High expectations face Fisher in 1st season at Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M lured Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State with a huge contract to bring the Aggies their first national title since Franklin Roosevelt was president.
Fans won’t have to wait long to see how the team stacks up against college football’s elite with 2016 national champion Clemson visiting College Station on Sept. 8 and the Aggies trekking to Tuscaloosa to play defending champion Alabama in Week 4.
“It gets your attention, I’ll say that,” Fisher said. “It definitely makes your kids wonder. I think when you have those kind of games in the early parts of the season, I think it makes your summer that much better.”
The Aggies signed Fisher to a 10-year, $75 million contract to replace Kevin Sumlin after he was fired in November following a 7-5 season where the team went 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Texas A&M reached double-digit wins just once in Sumlin’s six seasons and that came in 2012 when Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy-winning campaign led the Aggies to an 11-2 mark.
Fisher, who won a national title and three Atlantic Coast Conference championships in eight seasons with the Seminoles, knows he’ll be judged on how his team fares against the country’s top teams, but insists that the key to winning is focusing inward.
“The great teams I’ve ever been a part of, as crazy as this sounds, you prepared for your opponent, but that wasn’t what it was about,” he said. “It was more about the culture in which you created from within yourself and the way you wanted your team to play … it’s not that your opponent becomes faceless, it’s not that you disrespect them; it’s just that you understand how you want to prepare.”
Before the Aggies can focus on Clemson they’re preparing for their opener Aug. 30 against FCS school Northwestern State. It’s the first of three consecutive home games for Texas A&M, which won’t go on the road until its meeting with the Crimson Tide on Sept. 22. Northwestern State is coming off a 4-7 season and was picked to finish in a preseason media poll to finish eighth out of 11 teams in the Southland Conference.
Since the opener is on a Thursday, it will give the Aggies a couple of extra days to get ready for a much bigger test from the Tigers in Game 2.
After the two tough early games Texas A&M has another tough stretch with three straight road games against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn from Oct. 13-Nov. 3 before wrapping up the season with home games against Ole Miss, UAB and LSU.
With just two weeks until the opener Fisher has yet to divulge who will start at quarterback against Northwestern State. Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, who both started games last season, have been splitting first-team snaps in practice so far.
Starkel started A&M’s opener last year, but he broke his ankle in the third quarter of the loss to UCLA, and the Aggies moved on to Mond, who was a true freshman. The mobile Mond showed some promise early, leading the Aggies to wins over South Carolina and Florida, and his performance helped Texas A&M stick around against Alabama before losing 27-19. But he struggled in consecutive losses to Mississippi State and Auburn with Starkel healthy, he got his job back to finish the year.
The two say that the competition so far this year has made them better as the season approaches.
“There’s no anger or anything toward each other,” Starkel said. “We know it’s a competition and we know we’re just going to put our head down and work. We know collectively we have to lead this offense and this team.”
Starkel threw for 1,793 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions in five starts last season and Mond had 1,375 yards passing with eight touchdowns and six interceptions and ran for 340 yards and three touchdowns in nine starts.
“The competition has forced them to be consistent,” Fisher said. “Both guys are pressing each other very well. I feel comfortable with both guys, I really do.”
Whoever is at quarterback will be working behind an offensive line with a new left tackle after veteran starter Koda Martin transferred to Syracuse in the offseason. Martin, who started most of the season at left tackle last year, made the move to play for his father-in-law Dino Babers, who is the head coach at Syracuse and his father Kirk Martin, who is an assistant on the staff.
Sophomore Dan Martin looks to be the likely replacement for Martin to protect the quarterback’s blind side.