Aggies have to get tougher to challenge in the SEC West

Atlanta—Eric McCoy, the best offensive lineman at Texas A&M, said that in the first players’ meeting with new coach Jimbo Fisher, one thing was made crystal clear.

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“He said that if we were not tough and disciplined and if we didn’t take pride in what we do, then we would not be here,” McCoy said during Monday’s SEC Media Days.

“Since Coach Fisher came here guys have gotten tougher.”

With quarterback Johnny Manziel and all those splendid offensive weapons, the Aggies could hang with anybody in their first two years in the SEC (2012-2013).

But as surely as the sun rises in the East, it is a non-negotiable truth in the SEC that in order to compete for a championship on a consistent basis you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run. That takes toughness along both lines of scrimmage. And, to put it bluntly, Texas A&M hasn’t had it, which is a big, big reason why Kevin Sumlin was replaced by Fisher.

Consider this. Here are Texas A&M’s conference rankings in rushing defense for the past five seasons.

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2017…………………………170.5 ypg (9th)

2016………………………….191.7 ypg (8th)

2015………………………….213.69 (13th)

2014………………………….216.00 (14th)

2013………………………….222.31 (14th)

Fisher, who got an unprecedented 10-year, $75 million contract to leave Florida State and take over at Texas A&M, spent 13 years in the SEC West (6 at Auburn, 7 at LSU). He knows exactly what it is going to take to get the Aggies into contention. He won’t go as far as saying the previous Texas A&M teams were “soft.” But he will say with confidence that his teams in College Station will be anything but.

“In the SEC West every week is for the national championship. I lived that life for 13 years,” said Fisher. “It is physically demanding. You have to be able to stop the run. You have to play with great physicality. That means controlling the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage.”

So that mindset and that non-compromising commitment, Fisher says, is where it all starts. Establishing the culture—a different culture—is one of the most difficult things a new head coach has to do. But the quicker Fisher can transform the Texas A&M culture the quicker the Aggies will be a force in the SEC West.

Mark Stoops, who was Fisher’s defensive coordinator at Florida State (2010-2012) before becoming the head coach at Kentucky, has no doubt that the Aggies will be a more physical team moving forward.

“He is a tough, hard-nosed football coach,” Stoops said of his former boss. “He’ll recruit at a very high level and his teams will play very hard. He’s an offensive guy. I’m a defensive guy. We had a lot of fun competing against each other. There is no doubt that he’ll do well at Texas A&M.”

Here is the reality for Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Everything is already in place for the Aggies to play at the highest level:

**--The school, with help from its well-heeled boosters, has recently completed a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field. It is now a palace among college football stadiums.

**--The locker room at Kyle Field looks like something out of the Starship Enterprise.

**--The Bum Bright football complex would be the envy of most Fortune 500 companies.

**--The great state of Texas has long been one of the top recruiting territories in the country.

The only thing the Aggies have been missing is the right coach to put all of those exceptional pieces together form a unified program capable of winning championships.

There are only four active coaches who have won national championships: Nick Saban (Alabama, LSU), Urban Meyer (Florida, Ohio State), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), and Fisher (Florida State).

So Texas A&M athletics director Scott Woodward decided to put a number on the table that Fisher could not ignore. Now we’re going to see if it will pay off.

It’s not going to happen this season. The Aggies have the toughest road schedule in the SEC with trips to Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Texas A&M also has a non-conference game with Clemson, favored to return to the College Football Playoffs, on Sept. 8.

Fisher was asked on Monday if he had a timetable for getting the Aggies into the mix with Alabama, Auburn, and LSU as a consistent challenger for the SEC West championship.

“The timetable is whenever you can get most of the pieces in place,” said Fisher, who was 83-23 with a national championship (2013) in nine seasons at Florida State. “Sometimes it can happen quickly. It took us about four years at Florida State. Hopefully we can do it as quickly as possible.”

Texas A&M has not won a conference championship of any kind since R.C. Slocum’s 1998 team won the Big 12 title. The Aggies haven’t won a national championship since 1939.

Even with Fisher, the $75 million dollar man, you have to wonder how patient the Aggies’ fans will be.