— NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Whatever Bob Stoops may have said about the overall strength of the Southeastern Conference, that apparently doesn't apply when it comes to the challenge he sees before 11th-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The Sooners' coach made that clear on the eve of Thursday night's matchup with No. 3 Alabama.
"In my eyes, they're still the best team in the country," Stoops said about the 2011 and 2012 national champs Wednesday. "They've been the best team in the country for three years, up to the very last play of the regular season."
Last spring, Stoops challenged the notion that the SEC — home of the last seven national champions — is the strongest league in the nation, calling some stories about SEC supremacy "propaganda."
His Sooners (10-2) have a chance to back that up in a big way by beating 'Bama (11-1), but Stoops knows that won't be easy.
Oklahoma is rarely a double-digit underdog, but odds makers have listed the Crimson Tide as a 16-point favorite.
Alabama coach Nick Saban only hopes his players don't buy into the spread or anything else that might over-inflate their confidence. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl was under similar circumstances. The Tide had just lost to Florida in the SEC title game, knocking 'Bama out of the national title picture.
Then the Tide came to the Big Easy as more than a touchdown favorite and got run out of the Superdome, 31-17, by Utah.
This season, Alabama's bid for a third-straight national title was upended by Auburn in late November.
"A bowl game is all about mindset," Saban said. "It's really hard to bring the season to the bowl game because the amount of time in between opportunities to play. So how your team sort of resets their mindset is really important.