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USA TODAY Sports activities’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the most recent Amway Coaches Ballot.

USA TODAY

In a while after Jimbo Fisher’s choice to take Texas A&M’s mega-offer to depart Florida State, there was once a cringeworthy second that had not anything to do with cowboy boots or the numbers on his contract. As an alternative, it was once on degree with John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M College Gadget, who passed Fisher a duplicate of a countrywide championship trophy with a date to be crammed in later. 

“I’m hoping I fill in a pair!” Fisher answered, drawing uproarious applause from the target market and chuckles from many corners of school soccer. 

The unearned conceitedness with which Texas A&M carries itself has lengthy been an issue of fascination and mock amongst its competitors. No one within the recreation is healthier at spending like Alabama whilst profitable like Missouri, and the verdict in past due 2017 to throw a 10-year, $75 million contract at Fisher was once both going to modify that narrative perpetually or be remembered as the largest boondoggle within the historical past of school sports activities.

Greater than two years in, although, perhaps there’s a brand new bar for Fisher that may be fairer and extra informative than a college president turning in a faux trophy: Are you a risk to Alabama’s supremacy within the SEC or no longer?

Let’s be actual. The solution to that, as the 2 techniques get ready to play Saturday in Tuscaloosa, isn’t. And it doesn’t appear specifically shut.

In Fisher’s first two seasons, the Aggies misplaced to Alabama by way of 22 and 19 issues, neither of that have been aggressive at any level in the second one part. Regardless of Texas A&M’s present No. 13 rating within the Amway Coaches Ballot, it’s going to input this yr’s assembly as kind of an 18-point underdog. Till confirmed differently, Texas A&M is simply every other garden-variety SEC opponent for Alabama, no longer a rival like LSU or Auburn or perhaps a threat like Ole Omit a handful of years in the past underneath Hugh Freeze. For the ones folks observing, is it even thought to be a large recreation? Since Johnny Manziel’s flip as a short lived disrupter, the cumulative rating of the following seven conferences stands at 252-107.

Texas A&M trainer Jimbo Fisher will lead his No. 13 Aggies in opposition to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday. (Picture: Chuck Cook dinner, USA TODAY Sports activities)

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Most of that isn’t Fisher’s fault, but he knows he’s being paid handsomely — some would argue grotesquely — to fix it. 

“You know what they’ve done, who they are and we have to go play ball,” Fisher said this week. “We have to keep recruiting well and keep building on the process we have. We have had two great young recruiting classes I’m very excited about, got some very good young players and our older players are developing. It’s always a measuring stick when you play Alabama as far as where you stand in the national scene because they’ve been on the top of it for so long.”

But at some point when you’re guaranteed $75 million to coach football, the measurement has to tell you that the gap is getting smaller and that progress is being made.

The recruiting rankings would suggest that it could happen. The Aggies’ current group of freshmen was ranked No. 6 by 247 Sports, and the class of current sophomores came in at No. 4, which on paper is the kind of year-over-year quality elite programs need. By any measure, Fisher and his staff have been among the small handful of programs recruiting at the very top level. 

There’s a difference, though, between hope and results. And at a $75 million price tag, the results need to start coming. 

By any reasonable standard, including the one set by his predecessor Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M’s quality of football under Fisher hasn’t been particularly impressive. Sumlin’s tenure was far from perfect — it’s why he ultimately got fired — but he had enough quality wins over his first four years to keep things afloat. 

If you look at Fisher’s tenure so far, there are more good-looking losses than good wins. Besides the epic seven-overtime win over LSU in his first season, his 18-9 record is mostly filled with fluff. The Aggies weren’t a top-25 team last year, and their 17-12 struggle against Vanderbilt in the opener raised concerns about how much progress they’ve really made. 

It’s certainly not what they’re paying for.

But maybe Texas A&M’s willingness to spend so much of their financial largesse on football is their only real path to relevance. Besides a claimed national title in 1939 and a fairly consistent run of top-10 finishes from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, this is not a program with a history of competing at the highest level of the sport. The confluence of joining the SEC followed immediately by Manziel Mania gave Texas A&M a unique opportunity to invest big in facilities and coaching salaries, and at least the Aggies can tell themselves they no longer have any excuses for failing to compete for titles. 

But they’re not immune from the same question as everyone else: Did they make a smart investment?

At this level, three years in is enough time to figure out an answer. When Fisher was offered that contract, what he had built at Florida State was no longer a national championship-level program and already in decline. Had he stayed another year, it’s doubtful anyone would have offered $75 million to a coach who had gotten lapped by Clemson within his conference. 

Texas A&M may have more money than Florida State and all the in-state talent you need to win, but it’s a tougher job because of how many more obstacles you need to clear to get to the top. If it’s not Alabama, it’s LSU or Auburn not to mention Georgia, Florida and the rest. In the SEC, somebody’s got to lose.

In a few months, we will have a pretty good idea of whether Texas A&M’s money was well spent. In fact, by Fisher’s third season at Florida State, he had won an ACC title and built the foundation of a roster that would win the national championship just a year later. The timeline may not exactly line up this time around, but if the Aggies are really as underwhelming as they were last week against Vanderbilt, we can start to call his tenure a disappointment. 

Until we start thinking about Texas A&M-Alabama as one of the SEC’s big games — and it certainly doesn’t feel that way this time around — a fake trophy may be the only one Fisher ever accepts. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

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