History has a funny way of repeating itself. Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher might be seeing that unfold right in front of him.
When hired to replace Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, Fisher was tasked with bringing the Seminoles back into the national spotlight. In Year 1, he recorded 10 wins. The next year, the win total dropped by one. In Year 3, Fisher's team won the Orange Bowl, finishing Top 10 in the AP Poll.
In Year 4, the Seminoles won the national championship, their first since 1999.
Stop us if you've heard this one before. In his first year with Texas A&M in place of Kevin Sumlin, Fisher won a respectable nine games in 2018. The next year, the win total dropped by one. In Year 3, Fisher's team won the Orange Bowl, finishing Top 10 in the AP Poll.
In Year 4 ...
Don't think that fans of the 12th Man haven't seen the similarities as August approaches.
"You know, I think, because I think from the cultural change of you putting how you believe, what you want, how you want to play, the things you want to do into place," Fisher said at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "I think from that standpoint and the success standpoint we've had, I think there are a lot of similarities."
Texas A&M returns to Kyle Field hungrier than ever. Underneath Fisher, the team played its way through a 10-game conference schedule, going 8-1 in the process.
The lone loss? A 28-point defeat to Nick Saban and Alabama in Week 2. No one can replay time, but imagine that game in Week 8 or 9.
Would it be a different outcome?
Inside the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Fisher rambled on about the positives with the program. Yes, the expectations are high, especially considering his eerily similar path in in Tallahassee.
They should be.
The Aggies finished with their highest ranking in the AP poll since 1939. They dominated the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl and North Carolina in Orlando last January.
It's no wonder reporters like the SEC Network's Roman Harper predict the Aggies should be favored in every game this season. They've earned the right to be considered a contender in a conference where the slogan is "It Just Means More."
"Just like the standard at Florida State to take over the ACC and go win a National Championship," Fisher said. "That's our standard here, and you have to play at that standard, and they have set that standard. That's what great teams do."
Fisher understands what it means to be the best. Like everything in life, to be at the top, you must take down who stands in the way. Only then can one puff out its chest and command respect.
He learned that in 2011 when falling to No. 23 in the polls as Clemson claimed the ACC title. After that, the Seminoles won three conference titles before the Tigers regained the momentum.
For the Aggies, it's about beating Alabama. That's been the goal since arriving in the SEC in 2012. Regaining the power is so crucial to the program. Johnny Manziel danced his way around the Crimson Tide defense, winning in Bryant-Denny Stadium, 29-24.
That year, A&M would go on to defeat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama would defeat Notre Dame for its 13th national title. Since then, the closest the Aggies have come to beating Saban and his NFL pipeline of perfected talent was in 2013.
They only lost by six. The other years? The average point differently has been 24.1 skewed by a 59-0 loss in 2014.
"He's the standard, and the standard is what you have to play to," Fisher said of Saban.
Earlier this offseason, Fisher told boosters at a Touchdown Club meeting in Houston that "We're going to beat his (Saban) ass when he's there, don't worry." Saban, a six-time national champion in Tuscaloosa, politely responded to his former LSU offensive coordinator.
Retorted Saban, "In golf?".
Fisher has several months to think of his response on if it would come back to haunt. He doubled down, reminding reporters it's part of the deal when signing up to join the conference.
"No, I don't have any regrets at all" Fisher said. "That's what we are for, isn't it? Isn't that what makes this league? That's what we expect to do at Texas A&M."
If ever, the Aggies have its best shot to take down the Crimson Tide and make their first trip to Atlanta. Mike Elko will return nine starters defensively. Replacing Buddy Johnson and Bobby Brown shouldn't be that difficult either.
Both Andre White Jr. and McKinley Jackson saw significant reps in 2020.
The Aggies defense could be even better than it was last fall. That's saying something when finishing top 10 in total defense (317.7 ypg) and top three against the run (92.0 ypg). Only Georgia was better.
"Defense is what wins championships," defensive end DeMarvin Leal said. "Coming to Texas A&M, we all knew what the expectation was, not just for the team but for the 12th Man.
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"To make them proud is a blessing."
Of course, the real storyline is on the offensive side of the ball. The Aggies might have a three-man monster in Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smith and Devon Achane in the backfield, but who will be doing the blocking.
A&M lost four starters on its offensive line. Kenyon Green, an All-American at offensive guard is kicking out to the left tackle role.
"The continuity to get five guys to play as one, that's the challenge in how quickly they can adapt to that," Fisher said. "But they had a great spring, summer's been going well, and that's one of the things I'm most excited to watch because I know what their ability is."
Fisher pointed out new tackle Jahmir Johnson, who joins the staff from Tennessee. A former junior college transfer, the 6–6 tackle never was given anything on his way to a scholarship. He had to earn it, a trait the Aggies coach loves.
Johnson has the opportunity to likely start at the right tackle position. Fisher believes it is to lose entering camp. One thing the young players don't have experience against SEC-level defense.
"He's a great guy to be around. He's got a great personality, great work ethic, and very impressed with his off-season work ethic so far. I think he's got a chance to really help us."
It all really comes down to the quarterback. Kellen Mond, the golden boy of Aggie football, now heads to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to battle it out with Kirk Cousins.
Maybe he'll be the Vikings starter by the end of the 2021 season. A&M would love to see both him and Ryan Tannehill represent the 12th Man on Sunday afternoons.
There's a new battle afoot in College Station — arguably the strongest in college football. Haynes King and Zach Calzada seem to be ready to take over the offense come September 4 against Kent State.
Fisher, a former quarterback himself at Samford University in Birmingham, didn't give away much. He commends King for his winning ways at Longview High School and his demeanor when commanding the huddle.
"I think Haynes King is an NFL talent," Fisher said. "Haynes can really throw the football. He's smart, he's competitive, he can run."
He didn't throw Calzada to the side. Instead, Fisher might have given the Georgia native the best reference to 130 other programs on why they should grab him if he doesn't win the starting role.
Then again, maybe Fisher believes Calzada is the right man for the job? He certainly is tired of the lazy narrative of the redshirt sophomore being "immobile" in the pocket.
"Everybody gets caught in his arm," Fisher said. "Zach is a really good athlete and can run around. I think Zach is an NFL talent. "
In four quick years, A&M has transformed itself into a sleeping giant among college football greats. They at least have the makings of it going into the fall camp. The quarterback has to be right. So does the offensive line.
Destiny finds a way to make its grand entrance. In 2013, it came behind the likes of smart play-calling and a gunslinger from Hueytown, Ala. by the name of Jameis Winston
The Seminoles' offense looked unmatched and Winston won a Heisman.
Maybe King or Calzada won't have to be Winston 2.0. The Aggies can rely on their defense to bail them out of trouble when drives are sour. That could be the "destiny" of 2021, with Leal being the leader of the unit yet to be named.
Leal says they'll retire the 'Wrecking Crew' slogan, and release a new name later on.
"This team, we're ready," Leal said. "We know what our standard is, and we've all made a commitment to each other to be the best that we are every single day."
Fisher knows what it's going to take to be the team to beat in the SEC. He has to beat Saban, and he has to prove it's the Aggies' time.
Good luck Jimbo in trying to accomplish that. All-time, Saban is 23-0 against assistants. He's 4-0 against Fisher.
Said Fisher: "I have the utmost respect for what he's done and what he's accomplished."
The Yellowhammer state made Fisher a QB guru. It molded him into a coach that has earned his keep among the best in business today. The state alone has built the pathway to this moment in his life.
History has a funny way of repeating itself — but it'll only happen for Fisher with Texas A&M if they can get past the master and a defending title titan.
"We feel confident in ourselves," Fisher said. "Me sitting here saying that doesn't mean it. We want to beat them. They want to beat us. Who can do the most work and become the best football team until then is what's going to make the difference."
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