As Jimbo Fisher enters his fourth season since bolting from Florida State, his Aggies are a lot like his Seminoles were through his first three years as head coach.
The number of losses (10 total) is the same. So are the number of bowl wins (three). No. 6 A&M is coming off an Orange Bowl triumph, too, just as Fisher’s Seminoles were. The recruiting has been comparable.
And that leads to the $75 million question in College Station: Can Fisher’s Aggies break through with a Year 4 national championship, the way his Seminoles did in 2013?
“I’m all for it if that’s what happens, I promise you that,” Fisher said last month during SEC media days.
Fisher’s 2013 team entered with two notable question marks: quarterback and defensive line. After losing EJ Manuel to the draft, none of Fisher’s returning quarterbacks had ever started a game. He also lost four starters on the defensive line.
Those position groups, of course, turned out to be non-issues. Quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, and three defensive linemen were taken in the first two rounds over the next two drafts.
A&M also has a new quarterback after the Vikings picked the program’s all-time leading passer (Kellen Mond) in the third round. The Aggies’ issue, though, is the other line after losing four starters off the offensive front.
“We lost a lot of the experience, but the guys we have are very, very talented,” Fisher said. “I mean, very talented.”
That’s because the Aggies are recruiting at the same level FSU did at the start of his tenure, not the end of it. In the past three cycles, his average recruiting ranking at Texas A&M (6.0) is on par with the three classes before FSU’s title run (5.7). The Aggies have signed more blue-chip prospects (46) than FSU did in that time (41).
Texas A&M might not be able to equal FSU’s 2013 team, where every offensive and defensive starter in the BCS national championship game was either drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent. But a ridiculously early mock draft from USA Today had four Aggies in the first round: defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, offensive lineman Kenyon Green, tight end Jalen Wydermyer and running back Isaiah Spiller.
“Our talent level went up, up, up,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, that part of it is there.”
Fisher seems even more confident about the other part — the locker-room intangibles.
FSU’s title team had a strong, player-led locker room. Three seasons at Texas A&M has given him enough time to set the expectations his players must follow and enforce.
“We just manage a team. We’ve got to let the players run it,” Fisher said. “It’s getting to that point now where they can finish my sentences.”
If his sentences are anything like they were at FSU, they’re spoken quickly with a lot of talk about the process — worrying about the work, not the results — and a dadgum or two thrown in for good measure.
And if his program is anything like the one he built in Tallahassee, the Aggies will be ready to make the jump from very good to great.
They’ll be ready to take advantage of a relatively soft first month by going 5-0 into an Oct. 9 home game against an Alabama team that looks more vulnerable than usual. They’ll be ready to make a run at the College Football Playoff. They’ll be ready to etch a year on the infamously undated national championship plaque A&M’s chancellor gave Fisher before his first spring on the job.
It shouldn’t be title-or-bust for the Aggies. Fisher is recruiting at a high enough level that Texas A&M’s championship window is just opening.
But as his FSU tenure showed, that window doesn’t always stay open for long.
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