There should always be high expectations for Jimbo Fisher at A&M, but Playoff or bust in 2022? No way
Two things can be true at the same time.
One is that Jimbo Fisher’s time at Texas A&M is going to be defined by whether he can live up to that fake plaque he was presented and actually win A&M’s first national championship since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. If Fisher never leads the Aggies to a ring, yes, you can consider the Fisher tenure a disappointment. As hard as it is to win a national title, you can’t spend and recruit like A&M does and pretend that’s not the expectation. This ain’t Iowa.
The other thing that’s true? If we’re being realistic, this isn’t a “Playoff or bust” season for A&M. Not in 2022.
Wait, but didn’t A&M just sign the highest-rated recruiting class of the rankings era? Yes.
Please tell me the last time a true freshman class was the heart and soul of a Playoff team. You can’t, because that class doesn’t exist. That’s not to say we never see true freshmen sign on the big stage, but let’s be honest here. It’d be surprising if A&M’s 2022 class truly made its presence felt until at least 2023 (and more realistically would be 2024).
Wait, but didn’t Fisher just sign a new 10-year contract that’ll pay him nearly $95 million over the next 10 years? Also yes.
Please tell me how Fisher, Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly, James Franklin and Mel Tucker are all about to compete for a national championship with their new 10-year contracts. It’d be surprising if just 1 of those 5 coaches earned a Playoff berth in 2022.
That includes Fisher who, last I checked, is still going to have 8 years and nearly $77 million of guaranteed money left on his contract after the 2022 season. The next time someone incorrectly calls 2022 a “Playoff or bust” season for Fisher, remind them that even a program with deep pockets like A&M isn’t about to fork over more than triple the highest buyout ever paid for a head coach. In college football, expectations that end with “or bust” imply a coach’s job is on the line. Fisher’s isn’t.
Now would it be a bad look for Fisher to go 8-4 again? Absolutely. Those Kevin Sumlin comparisons are going to be heard louder than ever if that happens again. If anything, we’ll continue to debate Fisher’s status as an elite coach. That, of course, is tricky. He’s 1 of 5 active head coaches with a ring. But he also has just 1 New Year’s 6 bowl berth in the past 5 seasons.
Fisher became the first Nick Saban disciple to ever knock off his former boss. In the past 5 seasons, he also posted extremely similar numbers to Mark Stoops, who I’d argue had a steeper hill to climb at Kentucky than Fisher did at Florida State and A&M.
Perspective is everything. Stoops is rightfully considered an excellent coach because he took over at a place that hadn’t had a winning season in conference play since the 1970s. Fisher, on the other hand, had a preseason No. 3 team at Florida State in 2017, and he went to a place with seemingly unlimited resources.
That’s why Fisher showing up in a tweet like this is considered a jab, and not a compliment:
1st 48 games
0 SEC Titles 0 SEC Title
3 Bowl Wins 3 bowl wins
1 win against Alabama pic.twitter.com/FBwBMt3xSe
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) April 6, 2022
Fair or not, though, Sumlin didn’t have a 10-year, fully guaranteed contract.
Here’s another “2 things can be true at the same time.”
Did it feel like 2021 was a wasted opportunity for Fisher? Yes. He beat Alabama, yet he still finished the year with a very Sumlin-like 8-4 mark with a 4-4 record in SEC play following Haynes King’s injury. The fact that A&M had perhaps its best defense of the 21st century only magnified that disappointment.
But any belief that Fisher had Alabama or Georgia levels of roster talent would be incorrect. Even Florida had more 5-star recruits on its roster than A&M, who ranked No. 8 in FBS in the 247sports talent composite index. Here’s what the top 10 looked like and where each team finished:
- Alabama, 13-2
- Georgia, 14-1
- Ohio State, 11-2
- Clemson, 10-3
- LSU, 6-7
- Oklahoma, 11-2
- Florida, 6-7
- Texas A&M, 8-4
- Oregon, 10-4
- USC, 4-8
To recap, only 2 teams ranked Nos. 4-10 actually played in a New Year’s 6 bowl (Oklahoma and Oregon). A&M wasn’t one of them. Shoot, A&M was actually the only team ranked 5-10 that didn’t have a coaching change this offseason. Maybe that bodes well for 2022. Or perhaps the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Elko along with the slew of A&M defensive players who are about to be drafted will limit A&M to a 9-win regular season.
(If you ask me, that’s actually why A&M starting off at No. 4 some of the way-too-early polls is jumping the gun. Replacing all that defensive talent is by no means a given, even though Antonio Johnson is one of the most underrated players in the country.)
Nine wins is A&M’s projection in the way-too-early regular season over/under (via WynnBet). Whether A&M hits it or not, we’re probably going to have higher preseason expectations for 2023 than 2022. That’s reality. It would also help if Bryce Young and Will Anderson were no longer potentially standing in the way of an A&M trip to Atlanta and instead playing on Sundays by 2023. Then again, those 2 are trying to avenge the 2021 loss to A&M this year.
Whatever the case, it seems foolish to put such high expectations on this season when there are countless reasons that suggest this will be another good, not great year in College Station.
Maybe King is the great unknown and A&M is about to take the skeptics by surprise. I just won’t be dropping any sort of “Playoff or bust” expectations on a program without a national title since the 1930s, and for a coach who just signed a new contract worth nearly 9 figures just 7 months ago.
Let’s wait another year or 2 before we discuss any sort of “make or break” outcome for Fisher and the Aggies.