If Kevin Sumlin Is Fired, Can Texas A&M Compete with Florida and Tennessee for Top Candidates?
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Tom Fox/Staff Photographer Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin signals to his players during pregame warmups at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Saturday, September 23 2017. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
The “SportsDay writers round table” is a weekly chat between The Dallas Morning News’ three college football writers: Chuck Carlton, Ben Baby and Adam Grosbard. You can follow them on Twitter at @ChuckCarltonDMN, @BenBaby and @AdamGrosbard. The chat is moderated by assistant sports editor Scott Bell. This week’s chat dives into the crazy race for a berth into the Big 12 Championship Game, explores Kevin Sumlin’s hot seat after A&M’s most recent loss, and most importantly, discusses Frisco’s status at the Hawaii of Collin County.
Scott Bell: Welcome to this week’s round table, where we’ll hope to be a little more clear and coherent than the top of the Big 12 standings. And what better place to start this week than the top of those standings, where we have a four-way tie for first, and two others within a game of the top spot of the conference.
Ben Baby: It’s almost as if a Cyclone wrecked the Big 12.
Adam Grosbard: I see what you did there, Ben
Grosbard: The parity is great for end-of-season excitement. I”m sure the conference office would prefer a frontrunner with a shot at the playoff, though.
Bell: If Oklahoma, TCU or Oklahoma State goes 4-0 the rest of their schedule and then wins the Big 12 title, I still feel good about the conference’s chances of getting in the playoff. But any other scenario, and I think the Big 12 is on the outside looking in once again.
Bell: And winning out is definitely a lot easier said than done — all six of the teams that are within 1 game of the conference lead have at least two head-to-head matchups within fellow top-6 Big 12 teams. So it’s very conceivable that they all just beat up on each other and a couple two-loss teams end up in the Big 12 title game.
Baby: If that happens and the Big 12 misses out on the CFP again, it’s not necessarily an indictment on the conference, because it seems to be very strong this season.
Bell: Agree. Big 12 games have been highly entertaining all year. The same can’t be said for the SEC. But the SEC is top heavy and has two great candidates emerging as a result. The Big 12 is just stuck beating up on itself.
Bell: Which two teams do you think are most likely to face each other in the Big 12 title game?
Chuck Carlton: Oklahoma and TCU is my gut feeling (no jokes, please) based on schedule, but Iowa State somehow crashing the party and knocking the Big 12 out of the playoff with a championship game win would be so Big 12. We should have a good idea based on Bedlam this week (and Iowa State-West Virginia) followed by TCU at OU. Just wondering how Kenny Hill rebounds from Saturday’s showing.
Baby: I like Oklahoma and TCU as well, despite the fact that I share your fears, Chuck. It seems like there’s a lot of chaos left in the Big 12.
Carlton: By the end of the regular season, I wonder if there will be a one-loss team left in the Big 12.
Grosbard: TCU is probably the best bet to finish with one loss. Only real threat for a loss is Oklahoma, otherwise would need an upset in other three games
Bell: I’ll go against the grain and go with Oklahoma State and Iowa State. I see the Cowboys winning at home this weekend and Oklahoma beating TCU the next week. Iowa State would be sitting pretty in tiebreak situations against Oklahoma and TCU if all three ended with two losses.
Grosbard: Campbell has done an incredible job in such a short time at Iowa State. Who would have thought the Cyclones would win a 14-7 game against the Gary Patterson defense?
Bell: And I’ll go out on a limb and say Big 12 officials and TV executives wouldn’t exactly be thrilled with a matchup featuring the Stillwater and Ames markets.
Baby: That’s what happens when you do business in the Midwest.
Carlton: TV Armageddon. Again, the Big 12 title game is double-edged sword and opens the conference up for a whole lot of second-guessing.
Bell: Looking a month in advance is fun, but so much can and likely will change after this weekend’s games. And there are definitely some intriguing lines coming out of Las Vegas. Oklahoma State is favored by four against Oklahoma, TCU is less than a TD favorite at home against Texas and Iowa State is an underdog against West Virginia, despite coming in as one of the hottest teams in the country. It’s looking like it could be the most exciting Big 12 slate of the season.
Carlton: All of that makes sense but TCU-Texas. Horned Frogs have owned Texas for the past three seasons. Maybe the oddsmakers feel the Texas defense will keep UT in any game. If ever there’s a time that Oklahoma State is going to rise up against OU, it may be Saturday at home. Hard to imagine WVU losing back-to-back games at home.
Baby: Yep. Also can’t see Will Grier throwing four picks again. I can’t help but wonder what happens if he stays at Florida. Does coach Jim McElwain still get the axe?
Bell: I’d say no. But I guess it all depends on if that starts some sort of butterfly effect that also causes Antonio Callaway and the other handful of Gators from getting suspended in the offseason, and of course, if it causes McElwain to never bring up those death threats that may or may not have happened.
Grosbard: Complicated stuff
Carlton: He never lost a game at Florida — albeit small sample size. But he could have alleviated some QB angst. But it seemed like McElwain had the unfortunate knack for saying the perfectly wrong thing at the exact wrong time.
Bell: While we’re talking about SEC coaches getting the axe … I can’t imagine Aggie fans and A&M administrators loved what they saw on the field Saturday night, Ben.
Carlton: If it wasn’t already, Ben, is the LSU game a must-win now for Sumlin?
Baby: One has to imagine A&M has to win at least two of its final three SEC games for the administration to consider keeping Sumlin.
Bell: With A&M double-digit home dogs against Auburn this week, and likely similar or even larger underdogs when they head to Baton Rouge against LSU in a couple weeks, it’s looking more and more like 5 losses could be A&M’s floor this season.
Baby: It’s what we anticipated at the start of the season. The truth is this team might not be as good as it needs to be for Sumlin to stick around after this year. Granted, several people have floated his name out there for other jobs, so he may not want to be in College Station in the first place.
Bell: It’s hard to think of a scenario where either side would be incredibly enthused about a Sumlin-led team in College Station in 2018.
Baby: That’s what it’s starting to feel like. If A&M doesn’t get the ship righted by the end of the year, there’s a very good chance the Aggies finish the season unranked for the fourth straight year.
Bell: But with Florida opening up, Tennessee almost certainly opening up and some other big-name schools likely to follow suit, A&M will definitely have some competition when it comes to the pick of the litter of coaches if an when the A&M job does open up.
Carlton: Also a chance at UCLA being in the market too. Ben, where would the Aggies’ job rank among that group?
Baby: Oh, man. I’d put Florida at the top of that list. I’d stick Tennessee second and then A&M third, with UCLA closely trailing the bunch.
Baby: The last thing A&M needed was for the Florida job to open up.
Grosbard: Why Tennessee over A&M?
Baby: For starters, it’s in the SEC East, which doesn’t include Nick Saban. And the Vols’ track record dating back to the mid-’80s is pretty good. It’s not hard to build a championship contender in Knoxville.
Bell: I’d put Tennessee over A&M, too. The last decade of mediocrity notwithstanding, the Volunteers have a great history of winning. And it has a unified fanbase throughout the state that doesn’t play second fiddle to any other college team — and with no disrespect to the Titans — any other pro team, either.
Baby: Correct. And it’s a really good area to recruit in, too. There’s a lot of talent in the Southeast, which is generally why SEC teams are pretty good.
Bell: That being said, I’m sure A&M can make a competitive run at just about anyone this offseason if the job does open up. There may be some shared names on some of these schools’ wish lists, but I think different openings call for different candidates. There’s not a sure-fire candidate out there that’s a one-size-fits-all fix for every school.
Baby: Right. Guys need to be the right fit at the right schools. It’s so interesting to see the dichotomy between Big 12 coaching lifespans and those in the SEC. One conference has guys that seem to be around forever, while the other has half of its fanbases putting their coaches on the hot seat.
Bell: One place where nobody is putting their coach on the hot seat: SMU, where the Mustangs just clinched bowl eligibility for the first time in five years. What was the mood like after Friday night’s win over Tulsa, Adam?
Grosbard: Celebratory and reflective. The staff inherited an absolute disaster in 2014, taking over a 1-11 team. It was a long process to build the roster up through recruitment and finding the few diamonds in the rough that was the SMU roster at the time. Could hear a lot of celebrating from the locker room while in the press conference and in the offices near the press box after most people had gone home, too
Carlton: Just for your travel plans — and I’m sure you would hate this Adam — but seeing a lot of SMU to the Hawaii Bowl.
Grosbard: I will accept that burden if it comes to that
Baby: Sounds brutal.
Bell: Also seeing a lot of Frisco bowl projections…which I believe is the exact opposite of Hawaii.
Baby: I’ve actually heard people call Frisco the Hawaii of Collin County.
Bell: (and I’m a Frisco resident, so let’s just get that in before I get loads of hate mail from fellow Frisco residents)
Grosbard: It’s kind of a funny option between Hawaii and Frisco. Hawaii is a huge reward trip for the team after making its first bowl since 2012 but would not draw a huge SMU contingent. The other is way less exciting for the program but because it’s so local could (maybe) draw a larger turnout from SMU fans.
Bell: Really tough stretch ahead with UCF, Navy and Memphis up next — two of which are ranked. Do you think reaching 8 or 9 wins is a possibility, or is 7 more realistic?
Grosbard: I think SMU finds a way to get an upset in one of these games. I’m not sure which. But SMU knows it has a lot at stake in this next three game stretch. Chad Morris addressed the team about the chance to make a national statement against the best team in the conference UCF this week and the players were already talking about bigger goals like winning the conference before it reached bowl eligibility.
Carlton: What’s the best chance for an upset? Navy, maybe?
Grosbard: Navy is the most vulnerable of the three teams because the offense leans even more heavily run than pass than it usually does and turnovers have been an issue of late. But SMU also gave up 75 points to Navy last season. That’s a lot of ground for the defense to make up
Bell: Before we wrap it up for the week, let’s hear what everyone is looking forward to seeing the most this weekend in a slate that’s full of great matchups and storylines.
Grosbard: Bedlam is an easy pick. I want to see Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield go back and forth for 60 minutes.
Baby: Bedlam is going to be a blast. If A&M and Auburn were a little bit better, that game would be so compelling because of the Stidham-Mond storyline. But we’ll just have to settle for what it is — a game that could be very pivotal for Kevin Sumlin’s future.
Carlton: Bedlam is my pick, too, although I’m intrigued by A&M-Auburn. This is Oklahoma State’s chance end to OU’s long-term dominance under Bob Stoops. Boone Pickens Stadium should be rocking. And Baker Mayfield is working on that mustache.
Bell: That’ll do for this week. Be sure to follow the SportsDay crew as they head out to this weekend’s games. Chuck will be at Bedlam, Adam will be out at SMU’s clash with unbeaten UCF, Ben will be in College Station for A&M-Auburn, and columnist Kevin Sherrington will be in Ft. Worth for TCU’s matchup against Texas.