Oct 22, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher directs his team against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
John P. Lopez – Jimbo Expectations: Aggie football cooking up something special … probably, maybe, sort-of
Ahh, the rites of spring.
The tomatoes are beginning to bloom, balmy temperatures are soothing souls, birds are singing our song, and gentle breezes are wafting over Aggieland like a tradition as old as E. King Gill.
This could be the year, Ags. It could be special. It could be … oh, criminy, who are we trying to kid?
Aggies everywhere have had these kinds of lofty expectations since the Century Tree was an acorn. There have been some glorious times, for sure. There have been indelible memories, Heisman moments, conference championships, and huge bowl wins that capped huge seasons.
But ever since Jimbo Fisher arrived in College Station in 2018 and was presented a replica national championship trophy that had everything but an engraver, it hasn’t been about getting close.
It’s been about finally getting there – over the hump and out from under the specter of not winning a national title since 1939. Frankly, Jimbo has largely disappointed.
But can they get there from here? Year six of a five-year plan?
Can they at minimum threaten the College Football Playoff if not get in and threaten to win the whole dadgum thing?
Yes. And, no.
By all accounts coming out of last week’s spring game, barring the litany of literal and figurative illnesses that plagued the Aggies a year ago, the pieces are there.
The Aggies have their front-line next-level quarterback in sophomore Connor Weigman. Don’t buy for a second that there’s any kind of competition going on between Weigman and transfer Max Johnson, who was a starter last season. This is Weigman’s team and he could be special.
They have what should be one of the best defensive lines in the country and an even better, deeper secondary than the one that led the SEC a year ago. They have a deep and explosive running back room, several returning big-time wide receivers, and a tight end group led by Donovan Green and Max Wright that could be among the best Fisher ever has had.
The Aggies also have a manageable schedule, much more experience, and top-tier division opponents that are as vulnerable as they’ve been in years, including Alabama, which reportedly is scanning the transfer portal to find a quarterback.
So why the nervous optimism in Aggieland? They’ve been here before, as recently as a season ago.
A consensus top-ten team going into the season, everything unraveled in 2022, but nothing more than Fisher’s offensive touch. Disaster only begins to describe the problems – from the young offensive line ravaged by injuries and setbacks, including star center Bryce Foster contracting mononucleosis, to complete ineptitude moving the ball. The Aggies lost to Appalachian State on the way to a hugely disappointing 8-4 record. The Aggie offense finished 101st in the NCAA in scoring, 99th on third downs, 72nd in touchdown percentage, and 84th in yards per game. Twice last year, seven freshmen started games on offense against Southeastern Conference opponents.
“Obviously, last season was really frustrating,” Wright said prior to the spring game. “Guys came into spring with a chip on their shoulder. No one wants to ever have the year that we had last year. It was embarrassing on a lot of fronts.”
Enter offensive guru Bobby Petrino, who took over the offense and play-calling for Fisher. No more predictable sets. Much more motion. More versatility in game-planning and personnel rotations. While little of Petrino’s tricks were revealed in the spring game, few were expected.
“We have different personnel, where we have three tight ends on the field at one time,” Wright said. “Sometimes (we’re) creating some mismatches in terms of blocking schemes being able to utilize two tight ends and also have a tight end in the backfield at the fullback spot.”
Said Fisher: “I’ve been very pleased this spring. I thought we made some huge development. I thought some guys are really coming on and playing well. The young guys are really developing. I’m really excited about the whole group.”
It all means nothing, of course, until the Aggies line up in 2023. And while the defense could be the best under Fisher up front and in the secondary, there are severe shortcomings at linebacker and a lack of depth across the board, offensively and defensively.
Fisher has made no secret that while he rarely has tapped into the NCAA transfer portal in his five seasons, adding only two non-JUCO transfers before this offseason, that will change. The Aggies believe they are close to finally putting a complete team together with a few key additions – especially at linebacker. And with only a reported 74 of the allotted 85 scholarship players on campus, there is room and incentive. Already this week, Boston College all-ACC cornerback Josh DeBerry has come into the fold to add to the already stacked secondary that also includes highly regarded North Carolina cornerback transfer Josh Grimes.
“We’ll go into the portal, and we’ll see what goes on,” Fisher said. “We’ve got our eyes on guys. We will be very active in it.”
They must. This squad seems close to finally becoming what the Aggies have expected for going on six years. Fisher is confident, the talent is there, and a few tweaks just might get it done.
“I’ve been very pleased,” Fisher said. “Practices have been really competitive and really physical and very energizing. That’s a sign of leadership and maturity.”
Hoo-boy. Brace yourselves, Aggies. You should feel good about the upcoming season. Spring has sprung. Again.