Jimbo Fisher is just a rich man's Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M football | Toppmeyer – Tennessean

  • September 12, 2022

This the “Topp Rope,” a twice-weekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network’s Blake Toppmeyer.
Texas A&M needed just two games to cue up its tired anthem: Wait ’til next year.
Jimbo Fisher is proving to be a more expensive Kevin Sumlin.
A year ago, the Aggies senselessly awarded Fisher a contract extension and a raise. He’s earning $9 million this year on a deal that runs through the 2031 season.
Nine million for a coach whose team lost 17-14 Saturday to Appalachian State.
Nine million for a coach whose top success came with his previous employer.
Fisher spent the offseason in the limelight after A&M signed the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class. He even challenged the GOAT, calling Alabama’s Nick Saban a false god and urging an examination under the hood of Saban’s program.
Well, Fisher runs a program that rarely looks as good in the fall as it does while basking in the preseason hype.
I was skeptical of preseason projections that pegged the Aggies (1-1) as one of the nation’s best teams not named Alabama, Georgia or Ohio State. Tapping A&M as the No. 2 team in the SEC West was generous hyperbole for a program that didn’t have a clearly defined starting quarterback. 
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The Aggies mustered just 186 yards against a Sun Belt Conference opponent.
Fifty games into Fisher’s A&M’s tenure, his record is 35-15.
Sumlin’s record after 50 games? 36-14.
When Aggies quarterback Haynes King suffered a season-ending injury in the second game last season, his absence became a convenient excuse as to why A&M lost four games and ranked near the bottom of the conference in passing yards.
Well, King returned from injury and reclaimed his starting spot. And the returned King looks similar to the quarterback who, as a freshman last year, threw three interceptions in a win against Kent State.
I’d like to see what the Aggies could do with a top-shelf quarterback because throughout Fisher’s tenure, they’ve boasted talent elsewhere. But Jameis Winston was Fisher’s last elite quarterback. That was nearly a decade ago, at Florida State.
“We still have a chance to have a really good team,” Fisher said after the loss.
A&M is paying Fisher to assemble great teams, not good teams. And the Aggies didn’t look like either Saturday.
Fisher presides over a team that I wouldn’t trust to beat some of Sumlin’s best squads.
Mark Stoops stepped out a limb this summer when he threw a couple of Twitter elbows at John Calipari after Kentucky’s basketball coach, while stumping for a new practice facility, correctly (but unnecessarily) stated that UK is a basketball school.
Throughout Stoops’ commendable Kentucky tenure, he’s avoided the unrelenting expectations many of his SEC peers face. That’s a benefit of coaching football at a basketball school.
But by challenging Calipari, Stoops shifted into the fast lane, whether he meant to or not. And if you intend to drive in the hammer lane, you better keep the pedal down. So far, so good.
Stoops continues to prove he’s one of the nation’s best defensive schemers. The Wildcats (2-0) bottled up Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson throughout a 26-16 victory at the Swamp.
In Florida’s season-opening upset of Utah, Richardson showcased his many talents. On Saturday, he played like a quarterback making his second career start.
Stoops moved past Bear Bryant for all-time victories at Kentucky. Bryant knew where Kentucky football ranked – behind basketball. In 1950, Bryant joked that all he got for leading Kentucky to the Sugar Bowl was “a cigarette lighter.”
If Stoops can match Bryant’s program-record 11 victories from that 1950 season, that should at least earn him a nice cigar.
Did Alabama’s 20-19 escape over Texas say more about Alabama’s vulnerabilities or Texas’ improvement? Best answer: both.
Clearly, Texas is improved at the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Quinn Ewers is a major upgrade. Ewers played like a legit five-star talent before exiting in the first half with a shoulder injury. 
But a lingering Alabama concern revealed itself. The Crimson Tide (2-0) misses last year’s star wide receivers, Jameson Williams and John Metchie III.
Williams’ speed and explosiveness gave Alabama a dimension it sorely lacked against Texas. He could take the top off the defense with a deep route or turn a screen pass into a big gain. Metchie had a knack for getting open on third downs and in the biggest moments.
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Without them, Bryce Young lacks a go-to target or a big-play threat, and he needed to perform a “Houdini act,” as Texas coach Steve Sarkisian described it, to engineer Alabama’s great escape.
But even a magician as talented as Young benefits from assistance.
1. With Hendon Hooker at the controls, Tennessee’s offense has been a thing of beauty more often than not. Saturday wasn’t one of those times. The Vols weren’t particularly sharp, but that makes the Vols’ 34-27 overtime win at No. 14 Pittsburgh all the more notable. These are the type of grimy wins UT must secure to ascend in Josh Heupel’s second season.
2. Up to No. 11 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaches poll, Arkansas (2-0) is finally getting the respect it deserves. The Razorbacks pose a bigger threat to Alabama on Oct. 1 than Texas A&M does the following week.
3. Until its Sunday surge in the polls, Arkansas had been the SEC’s most undervalued team. Now, Mississippi State takes up that banner. The Bulldogs (2-0) remain unranked after wins against Memphis and Arizona.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter

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