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A Million Dollars in Moral Victories

By Matt Smith
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Jimbo Fisher isn’t being paid $75 million by Texas A&M, or $7.5 million per season for the next decade, to play close games against elite teams. He’s being paid to win those close games against elite teams.

Let’s be clear. Jimbo Fisher isn’t being paid $75 million by Texas A&M, or $7.5 million per season for the next decade, to play close games against elite teams. He’s being paid to win those close games against elite teams.

That said, even the most ardent Aggies supporter wouldn’t have predicted anything better than a 2-2 start to Fisher’s tenure before the season. The hope was that Fisher, whose “per game” salary amounts to a little over $600,000, could simply fare better than predecessor Kevin Sumlin did in big games like Texas A&M’s early-season tilts with Clemson and Alabama.

He did just that against the second-ranked Tigers two weeks ago, as the three-time College Football Playoff participant barely escaped Kyle Field with a 28-26 victory. On Saturday afternoon, Texas A&M takes on No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), but this battle takes place in the unfriendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

As four-touchdown underdogs, playing the Crimson Tide anywhere close to the way Texas A&M played Clemson would be a remarkable achievement. That would mean more than one million dollars of Fisher’s pro-rated salary would be going towards losses that feel like wins.

A poor return on investment? Not necessarily.

Texas A&M is one of about 15-20 schools in the nation where no loss should ever truly feels like a win, but that Clemson sort of did and Alabama could shows just how far the program had fallen in the latter half of Sumlin’s tenure, and just how dominant the Tigers and Crimson Tide have been during that span.

Fisher has already been given a national championship trophy, but giving him another after a 2-2 start would actually be less ridiculous if he can stretch a pair of Goliaths for 60 minutes each in a three-week stretch.

How Fisher actually makes that come to fruition this week is another story. Alabama sports the top scoring offense in the nation at 56.7 points per game, and that’s with playing two Power Five teams and a top Group of Five team. The Crimson Tide’s 7.67 yards per play trails only Oklahoma among teams that have yet to play an FCS opponent.

Oh yeah, the defending national champions can still play a little bit of defense too. Ole Miss had been averaging 9.4 yards per play before the Crimson Tide came to Oxford last Saturday night. The Rebels struck for a 75-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, but were then held to just 173 yards on 58 plays, or a cool 2.99 yards per play.

Alabama’s margin of victory in SEC home games over the past two seasons are as follows: 28, 19, 48, 18, 63, 32, 38, and 14. The Tide haven’t even been threatened at home since Texas A&M’s last visit, when they rallied from an early deficit to take a 14-13 lead before allowing the game’s final 20 points. A similar performance on Saturday would constitute success, and have Aggies fan dreaming of running the table, even with road trips to South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn, and earning the program its first BCS or New Year’s Six bowl berth since 1998.

It’s hard to fathom that Fisher could be awarded one of the most lucrative contracts in college football history, start 2-2, and yet still have every Texas A&M fan convinced that there is national championship in the not-too-distant future. However, that will be exactly the case with another $600,000 moral victory on Saturday.

Winning isn’t cheap, and sometimes losing isn’t either.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.