Fisher was among coaches and players from three traditional powers who took the stage Thursday. Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M each are in different stages of their journeys on their roads to national prominence.
- Auburn is trying to regain its balance after a shaky first year under coach Bryan Harsin. The school conducted an inquiry into the inner workings of the program that resulted in 20 players entering the transfer portal and multiple assistant coaches leaving for other jobs.
- Tennessee is trying to keep the momentum of a 7-6 first season under Josh Heupel. A former Oklahoma quarterback and Central Florida coach, Heupel became the first individual to twice win the Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award. The Volunteers have been identified as a team most likely to challenge Georgia in the SEC East.
- And Texas A&M stands prepared to take the next step in its fifth season under Fisher. Entering their 10th season in the SEC, the Aggies are intent on improving a profile that has seen them average a third-place finish in the Western Division since joining the league in 2012, with a pair of second-place finishes. A No. 1 national recruiting ranking for its Class of 2022 is an indication of A&M’s upward movement in the NIL era.
College football is enduring one of its more seismic periods in history. Conference realignment, playoff expansion, NIL and player free agency all threaten to profoundly change the sport. But the three programs represented Thursday exemplified how well positioned the SEC is to flourish during this time of volatility. All are considered national-champion contenders. With the additions of Oklahoma and Texas by 2025, more than half of what then will be a 16-team league will field football programs of that ilk.
Texas A&M would have to be considered among the most ripe for hoisting a championship banner. A&M was fully in the mix in 2020, rising to No. 4 in the CFP rankings before a loss to Alabama derailed its bid. Expectations were high last season, too. But a midseason win over the eventual SEC champion Crimson Tide was sandwiched by losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State early and Ole Miss and LSU late.
“We didn’t finish,” Fisher said. “We went 8-4, and we were disappointed with that. We’ve been to some highs now, and we’ve had some disappointments. But I think that’s allowed us to develop as a program and made us better.”
Count the Aggies as one of many.