Ahead of the New Year’s Six Bowls, ESPN college football commentator Brent Musburger spoke with media about the upcoming matchups. Musburger, alongside Jesse Palmer and Kaylee Hartung, will call the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday, Jan. 2 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Transcript of the conference call is available below.
Brent Musburger: Happy New Year. Hope you had a very enjoyable Christmas, Hanukah, holiday. Montana has been snowing a lot, but we had a wonderful white Christmas.
The Sugar Bowl is something I’m really looking forward to. Everybody is a little bit tired. It will be Monday night. They’ve gone through a full weekend of the NFL wrapping up its regular season, then we go through the New Year’s Six, the Rose Bowl as our lead-in. We’re like the last game.
It’s amazing how many times the Sugar Bowl has wound up with such an enjoyable experience. I know sometimes the folks in the East Coast time zone, they have a little difficulty staying with us in the fourth quarter. But I’m really expecting this to be a very close, exciting game because I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on either of these teams.
I think they come in very loose. Coach Stoops, of course, is very, very familiar. I was reading The Oklahoman earlier today. I read the wonderful story about how Bob in the days, when he was playing Nick Saban at Alabama, how he’d hide out his practice session. I’m looking forward just to walking over to the dome and watching OU practice without having to drive all over town to figure out where the Sooners are.
I welcome your questions, and I’m really looking forward to this one.
Q. The Joe Mixon saga has been a major story in Norman. I wanted your impressions of the situation with the video being released, his subsequent apology. Also how big a factor do you think this will be on the telecast?
Brent Musburger: I fully expected this question. I’m really glad it came up.
It’s been a discussion point with us ever since we saw the video. I was aware of the situation, but I guess I was unaware of the full details about the video.
I think anybody who sees it, when you first see it, it is very troubling. There is no question about it. Obviously there was a push and a slap, but then an overreaction. I think we were all appalled by it.
I look at it in a couple of ways. Number one, I’m aware that the media down in Oklahoma went to have that released quite some time ago, I believe, and they decided because it was not a crime committed or something, they didn’t reveal it when the incident occurred. I think everybody would have benefited had that video been released immediately, but it wasn’t, so we deal with it.
You’re left to make up your mind on a couple of things: that Joe Mixon under no circumstance should be allowed to play for Oklahoma. I understand somebody thinking that and I get it. I also understand Bob Stoops’ position. He did see the video. He suspended the running back. Then he offered him a second chance. I’m a little bit of a softy, so I get offering somebody a second chance. I hope, I hope beyond hope, that he makes the most of it.
I was impressed by the young man coming up by himself with that apology the other day. I thought it was heartfelt. He can actually help with youngsters. You cannot as a male world class athlete react toward a female in that situation like he did under any circumstance whatsoever, beyond somebody coming at you with a gun or something like that. That’s a totally different thing.
He overreacted. We all know it. Coach Stoops stood by him, had already suspended him, and obviously is planning on using him.
But to the direct question about the broadcast, it will certainly be mentioned. I have a theory about things like that, and I follow it. You get to it early and you get it behind you, then you concentrate with the ballgame that’s at hand. 98, 99 percent will have seen that video. They do not want to be beaten over the head with it by the time they come to the ballgame.
I’m pulling for the young man. I hope he gets a chance in the National Football League. I hope he learned a very valuable lesson. I hope he passes it along to a lot of athletes who are as talented as he is, because it’s a message worth delivering, that under no circumstance can you overreact in the manner that he did.
Q. I think a lot of people are looking at this game as the Oklahoma offense versus the Auburn defense. I think it’s actually going to be the other side of the ball that could really make this game a little bit more interesting. Which matchups are you looking the most forward to in this game?
Brent Musburger: That’s really a good question because all of us, we see these matchups come out, and we jump to conclusions.
Obviously when the matchup was made, Oklahoma did have a major advantage at quarterback, major advantage at wide receiver, and a slight advantage at running back. But hold on because something has happened with Auburn to change this a little bit. That is the fact that Sean White, the quarterback, injured his shoulder in the Georgia game I believe in November has been cleared to play.
And the running back, I would alert everybody in Oklahoma who might not have watched Auburn, I’m going to tell you right now that maybe the single most powerful back I’ve watched in the SEC, I’m including Leonard Fournette, the most powerful back I watched was Kamryn Pettway. He’s unstoppable. He, too, was hurt in November.
As a play-by-play guy, we focus more on the offense. It’s the nature of the beast. I leave a lot of the nuances of the defense up to Jesse Palmer up in the booth.
I’m fascinated on both sides. I don’t go in saying one is better than the other. The only advantage that I know that either team has, and I have to apologize because I did not do Oklahoma in person this year, but Daniel Carlson, the kicker for Auburn, is one of the single best kickers that I have seen in the last several years in college football. That’s the only thing that I give an advantage to. A little advantage to the Oklahoma coaching staff only because they’ve been in the Sugar Bowl environment more recently than Gus Malzahn has.
I’m kind of waffling. Both offenses against the defenses.
Q. Brent, a little off the Sugar Bowl. You’ve covered so many bowl games, what is one of the most memorable ones that come to mind for you?
Brent Musburger: They always ask me about memorable games and things like that. I always say, I’m hopeful that it’s the next one. I don’t spend a lot of time looking back. There have been so many great moments in so many games.
I don’t mean to give you a non-answer. But I’ll tell you something before a game, okay, that comes to mind. I was thinking about it this morning. I believe Gary Danielson was my analyst. It happened to be in the Sugar Bowl. Bobby Bowden and Florida State were playing Virginia Tech for the championship.
I went down to the field. I had not covered Virginia Tech that year. Michael Vick was their quarterback. I wanted to go down and see what he looked like physically. He was down at one of the end zones. The spotter and I walked down. I stood there.
I have to tell you, what an Adonis. I’ve been around a lot of athletes, but I’d never seen a quarterback built quite like Michael Vick. His body just kind of glistened down there. He was warming up in the early evening, getting ready for the championship game.
I was really struck by how Michael Vick stood out, what a great game he played in a losing effort. Peter Warrick in that game returned a punt for a touchdown, was a big player. Bobby Bowden was so relieved afterwards to have won the championship.
I know the old coach, he’s had some physical problems here lately. I was told by somebody that was very close to him I was talking to yesterday, he suffered a fall, had a gash on his forehead. They wanted to honor him at the Waldorf in New York at the college football dinner. The family voted 8-0, You’re not going.
Bobby snuck out, got on a Delta Air Line, commercial, flew up by himself from Atlanta to Laguardia, showed up that night at the hotel for the honor.
He said I was outvoted 8-1, but the 1 is the only vote that counted. There’s the old coach.
You go back to that game you’re talking about, some other memories come to me. The great Sebastian Janikowski was the field goal specialist for Bobby in New Orleans. He put the curfew on Wednesday, Thursday night. He broke the curfew. The media, we were all around him the next day, all the writers from Orlando, Tallahassee, Virginia way, What are you going to do with this kicker, he broke curfew?
The old coach, I’ll never forget it, he said, Well, now, we got different rules for Polish kickers. I’ll never forget Bobby saying that (laughter).
Going back to New Orleans, I got a lot of memories. A lot of friends I look forward to seeing down on Bourbon Street. You can’t beat the fans in college football.
I was looking at one check sheet. They said Auburn had the home-field advantage because the SEC people were going to show up. It’s been my experience those Oklahoma fans travel pretty well. I would guess we’re going to have a good bunch from Norman and over that way for the game. It’s going to be a great scene, guys.
Q. Brent, my question is more about to the tradition. January 1st means a lot to the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Do you believe college football is best served by bowl games following the playoff games in the years when the semifinals aren’t in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl?
Brent Musburger: In a word, no. The last three games of the college football season, as it is now structured, should be the two semifinals and then the championship game. You don’t go to any professional league and have regular-season games after the playoffs start.
Now, I know, I got it, love the Rose Bowl, love the Sugar Bowl. I fully understand where they’re coming from.
Let’s play those games on New Year’s and have the two semifinals after New Year’s, then the championship a quick week later. It would give it a much better buildup if you do it that way.
Of course, the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl frequently are going to be in the semifinals, and they would have to agree to move off New Year’s when they are part of the championship. That’s how I look at that.
Q. Do you see that happening, though?
Brent Musburger: Listen, you’re around the structure. It’s strange. Listen, I love the people on the committee. I think they’ve done a great job with the final four. I have no second guesses except one: you’re not going to remake New Year’s Eve. It’s not happening. That’s a longer tradition than a College Football Playoff. We’ve all got parties to go to.
Given today’s digital world, we don’t have to be sitting in our living room watching every commercial that pops up. We can look down at our phones. We can go into somebody’s rec room, get a quick glance at the score.
I’ve been talking to you fellows. Every now and then I’ll glance up and see if my Northwestern Wildcats are doing okay against the Panthers.
Television depends on people in the living room listening to commercials, that’s why Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football became such a great success. Only show in town.
You’re not going to beat the parties on New Year’s Eve. All the wives, mothers of the world, they put up with all of us football fans through the years. But New Year’s Eve? I don’t think so.
Obviously if you’re Ohio State, Clemson born and bred, Alabama or Washington born and bred, you’re going to stay home on New Year’s Eve and watch the football games. That’s how I feel about New Year’s Eve.
Q. I was curious, you’ve done several Auburn games this year, you understand how different their season has been from the opener, the kind of chaotic play of the quarterback in the opener compared to how they ended it with injuries. From a broadcast standpoint, how you plan on contextualizing, filling in the audience how this season was in almost three parts this season with a rough start, finish, a lot of success in between?
Brent Musburger: If Sean White goes the distance, I will look over at Jesse Palmer in the fourth quarter and say, Jesse, what a pleasure to do Auburn when they use only one quarterback.
Jesse and I did the opening game. It was the most bizarre use of quarterbacks I think I’ve ever seen in all my years doing games. They used three different fellas at different times. Right in the middle of a series they would send out a different quarterback. It was bizarre. I’m glad they got beyond it.
Clearly Sean is their best all-around quarterback option. With John Franklin, they wanted his running ability there. I hope you good have had a chance to watch Last Chance U, that Netflix series on junior college. It’s a classic. Franklin was a major part of it as a quarterback.
It’s a lot easier, especially for your spotter. He doesn’t have to look at who the quarterback might be at a given time.
Q. In the last 17, 18 years now that Stoops has been at Oklahoma, is there anything about him that has changed, that’s stood out to you?
Brent Musburger: I always found him very consistent. That to me has been a plus with Bob. In our meetings with him, private meetings with the announcers and the production team, he’s always been forthcoming.
The one trait I always found, with all the Stoops, and I deal with all of them, they are all stubborn. Obviously sometimes when you’re stubborn, it can be to a fault. But that means that he’s consistent. What the players see is what the players get.
I admire the fact that he has stayed there. You recall early on when he was succeeding with the Sooners, bringing them back up, the youngsters don’t realize how far down Oklahoma had slipped before Bob showed up, and where he has taken them. He became Big Game Bob. Then when he started to lose some big games, Boise State, et cetera, they made fun of that.
If you just take this year, let’s just take this year, he loses to Houston, then a couple weeks later gets beat up in Norman by Ohio State. He’s out of the playoff. But then they rally, they run the table in the Big 12. It’s impressive.
I admire Bob. He came from a tough town, Youngstown, Ohio. Brother there as a defensive coordinator. I covered Mike when he was the head coach at Arizona. Mark, the other brother at Kentucky, has taken the Wildcats to a bowl game this year. I’ve been around Mark a lot the last couple years in Lexington. Boom Boom Mancini was one of Bob’s friends.
When you deal with somebody every day like you fellas do from Oklahoma, you might see a little different version than I do coming in and out. But I’ve got great respect for Bob. I have found that the best coaches in the world do have a stubborn streak. If you don’t think Nick Saban is stubborn, you haven’t been around him.
They have to believe in what they do and they have to be consistent on a year-to-year basis. I believe Stoops is. I have, as you can tell, enormous respect for him.
Q. Could you maybe talk about the Superdome and New Orleans, the atmosphere, compared to other bowl games you’ve covered.
Brent Musburger: Since the old Orange Bowl was taken down in Miami, I’ve always said that the Superdome in New Orleans was the single best venue for a Super Bowl or a college championship game. I’m not trying to say it just because I’m going down there now. That’s not the case.
I love the fact that in New Orleans, the fan base can walk to the game and then walk back, assuming the weather is reasonably decent, which I’m assuming it’s going to be. People have such a good time around the venue.
I don’t think there’s any city in the country that knows how to party quite like New Orleans. It’s a wonderful setting. I’ve been around Super Bowls in there, major college events. I’ve gone to games as a fan. I’ve done some LSU games, gone down to New Orleans and watched the Saints on a Sunday, sitting there, enjoying the ballgame.
I remember when Katrina hit, how it wound up being a shelter in that city. It was a port in the storm. The Saints had to move over and play their games away from there. How they rebuilt it, how that city came back.
I think the world of New Orleans, the people. I was, of course, more in Baton Rouge this year. But I always find a way to go into New Orleans before the LSU game, either have a dinner at one of their great restaurants, have a cocktail, then go cover the game in Baton Rouge.
I’m a huge fan of New Orleans. The fairgrounds, terrific racetrack. You can’t beat Mardi Gras. It’s a great setting for any kind of major event.
I sound like I’m on the Chamber of Commerce of New Orleans. How about that?
Q. Could you speak more on Kamryn Pettway, in those games you saw him. He came out of nowhere this season. What do you think he’s capable of in this game and into the future next season in the SEC? Is he the top guy coming back into the SEC next year?
Brent Musburger: It’s a good question but I’m going to be perfectly honest. I didn’t see it coming. To me it was just a name when the season started.
I think the coaches told us he was stronger head on than Kerryon Johnson. We expected No. 21, Johnson, to be the main running back earlier in the year. I think I covered their first two games, I think Arkansas State was the first game after Clemson. Anyway, Kamryn had not stepped forward.
When he did, I never saw any one defender take him down. It was always grab him and then hang on and wait for help. I would assume that he’s going to be one of the most publicized backs coming into the SEC season next year, young man out of Montgomery.
But he’s powerful. I think they listed him around 235 when I first saw him. He struck me as 245, 250 when I looked at him. He looks a little bit like a linebacker when you watch him now.
As to this game, okay, I have to hesitate a little bit because he’s coming off an injury and he’s got to get back into the routine. We will see. I am sure that the Sooners are extremely aware of how powerful he can be in a game.
He clearly can be a difference maker in a game like this. I don’t see Auburn as a team that can beat you with the pass as Oklahoma is obviously. Oklahoma is great passing. When you look at what Baker Mayfield has accomplished this year with, what is it, 38 touchdowns on the season, I mean it’s incredible.
If Auburn were to get ahead in this game, get into the fourth quarter, you’re just trying to get first downs, keep that clock moving, Kamryn Pettway is a huge weapon in this game. When they get ahead, he becomes an even bigger factor.
If they’re trying to come from behind, these teams are a little bit different. If you haven’t got an all-out passing attack, sometimes it’s hard to play catch-up. All you guys know that because you’re around the game as much as I am.
Q. We talked about Kamryn Pettway and Joe Mixon some, but what about Samaje Perine? Has a chance to become OU’s all-time leading rusher.
Brent Musburger: You are so right. He’s completely overlooked. He could wind up being the best of all the runningbacks in this particular game.
Because of the controversy surrounding Mixon, I think you have to understand how much attention was paid to No. 25. Believe me, Jesse Palmer in particular, Jesse may have had Oklahoma within the last couple years, and he and I talked. He’s a big fan of Perine. Powerful, fast when he gets out on top.
Nothing deliberate on our part to overlook him. Obviously if he steps out, No. 32 will certainly get his due come next Monday night.
Q. If your son was Fournette or McCaffrey, what advice would you give them regarding whether to play in the bowl game or not?
Brent Musburger: Another very good question. I’m going to fall back on talking about the two fellas that are passing up the bowl game.
I was around Leonard Fournette, as I previously mentioned, several times. It is my opinion from afar that Leonard Fournette had his eye on the NFL the very moment he suffered a reinjury to that ankle when he was hit and flipped in the air.
I don’t believe that Leonard Fournette’s heart was in the remainder of the LSU season. The only reason he played against Florida was there was an incident prior to that game. He was on the field, he was in his sweats. He clearly wasn’t going to play. A little pushing and shoving broke out on the sideline. He got into with the coach. Next thing we knew, Leonard Fournette was in battle gear coming down the tunnel ready to play for LSU.
He did not play all that well, I might add.
Now, Leonard Fournette is a first-round draft choice. We all know that. If that’s how he feels, that’s his job, that’s where he’s going, he should not under any circumstance play in a bowl game. He should go away, okay?
Christian McCaffrey, last year’s Rose Bowl. One of the best runningback performances all around that I had ever seen. He destroyed Iowa single-handedly.
This year when the season began, I really thought he had an outstanding chance to win the Heisman Trophy. I thought it was going to be he or Deshaun Watson from Clemson. We lose track of him on the East Coast, even in the central time zone. He didn’t come back until late in the season.
He’s a smaller, less durable back. He’s got an injury. His daddy had a great career in the National Football League. His mother was an outstanding soccer player. His grandfather was a world class sprinter. We all know about the gene pool he’s coming from.
Has an injury. Undersized, probably going to be a dangerous slot man in the NFL, with good speed. A little concerned about that injury. Wants it to heal completely. Stay away. You went to college. You want to get a job. Don’t go.
Do I think this is going to set in motion dozens of guys? No, I don’t. I don’t think that at all. There’s another number of guys out there, let’s say Mr. Mixon. Let’s take the problems that he’s gone through. Let’s specifically talk about him right now, okay?
Nobody, nobody needs to be in a bowl game any more than he does. There’s already great concerns because of the off-the-field incident. Scouts are going to be watching. If he wants to have a future in the league, he plays in the game.
I believe that every individual is a different story, and we address it head on. I don’t think that one thing’s going to set a precedent, this is going to happen, that’s going to happen. I don’t believe that goes down in athletics. I believe it’s a hodgepodge of things out there, eclectic, a wonderful montage.
If these two fellas felt that they didn’t want to play, Godspeed. I wish them well at the next level. I wish Mixon well. I hope he does well. I hope he’s learned a valuable lesson. I hope he passes it on to other youngsters, so on. That’s how I look at Fournette and McCaffrey now.
Q. A question about Sean White. With Jarrett Stidham coming in, presumably favored to be the starter next year, do you think this game for White be a catapult to maybe challenging Stidham for the starting job next season?
Brent Musburger: Oh, sure. Can’t hurt, can it? Let’s say he goes out there and runs. Malzahn offense is a little bit different. I’m sure the Oklahoma defensive staff is very well aware of it. He does a lot of things very definitely with it.
Sean would have a big head start. Sean White, if you go back to the Elite 11, take a look at some of the tapes, pretty good prospect now.
Let’s say he has a solid, solid game. Of course, he’s got to be given a little bit of an edge because of experience. That doesn’t mean he can hold off a talented youngster, someone who has been around a little bit, played at the collegiate level.
But you have to let next spring take care of itself. Look at what happened with Alabama. You read it was wide open. Now we know in hindsight that the Crimson Tide coaching staff saw that Jalen was clearly their quarterback of the future. They didn’t want to put the heat on him in the opening game against USC. Start somebody else, ease him in there. He became their most valuable offensive player, if not the single most valuable offensive player in the SEC this year.
The quarterback thing takes care of itself as time unfolds. Having said that, Sean White can help himself tremendously with a big game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Brent Musburger: It’s interesting because I love talking to the writers, going through what’s on their minds. I’m so glad I was asked about Mixon early because it is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to, because I’ve watched the story unfold.
Clearly I’ve been around Auburn more than Oklahoma, their football program at least, this year. I think the world of what they can do and how good that defensive unit is. We see Carl Lawson back from an injury. He’s another first-round draft choice. I look forward to seeing the Stoops brothers. I look forward to seeing you guys on Bourbon Street. Let’s party, have a great weekend in New Orleans.