Jimbo Fisher received some harsh news after he was hired as Texas A&M’s newest coach.
He glanced at the 2018 schedule and winced.
Fisher switched conferences, when he left Florida State to head to A&M, morphing from the ACC to the SEC. But he couldn’t shake Clemson. The two teams face each other Saturday night at Kyle Field.
“It was kind of ironic, when I accepted the job, looked down (at the schedule) — ‘you’ve got to be kidding,’ ” Fisher said Monday. I said, ‘Really?’ It’s ironic, because whoever won that game for so many years won the conference. Every year that was a critical game. I guess it’s kind of ironic; I guess it’s fitting.”
During his eight seasons coaching Florida State, Fisher was an even 4-4 against Clemson. However, the Tigers won the last three. During last year’s game at Clemson, the Tigers built a 17-0 lead on their way to a 31-17 victory.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are considered college football royalty, having made the first three College Football Playoff brackets. They won it all in 2016 but lost to Alabama in the finals in 2015 and the semis in 2017.
At No. 2 nationally, Clemson will be the highest-ranked nonconference opponent ever to play at Kyle Field. The renewed matchup between Fisher and Sweeney proved to be so enticing that ESPN decided to bring its traveling “College GameDay” show to College Station for a Saturday morning telecast.
Clemson did nothing last Saturday in its opener to diminish its status as one of the early favorites for a playoff berth. The Tigers beat Furman at home 48-7.
The unranked Aggies opened the season last Thursday with a 59-7 pounding of Northwestern State. Fisher’s offense stayed deliberately vanilla, relying heavily on a bulldozing rushing game. The Aggies rolled to 503 yards on the ground and totaled 758 total. It was the second time in program history that the Aggies rushed for more than 500 and eclipsed 200 passing in the same game.
A&M has enjoyed two extra days to recover from the opener and prep for Clemson. Fisher probably has dug out his notes from previous games against the Tigers. He probably has most of what Clemson does memorized.
“The good news is you know,” Fisher said. “The bad news is you know.”
Given the high level of talent on the Tigers’ roster, is it even enough to keep the Aggies in the game with the Tigers?
Try this for context: Clemson’s defensive front four probably is the best in college football. All four starters have made an All-America list in their career.
Clelin Ferrell was a 2017 finalist for the Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive end. Tackle Christian Wilkin was a finalist for the Nagurski in 2016. That’s the award for the nation’s top defender. Defensive end Austin Bryant was an All-American last season, and tackle Dexter Lawrence is a preseason pick.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper lists three of the linemen among his top 20 picks for next year’s NFL draft.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was a Davey O’Brien semifinalist last season. And Hunter Renfrow, who has caught four touchdown passes in national championship games, is back, too.
The Aggies believe Fisher’s inside knowledge will lead them to a win. Oddsmakers, however, have established Clemson as a two-touchdown favorite.
“We’re excited to be able to implement what he wants us to do,” offensive lineman Keaton Sutherland said.
Linebacker Tyrel Dodson looks at A&M as the favorite.
“No one has ever seen this team before,” Dodson said. “No one has ever seen this Jimbo Fisher era team before.”
No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M, 6 p.m., ESPN, 1370