NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma has no plans to bow down to the mighty Southeastern Conference.The SEC has run roughshod over most of college football for the past decade, but in recent years, former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was vocal about his belief that the Sooners and the Big 12 were elite, too. He had the facts to back up his claim — under his leadership, Oklahoma beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season, Tennessee during the 2014 and 2015 regular seasons and Auburn in the Sugar Bowl after the 2016 season.
As far back as 2013, Stoops called some of the stories about the SEC's supremacy "propaganda." The rivalry he stirred up continues with new coach Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma's matchup with Georgia in the Rose Bowl national semifinal on Jan. 1.
Riley tried to temper things a bit when the pairings first came out.
"Georgia is a great team, regardless of what league they're in," he said. "They're a great football team. I've had a chance to watch them a little bit this year. Obviously, they're really, really good defensively. It doesn't take long to figure that out. Strong running game. Their young quarterback has come on and played really well."
Riley also has great respect for Georgia coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs are 12-1 in Smart's second year.
"Kirby has obviously done a great job in just a short time," Riley said. "To me at this point, it's not about conference vs. conference. It's about this really good team from Oklahoma going up against a really good team in Georgia."
Riley wasn't as complimentary toward the SEC earlier in the season when he was defending the Big 12. After Oklahoma's 62-52 win over Oklahoma State, he had heard enough from critics who said the Big 12 was watered down because of the lack of defense. He referenced Oklahoma's 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, among other things, as evidence that the Big 12 can hold its own.
"Going back to the bowl games last year, there's one conference that gave up under 20 points a game," he said. "That was the Big 12, where everybody's playing out-of-conference teams. So everybody wants to talk about all that. We didn't have any problem moving the ball against SEC defenses, one of the best ones in the country last year, in the bowl game."
Riley said at the time that some of the offensive numbers Big 12 teams allow during league play are a product of teams taking necessary risks. He called the perception that the Big 12 was a step below "uneducated."
"When you play great offenses week in and week out, and when the other teams know you're playing great offenses, people are going to be more aggressive," he said. "People are more aggressive against us, I promise you, because they know they're going to have to score some points to win. So it's a little bit different mindset. It's a different set of challenges."
The Heisman winner playing for a spot in the national championship game.— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 26, 2017
Nuff said. pic.twitter.com/UGR25dWdCJ
Even in those statements, Riley was more reserved than Stoops. As the Sooners prepared for Tennessee in 2014, Riley's predecessor quipped about the SEC's supposed belief that its athletes are a cut above.
"I don't know," Stoops said at the time. "That hasn't been the case in our experience. Whenever we've played, that hasn't been much of a difference."
After Oklahoma's win over Auburn, Stoops said reporters should "maybe just bury that narrative" about SEC supremacy.
Heisman winner Baker Mayfield has a chance to extend Oklahoma's streak against the conference. Smart knows the Bulldogs will have their hands full.
"People have always said the SEC is going to have really competitive defensive linemen that can pass-rush and reduce that time window, but I think Baker Mayfield is the great equalizer because he extends that time, and he makes those plays go longer where you have to cover longer," Smart said. "That has a lot to do with it, and they've got really good skill receivers in that conference."