Former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum is sure one of thing: The College Football Playoff has made the sport even more compelling for fans.
The College Football Hall of Famer is also pretty confident that Alabama looks like the best team in the country at the moment.
While cautioning to let the season play out, Slocum understands the great ongoing debates about which teams currently belong in the Top 4. Specifically, he says the difference between TCU and Baylor is nearly indistinguishable.
If pressed, Slocum said, he’d give the edge to Baylor. But not necessarily because the Bears squeaked by the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11 in Waco.
“If I had to pick one right now I’d pick Baylor,” he said. “Just watching them play, I think they’re getting better, too. That would be by the narrowest of margins that I’d pick them. I think they’re a really capable team and I think they might be a little bit more capable on offense than TCU. But I don’t know that for a fact.”
With several games remaining on the schedule for most of the teams battling for the four playoff spots, Slocum said “there’s no sense in worrying about it right now.”
Plus, he added, potential upsets such as Texas beating TCU on Thanksgiving Night or Kansas State upsetting Baylor wouldn’t shock many observers.
“Just let it play out. Give it time,” Slocum said. “We have several weeks here and a lot of the things we’re arguing over will take care of themselves. It wouldn’t shock me one bit. That’s college football.”
Slocum leans ever so slightly to Baylor over TCU, he said, because he thinks the Bears’ offense would be a little harder to stop.
“I always think of it in terms of if I were a coach and you had to beat one of these two teams. Which one would you rather try to beat?” he said. “I’d feel better about my chances against TCU than I would Baylor. But again, by the narrowest of margins. Gary Patterson is a heck of a coach and that team has really played well so we’re splitting hairs when we’re talking about this one.”
Splitting hairs is exactly what the playoff committee will ultimately end up having to do. Not just between TCU and Baylor if both are 11-1 on Dec. 7, but with Mississippi State, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and others currently with one loss.
“Obviously, head-to-head competition should be a determining factor but I don’t think an absolute determining factor,” Slocum said. “I don’t think you just say okay, this team beat this team so automatically they’re ahead. I think the challenge of the committee is when the date comes to pick the teams, they say, ‘Okay, if this was a horse race and I can pick one team to win this race, which one would it be? I don’t care what they’ve done during the year, I don’t care what league they’re in. If I could pick one team and who would be the second, third and fourth?”
Right now, that team would be Alabama for Slocum.
“If I was asked to pick one horse in this horse race and you’re going to put your money on it, I’d put my money on Alabama,” he said. “One of the factors, too, is the depth. This is going to end up being a two or three game tournament if you count the conference championship games. Who has the depth that maybe they can sustain an injury? Who is getting better at this time? Alabama is clearly improving as a football team at the right time.”
The building excitement the playoff has created has been great for the game, he said.
“It’s always had interest but I think right now there are a whole lot of people watching other teams. I always thought it would be like the basketball [tournament]. People in the Southeast are watching Oregon and watching Arizona State and watching Big 10 teams to see how they compare. And Pac-10 teams are doing that with other teams.”
About that Aggie-Horns reunion ...
Slocum, who coached the Aggies for 14 years, said he always enjoyed squaring off with the Longhorns. Since the Aggies left for the Southeastern Conference two years ago, the prospect of the rivals ever meeting again seemed unlikely. But with both teams bowl eligible this season, the dream match-up seems entirely possible, perhaps in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston, which pits lower-level teams from the Big 12 and SEC.
“Oh, I’ve heard everything you can hear,” Slocum said. “It’s one of those topics that probably everybody involved would be best to just hold their water and see what happens. And then comment on what happens. I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other, good, bad. Let’s find out what happens.”
Slocum has said before that he thinks it’s unlikely that the schools wouldn’t eventually wind up meeting in a bowl down the road. How about in 2014? Slocum says the showdown, no matter the team’s records, would elicit strong emotions.
“It would stir up some great stories for all you guys and some great Internet traffic, they’d all be buzzing about it,” he said. “That’s what makes the game fun. It adds a lot of interest.”
Would he like to see it happen?
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I enjoyed it when we played them.”
Slocum, however, took exception from a quote he saw Tuesday morning from Austin.
“Someone said, ‘Well, they left. It was their choice to leave. So it’s our choice to decide whether we want to play again,’” he said. “Well, that’s one way to say it. I would say to that: we left because one of the No. 1 teams in the league was having ongoing discussions over a period of several years trying to leave the league and exploring leaving the league.”
Slocum, who did not mention the school by name, said the Longhorns’ persistent wandering eye forced schools such as Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and A&M to look for greener pastures.
“At some point we said we better look out for our own best interests here because other people are exploring what’s best for them,” he said. “So in the final analysis, we did what was best for us. If that means we won’t play them again, we went into this knowing that was a possibility. We’re willing to live with that if that’s the way it turns out.”
But, like much of the Lone Star State, Slocum would probably enjoy seeing the old rivalry renewed.