HOOVER, Ala. —When Jimbo Fisher was restoring Florida State to its status as a national power, he repeated the company line about the ACC’s place in college football’s pecking order.
A year and a half after bolting Tallahassee for Texas A&M, Fisher is still complimentary of his former league.
“The ACC has great ball,” Fisher said this week during SEC media days. “I always said that.”
He probably meant it, too. Maybe he still does.
But even when Fisher was bringing championships to the Seminoles, he had his eye on the SEC. He wanted SEC-caliber facilities. He wanted the same kind of university-wide commitment at FSU that you see at Alabama and Georgia. There’s a reason — aside from negotiating ploys — that his name regularly surfaced for jobs at Auburn and LSU before he eventually decided on A&M.
Fisher always seemed destined to return to the SEC, which he now calls “the best of the best.”
Be careful what you wish for, Jimbo.
Instead of cakewalking through a soft 2019 schedule at FSU, Fisher has one of the toughest schedules in the nation. His Aggies’ first real game is a non-conference matchup at his old ACC rival, Clemson, who has a generational talent at quarterback and a stacked roster that will start the season in the top three nationally.
Fisher’s first game in October is against Alabama, who has its most talented quarterback ever and a star-studded lineup that will also start the season in the top three. And his final game before Thanksgiving is at Georgia, who has a future NFL quarterback, the best offensive line in the game and enough talent elsewhere to start the season somewhere, you guessed it, in the top three.
Oh, and Fisher’s regular-season finale is at LSU, who returns a veteran quarterback, boasts the best secondary in the country and is fourth nationally in preseason advanced metrics projections.
That gauntlet doesn’t even include Auburn (another preseason top-10 team according to analytics like S&P+) and the best team Will Muschamp has had so far at South Carolina.
A&M’s brutal schedule could make the Aggies spoilers in the College Football Playoff conversation. Just don’t tell that to Fisher.
“We don’t want to spoil anything,” Fisher said on stage at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel. “We want to take care of our own.”
I’m sure Fisher and his Aggies do. But A&M could have a top-10 team and still only win eight games — just as Fisher’s predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, did in three of his final four seasons. That’s how it goes in the SEC West.
But Fisher knew that before he took the job. He was an assistant at Auburn from 1993-98 and at LSU from 2000-06, when the SEC was starting its reign. He knew what he was getting into, and he wanted in, anyway.
“They are great programs,” Fisher said, “but Texas A&M can be the same way.”
He’s right. Now that Georgia has awakened under Kirby Smart, A&M is college football’s biggest sleeping giant. Despite their elite facilities, bottomless resources and the recruiting advantages of being in Texas, the Aggies haven’t won a national championship since 1939. It’s been 21 years since they even won their conference.
Fisher can change that. His version of Nick Saban’s Process worked in Tallahassee. It can work in College Station.
Maybe it already is. A&M’s 2019 recruiting class ranked fourth nationally, and Fisher picked up a non-binding oral commitment from ESPN’s top 2020 quarterback, Haynes King, on Wednesday.
“I definitely think we’re on that track,” Fisher said.
Just don’t expect to see his Aggies arrive this season. Not with that schedule.
Playing against the best of the best means a lot of losses if you’re one of the rest.