The heat is on

The 1st fissure has finally arrived in College Station, and it was bound to happen.

Only not like this.

This was preventable. This new doubt of coach Jimbo Fisher and the direction of the Texas A&M program after last week’s home loss to Appalachian State never should have happened.

And Fisher has no one to blame but himself.

“We will be evaluating every position this week,” Fisher said at his Monday press conference.

That includes quarterback, which shouldn’t even have been a decision coming out of camp. Fisher said Haynes King and Max Johnson were close in their competition, but instead of playing the sure thing (Johnson), Fisher went with the highest ceiling at the most important position on the field (King).

Instead of starting Johnson, who in 2 utterly dysfunctional seasons at LSU had an impressive TD-INT ratio of 35-7, Fisher went with King — who had never started an SEC game.

In fact, the Miami game this weekend in College Station will be King’s 1st start against a Power 5 team (not including a series against Colorado in 2021 before a season-ending injury). In 3 starts against Kent State (2021), Sam Houston State and last week’s 17-14 loss to Appalachian State, King has 5 TDs and 5 INTs.

And that dual-threat running ability Fisher said gave King the advantage over Johnson? King is averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

He had 97 yards passing last week against Appy State, and 17 yards rushing.

When asked Monday if there would be a quarterback change this week, Fisher said, “We possibly could.”

An Aggies staffer told SDS both King and Johnson were getting 1st-team repetitions this week. That doesn’t guarantee change, but it certainly moves toward the idea of both quarterbacks being ready to play if needed. And maybe both playing.

Fisher may not have a choice. If Texas A&M heads into a brutal SEC schedule — the West Division schedule and East Division crossover games against Florida and at South Carolina — with 2 losses, another 4- or 5-loss season is on the way.

For a coach whose staff recruits as well as any in college football, and whose program has figured out and worked NIL better than anyone, that’s a bad sign.

So, too, is a coach making $9.5 million a year, with a guaranteed $95 million contract, producing another 4-loss (or worse) season.

The decision

We’ll get a clear idea about Florida’s offensive philosophy moving forward when it faces USF.

It’s a glorified scrimmage, and the Gators can name their score — but Florida needs to get QB Anthony Richardson mentally prepared for what’s coming the remainder of the season.

Gators coach Billy Napier said after last week’s loss to Kentucky that he “has to do a better job putting our players in better position to have success.” That includes Richardson, who has been the subject of some intense debate among the staff since the spring.

The dilemma: Run Richardson and risk injury with little behind him in the quarterback room; or protect Richardson and hope the running game with 3 talented tailbacks can be enough to keep him from having to run too much and absorb hits.

The “protect Richardson” idea didn’t work last week against Kentucky. He had 6 carries for 4 yards — down from 11 carries for 106 yards and 3 TDs a week earlier vs. Utah — and more disturbing, he seemed out of rhythm all game. He also admitted he lost confidence.

Look for Richardson to run more this week, and then continue to become a focal point of the run game — in both zone read and QB power sets — the rest of the season.

The greater value is wins, and the risk is worth the reward.

The undercard

The drama this weekend in Auburn isn’t unique to the Tigers and coach Bryan Harsin.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the strange case of Penn State coach James Franklin. He won the Big Ten in 2016, and he has won at least 11 games in 3 of the past 6 seasons.

But it’s the last 2 seasons — 4-5 in the COVID season of 2020, and 7-6 last year — that has led to rumblings in Happy Valley. Franklin signed a 10-year contract extension late last season, while Mel Tucker was signing a huge deal with Michigan State, and USC was looking for a coach (and Franklin was a candidate).

A huge deal on the heels of an 11-11 record over his last 2 seasons.

But here’s the difference between Harsin and Franklin: The Lions have a core of young players — TB Nicholas Singleton, LB Abdul Carter, QB Drew Allar, TE KhalilDinkins, WR Omari Evans — who will be the foundation of moving Penn State back to competing for the Big Ten East Division title.

But even with feel-good wins over Purdue and Ohio to start this season, a loss at offensively challenged Auburn would be a significant step back for a program that has built some momentum after a disastrous finish (losing 6 of 8) to last season.

The pressure arrives

A curious number heading into Georgia’s SEC opener at South Carolina: 1.

The best defense in college football last season and a unit full of disruptive players in the front 7, Georgia has 1 sack in 2 games this season.

There are 2 ways to look at this: Georgia had a record 5 1st-round picks from the defense in the 2022 NFL Draft, and it will take time before their replacements complete the transition.

Or — in the words of coaching king Nick Saban — sacks are overrated. It’s all about pressure and affecting the quarterback, which Georgia did against Oregon and Samford.

It’s also about turning up the intensity when the SEC schedule beings. If you’re looking for the Georgia replacements — specifically, LBs Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. — to begin making an impact, this is your moment.

This is also where future 1st-round picks (DT Jalen Carter, LB Nolan Smith, CB Kelee Ringo) begin to impose their will. South Carolina’s offensive line has been shaky in 2 games, and more pressure on Gamecocks QB Spencer Rattler means quicker throws and hurried decisions — and turnovers waiting to happen.

Suddenly, it’s real

The SEC season begins Saturday in Baton Rouge, and if you thought the LSU defense was exposed in the season opener against Florida State, you may want to turn your head against Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs aren’t as balanced as FSU, but the way they throw it with QB Will Rogers and WRs Rara Thomas and Caleb Ducking — and the short throws to RBs Dillon Johnson and Jo’quavious Marks that act like runs — will stress the LSU defense like nothing has this early season.

It will be LSU DC Matt House’s first game against Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. The last time a new LSU DC got a 1st look at Leach, it was a long, brutal and record-breaking afternoon.

Mississippi State set multiple SEC records in 2020 in a 44-34 win over LSU and new DC Bo Pelini.

“It’s different when you see it, when you defend it,” an SEC coach told me. “It’s basically 7-10 plays from 70 formations. But they run everything with such precision, and now you’re talking about a (quarterback) who has been doing it for 3 years. If you haven’t seen it (as a DC), it’s going to take time to adjust to it.”