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Paul Finebaum Takes Up For Tennessee During Heated Playoff Debate

Paul Finebaum
ESPN’s Paul Finebaum and Keyshawn Johnson on Tuesday’s First Take episode. Photo via ESPN/First Take broadcast.

ESPN host and Tennessee alumni Paul Finebaum took an axe to ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson’s playoff argument during Tuesday’s episode of First Take.

Although he is not unfamiliar with criticism from Tennessee fans, Finebaum had the Volunteers’ back when discussing who is deserving of a college football playoff spot between Tennessee and USC.

Here’s how the segment broke down.

First Take staple Stephen A. Smith brought Finebaum on the show to break down the playoff picture, which eventually moved into a conversation regarding USC’s chances to make the playoffs.

Former USC wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson took up for his Trojans on the show, as expected, which led to Stephen A. going through the Trojans’ entire schedule.

“Rice, Stanford, Fresno State, Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington State,” Smith started to list out. “Lost to Utah, gave up 43 points in that game. Arizona, gave up 37, you won. California. Colorado. Eh…”

Johnson then went back to defend those games. Most notably, Johnson explained how terrifying Oregon State is to play on the road at night, and how that makes the game into a masterclass for the committee.

Finebaum, though, did not agree with anything Johnson was saying as the ESPN host eventually brought Tennessee into the conversation.

I started off just thinking about USC and I was almost going there until I heard what you said, Stephen A.,” Finebaum said. “And when I heard Keyshawn defending some of those schools like, ‘Hey, Corvallis, that’s a tough place to play!’ Keyshawn, let me tell you a tough place to play, okay? What Tennessee did when they went to Baton Rouge and won by 30 points. That’s LSU. That’s Death Valley. They won there. They beat them down. The same team that beat Alabama a few weeks later. To me, that’s the difference maker.”

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Knowing that Finebaum was on a roll and only heating up for a big finish, Johnson tried to jump in to argue one of Finebaum’s points. Finebaum dismissed the interruption and continued on.

“So, Tennessee will not have an SEC Championship game, but they’ve already had it,” Finebaum continued to say after a quick interruption. “They played Alabama, they played LSU, and they played Georgia. They lost to Georgia. Okay! I think, had the game been in Knoxville, could it have been different, perhaps. But those three sites make your three sites look ridiculous! Utah, Corvallis. Keyshawn, I realize you played in that league, but those schools do not compare to what I just got finished saying.”

Johnson then responded with a shot at the entirety of the SEC fanbase, which legitimately almost sent Finebaum backward in his chair.

“Paul, no one is saying the Pac-12 conference is the SEC,” Johnson said. “No one is saying that night in and night out, you’re going to have 100,000 people in the stands, with nothing better to do.”

The three went on to banter some more, talking about the Rose Bowl and junior high games and all of that kind of stuff. You could tell that the SEC hat was on Finebaum and the Pac-12 hat was on Johnson, with, funny enough, Stephen A. Smith as the moderator in the middle.

Stephen A., though, sided with Finebaum and Tennessee emphatically.

You can watch the full segment of the First Take debate at the 1:42:00 mark of Tuesday’s show. Otherwise, here’s a small clip from the show on Tuesday below.

First Take with Stephen A. Smith can be heard on weekday mornings on ESPN.

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