Texas A&M faced a trial by fire in the second year of the Jimbo Fisher era, and the Aggies got burned.
Games against Alabama and Clemson were rough. Matchups with Auburn and Georgia were frustrating. The final regular season trip to Baton Rouge will never be spoken of again. But at the end of it, the Aggies emerged with a respectable 8-5 record and with a battle-tested and confident roster.
“They hopefully learned what it takes,” Fisher said of five matchups against top eight opponents. “The skills and the mentality, the physicality, the competitiveness and the relentless pursuit of excellence that you have to have. It’s going to test everything about you.”
After one of the toughest schedules of the College Football Playoff era, Texas A&M is rewarded with a manageable nonconference slate and rebuilding SEC West. Clemson is off the schedule, replaced with a rebuilding Colorado. The crossover game against SEC contender Georgia is swapped with a home game against Vanderbilt. Three of Texas A&M’s six division opponents are replacing head coaches, while two are replacing first round NFL draft picks at quarterback.
The Aggies, on the other hand, return the same head coach and coordinators for the third season in a row. No other SEC West opponent can say that. No program on either side of the SEC returns more experience than the Aggies. Plus, quarterback Kellen Mond is headed into his rare fourth season as a starter. Only Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello can match that, and he started his games in the Pac-12, not the powerhouse SEC.
It doesn’t hurt that the Aggies have taken the final step towards being a national recruiting powerhouse. Texas A&M followed the No. 4 national class in 2019 with the No. 6 class in 2020. The program is firing on all cylinders. The only thing left is for its on-field performance to match.
True freshmen Kenyon Green and DeMarvin Leal both pushed out far more experienced starters to get significant snaps in the trenches. Demani Richardson and Elijah Blades’ success pushed multiple experienced players out the door. This year, incoming freshmen WR Demond Demas, DB Jaylon Jones and RB Devon Achane could be among the signees ready for that same opportunity.
The schedule lines up. A senior quarterback leads the way. There’s consistency on the coaching staff. The talent level in College Station is exploding. Simply put, Texas A&M heads into 2020 as one of the most consistent and tested teams in the SEC.
The Aggies dished out big money and a 10-year contract to Fisher in hopes that he could bring them to the promised land. If Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M is ready for a breakout season, the moment is now.
“You can’t have a weakness in a football team and play in the SEC and not get exposed,” Fisher said. “We’re developing where we want to go, and that’s why I’m very anxious to watch this team play. I’m very excited about this team and the development of our program.”
Catching Alabama and national champion LSU in the division won’t be easy, and the schedule makers didn’t do the Aggies any favors. The Aggies face their two biggest opponents in the last two games of the season. The eyes of the nation will be on Tuscaloosa, Ala., in what could be one of the biggest games in recent program history. Even if they survive that marquee matchup, LSU will be motivated to beat Texas A&M at Kyle Field. It doesn’t matter who starts at QB for the Tigers.
Games against Mike Leach’s Mississippi State, Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss and a sneaky matchup on the road against Will Muschamp’s feisty Gamecocks provide plenty of tests. Regardless, Texas A&M has been building to this moment for two years. Expectations are high.
“We’re not far off,” Mond said. “We’re a good team, but we’re not elite yet. That’s the type of jump that we need to take. People always mention that the last two percent is the hardest. I feel like we’ve been at that point for two years – it’s finally our time to take that step.”
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