets are also a great way to share recruiting propaganda and are more likely to be read compared to letters that pile up in a recruit’s mailbox. The latest coaches to embrace the new recruiting world order are Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. “My good friend Bob Stoops talked me into this Twitter stuff -- let’s see how it goes,” Meyer tweeted Tuesday after opening an account and quickly gaining 30,000 followers. Stoops has had his own Twitter account for about a year but it had always been set to private -- until Wednesday. One of his first tweets was about going after national championship No. 9. It was recruiting through social media at its finest.

Robinson pushes back announcement date

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Cameron RobinsonGreg Ostendorf/ESPNFriday's decision by offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the No. 3 prospect in the ESPN 300, between LSU and Alabama could foreshadow the last five months of the 2014 cycle.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Cameron Robinson announces on Friday and his pick could go a long way toward determining who has the No. 1 class, TE DeAndre Goolsby is quickly climbing the charts of many recruiters, and Elijah Hood’s decision could help UNC lure one of nation’s top surprise classes.

Decision day set for Robinson
One of the most significant recruiting battles of the 2014 class will come to close Friday when the nation’s No. 3 overall player Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) announces his decision. Robinson, a five-star prospect, is a franchise offensive tackle that only comes around once every few classes, and the battle between LSU and Alabama is one that could set the tone for the rest of the recruiting season. If LSU lands him, then it could help the Tigers run the table with other high profile in-state recruits like No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette. That type of run could help the Tigers unseat the Tide from the top spot in the class rankings that it’s held for the last two years. If Alabama lands him, then the Tide basically locks up another No. 1 class with more than five months left in the recruiting calendar. Most projections, including RecruitingNation’s Hot Board, have Robinson leaning towards Alabama.

A picture is worth a thousand words



ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.

Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.

"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Tony Jefferson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel sprints away from Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson during a second-half run.
"He's not a Heisman winner for no reason," said Oklahoma safety Javon Harris, who scooped up an interception off Manziel when receiver Malcome Kennedy bobbled what likely should have been Manziel's fifth touchdown of the night. "You saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into."

Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.

"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."

Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.

More like Johnny B. Great.

"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.

He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.

A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."

That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?

"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."

Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.

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