What a wasted opportunity 2021 is turning out to be for Jimbo Fisher
That second loss just hits differently in the SEC.
Reality sinks in that in a league loaded with eager and often unrealistic expectations, an SEC title is essentially out of the question. The last time an SEC West team even reached Atlanta with 2 losses was 2007 LSU. That, of course, was the wildest season in college football history. It was also the last season that Alabama wasn’t a juggernaut under Nick Saban.
On Saturday, Saban will roll into College Station. He’ll face a Texas A&M team that, at 0-2 in SEC play, is essentially eliminated from West contention heading into the second weekend of October. Barring a 2007-like upset, A&M will fall to 0-3 in SEC play with New Year’s 6 bowl hopes all but dashed, as well.
That’s why that second loss just hit differently in College Station.
It wasn’t just that a raucous atmosphere at Kyle Field turned into a somber one by night’s end after loss No. 2 came at the hands of unproven Mississippi State. It was that with Alabama on the horizon and A&M’s offense still searching for any sort of identity with Zach Calzada, things were about to go from bad to worse.
In a stretch of just 8 days, A&M went from being a No. 7 team with everything still on the table to now looking like the prohibitive favorite to finish dead last in the West.
Yeah, that all comes back to the $90 million man.
Don’t beat yourself up if you still refer to Jimbo Fisher as the $75 million man. You see, he did something that most of us could only dream of doing. He met expectations in Year 3 and then was rewarded with a 20% raise.
Oh, I left out the most important part.
Fisher met expectations in Year 3 and then the guy with a 10-year, $75 million guaranteed contract got a 20% raise and a 2-year extension. That’s real money, not Monopoly money, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some Aggie fans didn’t want to give Fisher that, either.
In their defense, they have every right to be frustrated. Sure, it’s not Fisher’s fault that Haynes King got hurt. But Calzada was an Elite 11 quarterback who is in Year 3 in Fisher’s offense. On top of that, Fisher praised Calzada throughout spring ball and insisted there wasn’t a gap between his 2 potential starters. If that’s the case and King really isn’t much of an upgrade on Calzada, woof. That would mean tough times aren’t fading after King returns from injury.
So far, Calzada’s ranks among qualified SEC quarterbacks are … not great:
- Quarterback rating: 13th (109.4)
- Yards per attempt: 13th (5.8)
- TD passes: 11th (5)
- Completion percentage: 14th (53.9)
- Sacks taken: 1st (10)
Remember that’s for an A&M offense that absolutely has weapons. Jalen Wydermyer was arguably the best tight end in America coming into the year. Ainias Smith was one of the preseason favorites to win the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. Nine of the 11 guys who caught a pass last year were back, including Caleb Chapman, who was set to return from a torn ACL that he suffered in the midst of torching Florida.
On top of that, A&M had arguably the top 1-2 punch in the backfield of anyone in America with Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane.
Let’s also not forget that in Year 4 with Mike Elko, who could finally bolt for his first head coaching gig at season’s end, the A&M defense was expected to be (and is) the best during the Fisher era. DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Leon O’Neal Jr. and probably a handful of others are expected to be off to the NFL at season’s end. They’ll likely continue to give A&M a chance, only to watch the offense fumble it away.
Was the offensive line a question mark? Absolutely. Even though Kenyon Green had first-round buzz entering the year, he was still the lone starter back from the Maroon Goons. Still, though. Fisher said in the spring that this 2021 A&M offensive line had more potential long-term than last year’s group.
Yeah, about that.
Injuries certainly haven’t helped, and a group last year that had continuity in spades is suddenly playing whack-a-mole on a weekly basis. At the same time, Fisher signed 9 offensive linemen rated 4-stars or better since he’s been at A&M. That doesn’t even include Layden Robinson, who has been one of the few bright spots on the offensive line. At least when he’s been healthy.
If you’re saying Fisher is void of blame because of those injuries, think about how we evaluate Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. Remember, that’s the level that Fisher was hoping to ascend to this year.
When you’re coming off your best AP Top 25 finish in 81 years, yes, you have momentum, especially when you pull a midseason 180 and nearly earn a Playoff spot. But at the same time, what good is that momentum if you immediately go back to finishing worse than that preseason Top 25 ranking (No. 6), which happened 7 times in the 8 previous times that the Aggies started off ranked?
Last year was the first time this century that the Aggies started off ranked and finished better than that preseason ranking. Why does that matter? Well, think about it. College football is an 8-month offseason. If you think that conversation isn’t important in the recruiting world, you’re wrong. A&M had a prime opportunity to show that it was worthy of preseason buzz. The first preseason top-10 ranking since the Johnny Manziel encore season turned south in a hurry.
There was an opportunity to show Texas ahead of its SEC arrival that A&M was locked in among the college football elite. Instead, the Aggies joined the Longhorns in the “we also couldn’t hang with Arkansas” club. Even worse, Texas looks like it’s going to have the better season. Steve Sarkisian didn’t sputter when his starting quarterback wasn’t a viable option; Fisher did.
When King went down and Calzada struggled, I feared that A&M was heading down a path similar to Fisher’s 2017 Florida State team when Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener. No, I don’t think Fisher, AKA the $90 million man, is about to bolt. We’re talking strictly on-the-field spiral (FSU had to reschedule a nonconference game just to get win No. 6).
King, fortunately, has a chance to return in a couple weeks. In the meantime, though, Fisher can’t really turn to true freshman Eli Stowers, who has also been getting reps at tight end. Calzada is the option, for better or worse. So far, it’s been for worse.
It could get a whole lot worse on Saturday against Alabama. No longer is anybody talking about Fisher beating Saban’s you-know-what in primetime. At this point, A&M will be fortunate to get a moral victory against the top-ranked Tide, who entered the year ranked in the bottom 10 in the country in percentage of returning production.
Things change in a hurry in this league. They certainly changed in a hurry for Fisher.
Whoops. I meant “the $90 million man.”