Is Jimbo Fisher really the best candidate to thump Nick Saban's rump? | Toppmeyer
Of course Jimbo Fisher should believe Texas A&M is going to beat Nick Saban’s ass, to use Fisher’s words, when his Aggies host Alabama on Oct. 9.
Fisher is entering Year 4 of a 10-year contract worth $75 million. You don’t get paid that much to think it’s acceptable to lose to anyone, even Alabama.
Asked last week at a Houston Touchdown Club gathering about the key to beating Saban and Alabama, Fisher predicted the Aggies would thump Saban’s rump.
Anytime a coach speaks in public, a recruit might be listening. Better for Fisher to spread the message that he expects to beat Alabama than suggest the Aggies are comfortable lagging behind the Crimson Tide.
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The question is: Is Fisher truly the SEC coach best positioned to beat Alabama, or is this just hollow offseason posturing?
Texas A&M’s progress in its third season under Fisher suggests it is the former. Fisher’s 0-4 record against Saban – all were lopsided losses – suggest the latter.
Still, the Aggies are positioned for continued success under Fisher, whose 2013 Florida State team won the national championship.
Georgia is garnering preseason hype as a potential foil for Alabama, but it’s Texas A&M that returned nine defensive starters from one of the SEC’s best units in 2020.
The Crimson Tide had no trouble with that defense in whipping the Aggies, 52-24, last season. Maybe, though, Alabama’s offense will come down from the stratosphere after the departures of Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and company.
Kirby Smart has put Georgia’s recruiting on par with Alabama’s, suggesting the Bulldogs are the biggest threat to Alabama.
But Smart has struggled to develop quarterbacks, a useful ingredient to beating Saban.
Under Smart, who is 0-3 against Saban, Georgia has resembled an old-school version of Saban’s Alabama teams. Saban evolved for a reason – offense rules today’s college football.
Gus Malzahn found a way to beat Saban without top-tier quarterbacks. The former Auburn coach went 3-5 against Saban, beating him with quarterbacks Bo Nix, Jarrett Stidham and Nick Marshall – not exactly an elite trio.
But other than Auburn, the only teams to beat Alabama in the past five seasons featured top quarterbacks. Clemson beat Alabama during its 2016 and 2018 national championship seasons behind Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, respectively. Joe Burrow fueled LSU to a win over Alabama in 2019.
Fisher just sent quarterback Kellen Mond to the NFL as a third-round draft pick, but Mond doesn't belong in a conversation involving Watson, Lawrence or Burrow. In fact, Fisher hasn’t had an elite quarterback since Jameis Winston at Florida State.
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Texas A&M will get a fresh start with quarterback Haynes King, who grabbed the baton from Mond. King signed as a four-star dual-threat prospect in the 2020 recruiting class.
When Auburn fired Malzahn in December, he surrendered his title as “SEC Coach Most Likely to Beat Saban.”
Fisher unofficially submitted his bid to assume Malzahn’s role, thanks to the Aggies' 9-1 record last season, followed by Fisher's bold proclamation last week.
As the only current SEC coach with a victory against Saban, Ed Orgeron’s candidacy shouldn’t be ignored, either.
The LSU coach recruits well, and, like Texas A&M, the Tigers returned an abundance of starters. Nonetheless, LSU’s regression in 2020 after losing Burrow and offensive mastermind Joe Brady to the NFL raises the question of whether Orgeron is a long-term threat to Saban.
Offensive prowess and quarterback development skills make Florida coach Dan Mullen and Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin candidates to be Saban’s new foil.
Mullen is 0-10 all-time against Saban, but Florida’s talent level is superior to what Mullen had at Mississippi State, where he lost nine times to Saban.
Florida’s Kyle Trask dueled Alabama’s Jones throughout last season for top quarterback honors, and the Gators gave Alabama its closest contest, suffering a 52-46 loss in the SEC Championship.
Kiffin spurred Alabama on its path to becoming an offensive juggernaut while he was Saban’s offensive coordinator. At Ole Miss, Kiffin boasts one of the SEC’s most talented quarterbacks in Matt Corral.
The Rebels joined Florida as the only teams to lose to Alabama by less than a three-possession margin last season.
Ole Miss isn’t ready to take down Alabama in the program’s current state – Corral doesn’t have enough support – but Kiffin is showing promise in recruiting. Ole Miss finished sixth in the SEC in the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings for the 2021 signing class, its highest finish since 2016.
The most likely outcome, though, is also the most boring possibility for college football: Saban will continue to dominate his SEC adversaries, and Fisher will eat crow on Oct. 9.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com 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.