First and 10: Does Texas A&M have a $75 million mess on its hands?
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
Seventy-five million, guaranteed. $75 million.
So far, all that gets those deep-pocket, ten-gallon hats at Texas A&M who shelled out all that dough is a nice, air-conditioned suite to sit and pout (again) on game day.
When you’re spending that kind of capital, you want return on your investment. So far, the Jimbo Fisher experiment at Texas A&M has been like one of those fancy, big-name mutual funds that looks good – until you delve into its history and uncover the inconsistencies.
“We’re not a bad football team,” Fisher told the assembled media after last weekend’s stunning home loss to Auburn.
Bad isn’t the argument. Bad can be fixed.
But track record – the ability to look at something and see undeniable, tangible trends – that’s another story. And it can no longer be denied.
Without generational quarterback Jameis Winston, Fisher’s coaching record vs. Power 5 teams is 23-17. Fisher’s record at FSU after Winston, a bright supernova who played 2 seasons: 25-12 overall, 14-10 in the ACC.
So are you really surprised that Texas A&M in Year 2 under Fisher, while staring at the first of 3 mega SEC West Division games, allowed Auburn — with a true freshman quarterback making his first road start – to walk away with a relatively easy win despite gaining 299 yards of total offense?
Is it really that shocking that Auburn threw for only 106 yards, had one run of 57 yards on a reverse for a touchdown and averaged a measly 4.5 yards per play – and the game was never in doubt?
Or that Texas A&M played so poorly in the easiest of 3 critical SEC West games, with LSU and Alabama still on the horizon (to say nothing of a game at East Division heavyweight Georgia, too)?
How many times do we have to hear the axiom from the great Bill Parcells to believe it?
You are what your record says you are.
Jimbo Fisher is a good football coach. He developed 3 1st-round picks at quarterback at FSU (Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel are out of the NFL, and Winston), and recruited a treasure trove of elite players on both sides of the ball.
For that, FSU got 1 national title (2013, a game Auburn could have easily won) and a spot in the first College Football Playoff (a 39-point loss to Oregon). That’s a career for some programs; that’s not the impetus to offer the largest guaranteed contract in the history of college football.
The problem is – in the parlance of our Texas brethren — the hay is in the barn. You’ve invested the money. All you can hope for now is change and a deviation from the norm of past seasons.
Texas A&M doesn’t have a generational quarterback like Winston. It doesn’t even have a 1st-round pick like Ponder or Manuel.
Kellen Mond is solid, and in most conferences not called the SEC, might be enough to get you a division championship and the ability to play for a conference championship.
Knowing that and understanding the trend lines of Fisher’s coaching career, Texas A&M spent $75 million on the hope that Fisher finds an elite quarterback.
That and an air-conditioned suite on game day.
2. Finding the guy
Think about this if you were part of the group that chipped in on the $75 million: Texas A&M needs an upset – and to win every game it’s supposed to win — to avoid a 7-5 record.
Kevin Sumlin was fired in 2017, and given a nice parting gift of $10.5 million (which raises that Jimbo investment to $85.5 million), after going 7-5.
Fear not, Mr. Ten Gallon, we’ve seen what Fisher can do with an elite quarterback. He has a commitment from Haynes King, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 recruiting class, and from Eli Stowers, the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the 2021 class.
In the 6 years at FSU without Winston, FSU’s quarterbacks averaged 23 TDs and 9 INTs. Mond had 24 TDs and 9 INTs in his first season under Fisher, and is on pace this season to hit 28 TDs and 12 INTs.
Again, track record. You are who you are at the most important position on the field.
Until Fisher finds his elite or generational quarterback, this is where Texas A&M will linger. Good enough to maybe win a game or two a season that matter, but not good enough to win the West Division and the SEC.
3. Earning your contract, The Epilogue
Don’t think what’s going in College Station isn’t gaining traction in the coaching profession.
There are two ways most coaches look at the Fisher/Texas A&M marriage: Fisher’s crazy-large contract was good for everyone. The rising tide lifts all boats.
What he did to earn the contract, however, is another story.
“You want to really impress me? Be the guy that wins no matter who is under center,” one Power 5 coach told me last Saturday night. “Urban (Meyer) for all his faults, won a national title with Chris Leak.”
To take that a step further: If you’re not Alabama under Nick Saban, you’re not winning the SEC without a generational or elite quarterback.
Since 2008, here are the quarterbacks who led their respective teams to SEC championships in non-Alabama years:
- 2008: Tim Tebow, Florida
- 2010: Cam Newton, Auburn
- 2011: Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, LSU
- 2013: Nick Marshall, Auburn
- 2017: Jake Fromm, Georgia
Clearly the 2011 season is the outlier. An LSU team that was so loaded everywhere on the field except quarterback, it was able to win the league through sheer talent alone (then lost in the BCS National Championship Game rematch to Alabama).
Tebow and Newton are 2 of the best quarterbacks in college football history. Marshall was an elite dual-threat quarterback who needed a prayer and a miracle (kick-6) to lead the Tigers to the SEC Championship, and Fromm has the potential to leave Athens as the greatest quarterback in school history.
4. Work in progress
All is well in Tuscaloosa again. The big, bad Tide held Southern Miss to next to nothing. Only it isn’t. Because no matter how you spin the defensive effort against a solid Southern Miss offense, it’s still Southern Miss.
It’s not LSU and Joe Burrow, or even Auburn and Bo Nix.
Translation: Alabama has 6 weeks to get its defense – once the foundation of all things Alabama under Nick Saban – straight. That means the 6 freshmen who played significant minutes against Southern Miss better develop quickly.
There’s a reason DLs DJ Dale, Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young, LBs Shane Lee and Christian Harris, and DB Jordan Battle are on the field when it matters. This team still is trying to find the right combination of players who not only aren’t liabilities – but the right combination that gives Alabama its best chance to deal with LSU.
Dale will be an elite defensive lineman in the SEC by the end of the season. Lee and Harris will be terrific players, but linebacker is so important to the complex Saban defense, the only way to get better is to get reps.
And if you’re playing slower because you’re still learning the defense, there will be issues moving forward. The only question: Can they be fixed in the next 6 weeks before LSU arrives in Tuscaloosa?
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread:
- Kentucky at South Carolina (-3.5)
- Ole Miss at Alabama (-34.5)
- Mississippi State (+10.5) at Auburn
- Arkansas at Texas A&M (-21.5)
- Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt (-6.5)
Last week: 1-4 (.200).
Season: 7-14 (.333)
6. Your tape is your résumé
Each week an NFL scout breaks down one of the top draft eligible players in the SEC. This week: Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler:
“Big, strong and long arms. What’s not to like about him? I want those guys out there alone on the outside who like to challenge you, who like to physically get up in you and force you off your game. He’s not a top-end speed type guy, not going to wow folks at the Combine with his speed. And that’s probably going to hurt him in the draft, and might even push him out of the 1st round. But I love his ball skills, and he’s fluid when turning and chasing. He’s not afraid to stick his pads in there in run support, either. He might end up being one of those guys who gets overlooked because he runs a low 4.5 but will play in the league a long time and earn a lot of money.”
7. Power Up
This week’s SEC Power Poll (and one big thing):
1. Alabama: Tua is on pace for 64 TDs and 0 INTs in 15-game season. Just so you know.
2. LSU: Awkward, early bye week might slow some momentum with Utah St. looming Oct. 5.
3. Georgia: Dawgs can coast from now until November (bye week, at Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, bye week).
4. Auburn: At some point, Bo Nix’s inconsistency in the passing game will impact the Tigers.
5. Texas A&M: Even with 2 early losses, do you really see anyone from 6-14 beating the Aggies?
6. Florida: A tuneup with Towson (Towson!) before Gators get Auburn and then the first crack at solving the new puzzle that is the LSU offense.
7. Mississippi State: Bulldogs will have a hard time blocking Auburn’s front 7, a bad sign for Tommy Stevens and/or Garrett Shrader.
8. Missouri: Let’s circle back with the Tigers in November, after this Murder’s Row: Troy, Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, at Kentucky.
9. Kentucky: How big is the South Carolina game? UK hasn’t lost 3 straight in the regular season since 2015.
10. South Carolina: Gamecocks have lost 6 consecutive to Power 5 teams, and its 1-3 start is its worst since a winless 1999.
11. Ole Miss: Did Rebels get hosed vs. Cal on the non-review? Of course. Bright spot: won’t need reviews this Saturday at Alabama.
12. Vanderbilt: In 3 games, Vandy has given up a combined 138 points (46 ppg.) in losses to Purdue, Georgia and LSU. Woof.
13. Tennessee: I’ve never felt more hopeless about where Tennessee is headed since the firing of Phil Fulmer in 2008.
14. Arkansas: Hogs have lost 16 of their past 17 SEC games. Don’t expect anything to change this week vs. their annual find a way to hand it to Texas A&M game.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: I’m not a coach, but even I can see that Kyle Trask is a better player than Feleipe Franks. Why didn’t (Dan) Mullen play Trask sooner? I get so tired of coaches who are married to the 5-star guys with the big arms.
Tom: There’s a reason coaches are fascinated by big-armed, 5-star quarterbacks: If coached properly, they can make throws the 2- or 3-star guys can’t make. Don’t make the mistakes and immediately jump to the Trask should have played argument after one game against a team in complete disarray (see: Tennessee).
Trask played well in 1 quarter on the road against Kentucky and played even better against the Vols. But after this week’s ridiculous excuse to ask fans to spend money (Towson), we’re going to find out exactly what kind of quarterback Trask is and can become. A 4-game stretch of Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia will make or break Florida’s season.
More important, it will clearly show if Trask can keep the job if Franks returns in 2020.
While Trask doesn’t have the arm of Franks, he does read the field and coverages quicker, which can make up for physical traits. He floats some balls that he might get away with against UK and Tennessee, but that he won’t get away with against Auburn, LSU and Georgia.
9. Numbers game
43.3. After an impressive performance against Alabama, South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski completed just 43.3 percent of his passes in an ugly loss to Kentucky.
That number underscored a potentially larger issue: a sore elbow that Hilinski has been dealing with for a few weeks. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp says Hilinski has been adamant that his elbow is fine; that it’s just soreness.
His workload (practice, games) increased after Jake Bentley’s injury. It’s possible that has led to a sore arm. That’s the optimistic outlook, anyway. Anything more than that, and South Carolina will be down to QB3 – another freshman, Dakereon Joyner.
10. Quote to note
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt on the Vols’ quarterbacks: “There are times where you kind of have to take the bull by the horn and say, ‘Let’s go!’ Got to make some plays. You have to have an impact on the people around you.”