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Chatting with Paul Finebaum

By Brad Bradford

Paul Finebaum
Paul Finebaum

Any book titled My Conference Can Beat Your Conference (Why the SEC Still Rules College Football) is sure to irritate football fans outside their chosen conference. In this case, the SEC.

Paul Finebaum’s book by this name will come out in August, just in time for the 2014 football season.  Finebaum has been the leading voice and opinion maker of the SEC since his move to Birmingham in the early 80s.  Paul has written a number of books and has hosted his popular radio show for years.  Last year, he appeared on ESPN’s “Gameday” program.

This year, he will be working with the new SEC Network, along with former quarterbacks Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow. His radio program can also be viewed daily on the SEC Network.  I recently caught up with Paul and asked him a few questions about the SEC Network and the SEC in general.

What will be your primary role with the SEC Network, and what do Greg and Tim bring to the table?

Each Saturday, I will be on the set of SEC Nation, much like I did on occasions with ESPN’s Gameday.  I will be able to rely on my 30-plus years covering the conference as a writer, radio host and fan.  Greg McElroy (former Alabama quarterback) will be in the Charlotte studio each Saturday. His knowledge of the game is outstanding. Even though it didn’t work out for Tim Tebow in the NFL, his popularity both on and off the field is unequaled. Tim will also be on the set giving his views, much like Kirk Herbstreit does for ESPN. I feel really good about the team that has been put together.

Most predictions have Alabama and Auburn fighting it out in the West, with Georgia and South Carolina in the East. Do you see any way that someone else could sneak in the top two like Auburn and Missouri did last year?

Probably not.  LSU could surprise some people in the West if they upset Auburn and beat Alabama at home.  Ole Miss was a disappointment last year. The Rebels would have to have a lot of pieces fall in place to get there. However, they play both Alabama and Auburn in Oxford.  In the East, Florida has to be better than they were last year.  Having to play at Alabama and playing LSU leaves very little room for error.  The Tennessee-Florida game will finally mean something this year. The winner will have some momentum and the loser can pack it in.  The Vols are doing things right for a change but its game with Oklahoma is going to be difficult.

What do you see as the key games in the SEC this year?

Well, the obvious choice is the Iron Bowl. Both Alabama and Auburn have a chance to be undefeated.  Auburn’s schedule is tougher.  Alabama plays a pivotal game at Ole Miss this year.  The Georgia-South Carolina game will put the winner in the East’s driver’s seat early. Like last year, the loser will have an uphill battle to get to Atlanta. The two largest crossover games this year will be Florida-LSU and Auburn-Georgia.  The Bulldogs will remember the ending of the game at Jordan-Hare last year. Adding Jeremy Pruitt as the defensive coordinator may be the missing piece to the Georgia puzzle.

Each year, it becomes tougher and tougher for teams and coaches to survive in the SEC. Who do you see on the hot seat this year?

The frontrunner would have to be Will Muschamp at Florida.  His team could be better but having to play two of the favorites to win it all in Alabama and Florida State, along with Georgia, South Carolina, and LSU could send him to the unemployment line.  The fan bases at Georgia and LSU will not tolerate middle of the pack standings for very long. Both teams need to avoid costly upsets. If LSU loses to Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia and is upset by Ole Miss, it could be rough for Les Miles. Dan Mullins at Mississippi State needs a break out year.  The recruiting class and its win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl last year give the fans in Starkville hope.  It is almost impossible to move up when you have to play Auburn, Bama, LSU, Texas A&M and cross state rival Ole Miss every year.”

Last year was the first time in eight years that the SEC didn’t win the BCA Championship. Who do you see in the Final Four this year and who do you see advancing to Dallas?

My top two right now would be Florida State and Alabama.  Florida State plays in a weaker conference and has an experienced quarterback in Jameis Winston and they are the defending champions. I think they are in the same boat that Alabama was in last year. Auburn could get back there but Alabama has a more favorable schedule and the Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa this year. Last year, I was totally convinced that Alabama would win it all and was as shocked as anyone when they lost to Auburn. I really felt as though Saban lost the game at the end of the second quarter when it should have been put away. The Oklahoma loss in the Sugar Bowl was not as shocking. It will be tough for the committee to put two SEC teams in the Final Four due to SEC fatigue unless one is undefeated and the other has a close loss early in the year.  The other obvious teams are Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State and either Georgia or South Carolina if they win the SEC. If I were a betting man though, I would put the Seminoles and Bama in Dallas.”