A sputtering offense, a stubborn coach and a $76 million buyout: Inside Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M downfall
SHORTLY AFTER TEXAS A&M athletic director Ross Bjork fired Jimbo Fisher, he described what the Aggies are seeking in a replacement. They’re looking for a coach who’s open to change, adaptable, organized, easy to work with, has a creative offense and is more of a CEO type than someone who’s in the film room all night.
It sounded like he was describing the opposite of Fisher.
Fisher was fired Sunday morning late in his sixth season at Texas A&M with more than $76 million remaining on his fully guaranteed contract. He was undone by an offense — his offense — that didn’t keep up with the trends in college football, ranking 101st nationally in scoring during a disastrous 5-7 season in 2022. He was undone by a stubbornness to change, waiting until Year 6 to even hire an offensive coordinator. He was undone, sources say, by his ego and his insistence on making each and every decision.
No doubt there were tantalizing highs: Fisher’s 2020 COVID-year team finished 9-1 against an all-SEC schedule and notched a 41-27 win in the Orange Bowl to finish the season at No. 4, the Aggies’ highest season-ending ranking since their 1939 national championship season. Fisher remained popular with players until the end and recruited at a level never seen before in College Station. In 2022, he landed one of the most touted recruiting classes in modern history, ranked No. 1 nationally.
But the low points were lower than the Aggies could have bargained for. There were five seasons with four or more losses, including that 2022 campaign, in which the Aggies opened the season at No. 6, only to crash to a 5-7 record amid a six-game losing streak. It was the program’s first losing season since 2009. Somewhere in that mess was a home loss to Appalachian State in which Fisher’s offense managed 180 yards and nine first downs. The Aggies became a joke. They were the biggest underachievers in the country.
Meanwhile, Fisher’s singular focus on running his program his way didn’t endear him to many people on campus. Fisher was the decision-maker on everything, and if you questioned why something was done a certain way, you were likely to be met with an angry response, sources said. (Fisher did not return a message seeking comment for this story.)
That included habits like Fisher’s desire to travel to road games on Thursday nights, meaning players and staff left campus shortly after practice, and sometimes didn’t get to hotels until late in the evening or early mornings. Then they’d wake up on Friday mornings and have meetings and just wait around for the game.
“No one does that,” one Power 5 operations director said. “It impacts academics, takes staff away from their families — and there’s nothing to do. You’re just asking for players to get in trouble.”
A staff member agreed: “You just felt like you were there for so long. That kind of wears on the players.”
The results bear that out. The Aggies have lost nine straight road games dating to the 2021 season. They were 0-9 against ranked teams on the road during Fisher’s entire tenure. When something wasn’t working, it seemed like Fisher was reluctant to change.
“You have to adapt, you have to evolve,” Bjork said at a news conference after Fisher’s firing. “I’m not going to say whether he did or didn’t, but it didn’t work.”
Looking back, that 2020 season was obviously an anomaly. As issues piled up, Fisher, enabled by his contract, doubled down on doing things his way.
“There was no hope that this would ever get better because what was going to change?” a staff member said. “He wasn’t going to listen to anybody else. It was just going to continue the way that it was.”
In the end, the Aggies decided it was no longer worth throwing good money after bad. They decided it was worth $76 million to send Fisher out the door a day after a 41-point win.
“Modern-day football requires, to me, a certain type of leadership,” Bjork said. “You’re moving forward and you’re making change and you’re dialed into what the young men want and what they expect in terms of style of play and the system and the culture and the day-to-day.”
He didn’t see that happening under Fisher.
“To me, [the lack of] all of those things were just leading to lack of confidence,” Bjork said.
AFTER THE WORST offensive season of Fisher’s career — the Aggies averaged 22.7 points a game last season — Fisher hired Bobby Petrino to take over the offense. The Aggies had a potential superstar at quarterback in Conner Weigman and skill position talent all around him, including receiver Evan Stewart. There was cautious optimism around the 2023 season. A longtime SEC personnel director called Texas A&M’s roster one of the best three in the league this year.
But after the Aggies sputtered in October losses to Alabama and Tennessee, scoring just three points in the second half of each loss, Fisher’s future appeared precarious for the first time, even accounting for the massive buyout that would accompany his firing. And for the second year in a row, offensive line troubles forced the Aggies to play their third-string quarterback.
Fisher’s in-game decisions remained a source of frustration. Against Alabama, he chose to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Tide’s 45-yard line in the third quarter of a 17-17 game. Alabama scored six plays later and never trailed again. That one call became emblematic of larger issues for a fanbase that felt, even against the best teams in the league, Fisher was playing too conservatively, almost not to lose as opposed to trying to win.
“If it wasn’t a full yard, inside a yard, [we] probably would have went,” Fisher said.
Fisher runs a complex, pro-style offense and multiple staffers indicated that while Petrino was calling the plays, a large portion of the plays he was calling were still Fisher’s offense.
The offense worked when everything clicked, but proper execution became increasingly difficult with the revolving door at quarterback and the transfer portal leading to the addition of new players unfamiliar with the system.
Even when it didn’t work, Fisher stayed the course.
“We’ve had things there,” Fisher said after those losses to Tennessee and Alabama in which the offense scored 33 points combined. “It’s just a matter of executing plays. It has been shocking that we haven’t been able to go out and execute like that.”
But it was Fisher’s job to get them to execute, and “just gotta execute” became the defining phrase of his tenure.
“It’s too complicated,” a former player said. “And that’s why I think you saw a lot of struggles with it. It just seemed like all these pieces have to go right for a play to work. There’s a lot of thinking. There’s not a lot of just going out and playing. And I think that’s a big deal.”
And it didn’t help that the quarterbacks were battered. In this year’s game against Tennessee, Pro Football Focus said Max Johnson was pressured on 25 of his 39 dropbacks, or 64.1% of them.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Texas A&M QBs were hit on 51.7% of their dropbacks in the Alabama and Tennessee games. Among the 75 FBS teams with a minimum of 50 dropbacks over that two-week span, A&M was the only school with a QB contact percentage of more than 50%. The next closest were Kent State at 49.4% and Akron at 47.2%.
Kellen Mond started all 36 games in Fisher’s first three seasons in College Station. But since 2021, five different quarterbacks have made starts, the most in the SEC. During that span, the Aggies have had 15 games with fewer than 200 passing yards.
In the seven seasons before Fisher’s arrival, Texas A&M produced nine first-round draft picks. In the six years since, despite signing 70 ESPN 300 players, the fourth most in the FBS behind Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, it has had one: Kenyon Green, a guard. A&M has produced just two skill-position draftees that signed with Fisher: Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-rounder at running back last year and De’Von Achane in the third round this season.
Other schools made Fisher’s stagnant offense a point of emphasis. Johntay Cook II, a Texas high school receiver who was No. 32 in the 2023 ESPN 300, told On3 during his recruitment it was a concern.
“A&M has the players but not the scheme,” Cook said. “I mean A&M is running like the Wishbone offense. It’s cool and all, but if Jimbo opened it up that would be serious.”
Cook ended up signing with Texas.
But that wasn’t the only recruiting problem. Fisher prized talent above all, as most coaches do. But there were several high-profile players who committed to A&M who couldn’t stay out of trouble.
Five-star cornerback Denver Harris was suspended twice, then transferred to LSU, where he is on scholarship and in school, but not practicing with the team because of disciplinary issues. Four-star corner Smoke Bouie and five-star wide receiver Chris Marshall were suspended and transferred. Bouie has since been dismissed at Georgia and Marshall was removed from the Ole Miss roster and is now at Kilgore College, a junior college in East Texas.
Sources said discipline was a recurring issue at A&M, with Fisher preferring to let his players lead the locker room. A former player spoke of “individualism” on the roster, with players often not being punished for missing meetings or being late.
“There was 100% a lack of discipline, a lack of accountability,” a former player said.
Last season, Fisher suspended Stewart, Bouie, Marshall and Harris for the Miami game because of a curfew violation. Harris, Marshall and offensive lineman PJ Williams were suspended indefinitely for a locker room incident before the South Carolina game.
Since the Aggies signed the No. 1 class in the country in 2022, they have gone 11-11. Sources at Texas A&M indicated there was a concern that if Fisher had remained, the exodus into the transfer portal would have been significant. The Aggies were in a no-win situation, so they made the move early in hopes that a new coach could rerecruit the roster.
“The assessment that I delivered was that we are not reaching our full potential,” Bjork said at a news conference of a conversation with the Texas A&M’s president, Gen. Mark A. Welsh. “We are not in the championship conversation and something was not quite right about our direction and the plan.”
FISHER GOT OFF to a rocky start when he first arrived in Texas and met with a 7-on-7 coach in the Houston area. This immediately raised eyebrows among the Texas High School Coaches Association, the most powerful group of its kind in the country, which had encouraged “straight-line recruiting,” going through the player’s high school coaches, rather than private trainers.
“It was just a matter of not really knowing the climate and how we’ve been working hard to keep that element out of Texas,” D.W. Rutledge, the organization’s executive director, told The Dallas Morning News in Dec. 2017.
When Mack Brown arrived at Texas, he extended a welcome to high school coaches, hiring Dallas Carter’s Bruce Chambers to his first staff, and keeping him on board for 16 years. Brown was a fixture at the THSCA convention, sending every one of his coaches to shake hands and invite coaches to campus.
Every year at the coaches’ convention, there is a keynote panel that includes every Division I coach in the state. This year, Fisher was the only coach who didn’t show. His presence was expected and his absence was not explained. That raised eyebrows across Texas.
“I just believe that if you coach in this state, you need to know when the Texas High School Coaches Association convention takes place and you need to be present,” said Lee Wiginton, the head coach at Allen High School and the past president of THSCA. “Texas A&M is a prestigious program in our great state. When their head football coach doesn’t attend our convention, it’s simply not a good look in the eyes of the Texas high school coaches.”
Fisher was the only coach in the state in recent years not to do interviews or appear on podcasts with Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, often called the Bible of football in the state (and a publication that put Fisher on the cover when he arrived in College Station). Sources spoke of their surprise that Fisher didn’t offer a scholarship to John Paul Richardson, a wide receiver who is the son of Aggies great Bucky Richardson. Richardson instead signed with Oklahoma State and has since transferred to TCU. He had 49 catches for 503 yards last season. On A&M’s roster, only Stewart, who had 53 catches for 649 yards last season, surpassed those numbers.
The Aggies started to see comparisons to all the stories they’d heard from Florida State before Fisher headed to College Station. “Jimbo was adamant that he wasn’t going to shake hands and kiss babies,” one influential FSU booster told ESPN in 2020.
Compared to Texas, which currently sits at No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings and will join Texas A&M in the SEC next year, the Aggies felt like they were “stuck in neutral” according to Bjork, and couldn’t afford to take any more chances.
The early signing period and the opening of the portal were coming quickly. There was a bowl game to contend with in the middle of that. There were staffing vacancies that needed to be filled. (After recruiting the historic 2022 class, director of player personnel Marshall Malchow departed for Oregon to join Dan Lanning’s staff and Fisher replaced him with Kevin Mashack from Indiana. In June of this year, Fisher abruptly fired Mashack and did not replace him this season.) There were likely to be more coaching changes, particularly along the offensive line. Bjork said this week that he didn’t believe Fisher had the blueprint to fix all of those issues.
“How was the plan going to be executed?” Bjork said. “Was there going to be any hope? Were we going to have the right performance next year? I didn’t see all that lining up for success.”
In the end, the Aggies were tired of being embarrassed. And so they paid Fisher more than triple the largest buyout in college football history. Bjork compared the program to a car driving too slow in the fast lane and holding everyone back.
With Fisher out of the way, Bjork says the Aggies will learn their lessons from the contract and the extension. They’re focused on finding the right fit, rather than worrying about winning a news conference or making a splash hire.
“You take the spirit, you take the passion that’s here. … We were 5-4 going into our last home game and we had 103,000 people that showed up on a Saturday night to support our team,” Bjork told ESPN. “There’s no other place like that. And so if you couple that enthusiasm, those resources, what we have to offer in the facilities world, the NIL world, all the support that people receive here at Texas A&M…”
Wiginton said Fisher’s departure offers the Aggies a chance to find someone who will take pride in his role in Texas. Bjork said it’s a chance to get a coach who embraces the current state of college football and to start over with a clean slate.
“It’s going to be a positive environment,” Bjork said. “We’re going to hire the right coach. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Mark Schlabach contributed to this story.
Manager Jim Leyland selected to Hall of Fame
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jim Leyland, the longtime manager who guided the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series title, was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Leyland was named on 15 of 16 ballots in the selection process during a meeting of the Hall’s contemporary baseball era committee, which examined the cases of managers, umpires and executives whose greatest contributions came after 1980.
Nominees needed to be named on at least 12 ballots for enshrinement. Falling just short was former manager Lou Piniella, who was named on 11 ballots. Executive Bill White was listed on 10 ballots. Also considered were managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson, umpires Ed Montague and Joe West, and executive Hank Peters.
Leyland will become the 23rd person to be inducted into the Hall as a manager and the first since 2014, when Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox were enshrined. Leyland, who got his start in the majors as a coach under LaRussa with the Chicago White Sox, was asked to sum up what he tried to impart to his players over the years.
“I tried to impress upon them what it was to be a professional and how tough this game is to play,” Leyland said. “And I told them almost every day how good there were.”
Leyland never advanced beyond Double-A as a minor league catcher during a playing career that ended in 1970. But he more than made up for that during a long managerial career that began in the minors in 1971. He landed his first big league job with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 and went on to win 1,769 games over a 22-year big league career that ended in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers. He ranks 18th on the all-time managerial win list.
Only Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy won more games among managers who never made the big leagues as a player. As he waited for the call from Hall of Fame chairperson Jane Forbes Clark on Sunday, Leyland initially thought the hour advanced late enough that the call — 60 years in the making — was not going to arrive. Then it did.
“I thought when I didn’t get [the call] by a quarter of seven, it wasn’t going to happen,” Leyland said. “So I went up just to rest a minute and get my thoughts together. When my son came up, the phone rang and it was the Hall of Fame. I couldn’t believe it. There was definitely a tear in my eye.”
Leyland managed numerous superstar players during his career, including all-time greats Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera. As much as he was respected by the superstar players, he was known as a skipper who treated everyone in his clubhouse as an equal.
“All the good managers realize it takes 24-25 guys,” Leyland said. “It takes one heartbeat to sustain. I try to communicate with everybody.”
Known for his lovably irascible manner and pregame news conferences conducted in undershirts amid a haze of cigarette smoke, Leyland reached his pinnacle with the 1997 Marlins, an expensively built team designed to win fast. With Leyland leading a team full of stars including Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou and Kevin Brown, the Marlins went on to beat Cleveland in a seven-game World Series.
After that Marlins club was dismantled, Leyland moved on to manage the Colorado Rockies for one season before spending his final eight managing the Tigers. Detroit won two pennants during his tenure (2006 and 2012) and earned four postseason appearances.
Leyland was named Manager of the Year three times, twice in the National League (1990 and 1992) and once in the American League (2006).
Leyland, 78, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown, New York. He originally signed as a player with the Tigers organization in 1964, so when he is recognized among the game’s immortals next summer, it will be the crowning achievement of 60 years around the professional game.
“It’s the final stop, really, as far as your baseball career goes,” Leyland said. “To end up and land there at Cooperstown? It doesn’t get any better. I mean, that’s the ultimate.”
College Football Playoff first look: Previewing Michigan-Alabama and Washington-Texas
The final four-team College Football Playoff field is set, with the selection committee having to make the toughest decision it had ever faced.
We knew going in that history would be made and that at least one team and its fan base would be left with some serious gripes. Would an unbeaten Power 5 champion be left out for the first time? Would the SEC be shunned? Would the No. 1 team going into the conference championship games fall out?
In the end, Big Ten champion Michigan was awarded the No. 1 seed and will face No. 4 Alabama of the SEC. In the other semifinal, Pac-12 champ Washington, the No. 2 seed, will face No. 3 Texas of the Big 12.
Here’s our first look at the four-team field, including key players, X factors and what each team has to do to win it all.
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Alabama
CFP Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Prudential
When: Monday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ET
Where: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California)
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Key player: RB Blake Corum
Corum tied Michigan’s career rushing touchdown record in the Big Ten championship game with his 55th TD. He has carried the load for the Wolverines the past few seasons and the offense has gone through him. He led all FBS running backs with 24 touchdowns and had his third 1,000-yard season. When Corum is productive, it opens up the rest of Michigan’s offense and creates an easier path for the passing game. Corum is a team leader as well, and his two touchdowns against Ohio State put Michigan over the top and propelled the Wolverines toward the playoff.
X-factor: CB Mike Sainristil
Sainristil doesn’t get a lot of the attention, but he has been a leader on Michigan’s defense. He came up with two forced fumbles in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa and was integral in stopping the Hawkeyes offense. He had 30 total tackles on the season and four interceptions along with six pass breakups. He started his career at receiver before making the switch to corner, and over the past two seasons has built himself into a potential NFL draft pick on defense.
How Michigan wins: The offense performs at its peak
The offense hasn’t been at its best the past few weeks, but has done enough to stay undefeated. In the postgame press conference after the Big Ten title game, Jim Harbaugh said the team will have to clean up some things up in pass protection and the run game in order to have success in the playoff. The defense has been outstanding all season, but against the teams that Michigan will face in the playoff, the Wolverines will have to put up more points. That means Corum putting up big numbers and quarterback J.J. McCarthy complementing the run game with the passing attack we saw early in the season. — Tom VanHaaren
Key player: QB Jalen Milroe
Since his benching against South Florida in Week 3, Jalen Milroe has been one of the most dynamic players in college football. He has accounted for 28 touchdowns and turned the ball over just five times in leading the Crimson Tide to 11 straight wins. His ability to scramble for big gains and buy time in the pocket make him extremely difficult to defend for any defense, but he also has a big arm and has repeatedly connected with his receivers on deep throws. Georgia coach Kirby Smart compared the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Milroe to Lamar Jackson last week because of his acceleration in the open field and arm strength to push the ball down the field. Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Crimson Tide wouldn’t be in this position had Milroe not responded to his benching the way he did and continued to improve and “be our point guard.” Milroe’s decision-making has gotten significantly better as the season has progressed, and he said a lot of that is because he’s played with more freedom and confidence since Saban told him unequivocally that it was his job.
X factor: OLB Dallas Turner
Turner has been Alabama’s biggest disruptor on defense. The junior is the Tide’s best pass-rusher and can change the complexion of a game with a big sack or a tackle for loss that kills an opposing offense’s drive. Turner leads Alabama with 14.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. Championship teams need a big-play defender who can cause the opposing offense to get out of its rhythm. The 6-4, 252-pound Turner is that player for the Crimson Tide.
How Alabama wins: By hanging around and being there at the end
Alabama has been one of the more resilient teams in the country. The Tide trailed five times in the second half in SEC games this season and rallied to win. In other words, they know how to win close games, and the more they’ve played, the more confident they’ve become in being able to finish games. Alabama’s offense isn’t necessarily built to get into high-scoring showdowns and having to come back from big deficits. But if the Tide are in the game in the fourth quarter, that’s their comfort zone. They don’t get rattled, and Milroe has delivered in pressure-packed situations. — Chris Low
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 3 Texas
CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl
When: Monday, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET
Where: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Key player: WR Rome Odunze
Even as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. generated Heisman Trophy consideration, Odunze has always been the Huskies’ best player. Whenever the team has needed a big play, Odunze has gotten the call. It happened, most notably, in the final minutes against Oregon in the regular season, when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown. And then, again, in the Apple Cup when he took an end around to pick up a monumental first down on fourth-and-1 from the Huskies’ 29-yard line. Odunze finished the regular season No. 4 in the country in receiving yards (1,326), No. 6 in receiving touchdowns (13) and is sure to be one of the first receivers off the board in the upcoming NFL draft.
X factor: RB Dillon Johnson
As teams devoted more effort to stopping the Huskies’ prolific passing offense as the season went along, Johnson became a more valuable asset. He rushed for 615 of his 961 regular-season yards over the last five games with seven touchdowns in that span. The Mississippi State transfer ran 28 times for 152 yards and two scores to help take down the Ducks on Friday night and should be a key factor in this game.
How Washington wins: Penix finds his early-season form
At the halfway point of the season, Michael Penix Jr. was the clear Heisman front-runner. He had the numbers. He passed the eye test. There wasn’t anything, it seemed, that could slow him down. But as the season went along, something felt off. He was still good enough to lead the Huskies to a 12-0 mark and ranked No. 2 in passing yards (3,899), but his accuracy regressed and the big plays weren’t as plentiful. When he’s at his best, though, Washington can beat anyone, as evidenced by the Huskies’ 34-31 win over the Ducks on Friday, when Penix threw for 319 yards and a score. — Kyle Bonagura
Key player: DL T’Vondre Sweat
Sweat came back for a super senior year to try to help Texas complete its turnaround. It’s fair to say that decision has been a massive success, as Sweat became a force in the interior as the Big 12 defensive player of the year and helped the Longhorns win the conference championship. At 6-4 and 362 pounds, Sweat is literally a massive piece of the Texas defense. But as big as he is, he’s so quick and agile that he wreaks havoc even on passing plays, despite having just two sacks on the season, because he draws so much attention that it frees up other players, including 6-1, 308-pound Byron Murphy II, who plays next to Sweat and was the league’s defensive lineman of the year. In the conference championship, Sweat even added a touchdown reception and a Heisman pose. The man contains multitudes.
X factor: TE Ja’Tavion Sanders
With the addition of Adonai Mitchell as a receiving threat opposite Xavier Worthy, Sanders has seen a dip in his production, with a few nagging injuries also a factor. Last season, he caught 54 passes for 613 yards and 5 TDs; this year he settled for 31 catches, 502 yards and one score in the regular season. But at 6-4, 243, Sanders is a nightmare matchup for linebackers and a big target for quarterback Quinn Ewers. He can be a key outlet, particularly near the goal line, where Texas has struggled for most of the season, ranking 104th nationally in red zone offense. Sanders averaged 4.2 catches per game last year, down to 2.6 this year. Entering the Big 12 championship game, he’d caught five passes in a game only twice this year, and both times he went over 100 yards, including 114 yards against Alabama. But against Oklahoma State on Saturday, he had a season-high eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Sanders could be the cure for the Longhorns’ woes in the end zone if they keep him going, particularly with Worthy’s ankle injury suffered against OSU adding concern.
How Texas wins: The offensive line protects Quinn Ewers
The Longhorns have the heft along both lines to match up with pretty much anyone, but with Jonathon Brooks, who had 1,138 yards in 10 games, lost for the season, they’ll have to find a back to make the running game a factor. But it will take a strong performance from quarterback Quinn Ewers and the passing game to key the Texas attack. If the offensive line can protect Ewers and keep him upright, the Longhorns have the speed to make big plays on the outside and the offense has shown the potential to deliver when it’s needed most. — Dave Wilson
Michigan, Washington, Texas, Alabama reach CFP
The Wolverines and Huskies as undefeated conference champions were considered virtual shoo-ins to make the CFP. Michigan is in the playoff for the third straight year. Washington, on the other hand, has been in the CFP only once before, losing in the semifinals in the 2016 season.
The path to the playoff was a bit murkier for Texas and Alabama.
Texas is back in the running for the national championship after booking its first trip to the playoff. Led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, the Longhorns went 12-1 and won the Big 12 championship in their first appearance in the conference title game. Texas’ lone loss came at the hand of Oklahoma in the Red River rivalry game. Both schools will head to the SEC after this season, but the Longhorns already got an SEC boost this year. Texas notched perhaps the biggest win of the college football season by going on the road in September and beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama proved that one big win can sometimes make up for one early loss. The Crimson Tide are in the playoff a day after ending Georgia’s 29-game, 728-day winning streak with a 27-24 victory in the SEC championship game. Nick Saban’s squad faced challenges atypical for Alabama, losing at home to Texas in the second game of the season and otherwise scuffling through the early part of the schedule. Part of the issue was uncertainty at quarterback. Jalen Milroe started and finished the season as the team’s top QB, but both Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner were given chances to take control of the position in Tommy Rees’ first year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Bama will now have a chance to win its fourth College Football Playoff national championship in the final year of the four-team format.
Alabama’s win Saturday ended Georgia’s pursuit of a third straight national championship. The Bulldogs had won 29 straight games, but Saturday’s ill-timed loss to Alabama in the SEC title game left Georgia on the outside looking in. As a result, the Bulldogs become the first No. 1 team in the penultimate CFP rankings to fall out of the top four after losing in Championship Week.
Florida State won its conference championship game after an undefeated regular season, but becomes the first unbeaten Power 5 champ to miss out on the CFP, a decision that rankled ACC commissioner Jim Phillips.
“It’s unfathomable that Florida State, an undefeated Power Five conference champion, was left out of the College Football Playoff,” Phillips said in a statement Sunday. “Their exclusion calls into question the selection process and whether the Committee’s own guidelines were followed, including the significant importance of being an undefeated Power Five conference champion. My heart breaks for the talented FSU student-athletes and coaches and their passionate and loyal fans. Florida State deserved better. College football deserved better.”
The committee seemed to focus on how competitive the Seminoles would be in the playoff without quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in mid-November. FSU started backup Tate Rodemaker in its regular-season finale victory over Florida, but a concussion kept him out of the ACC title game. That forced coach Mike Norvell to go with freshman Brock Glenn on Saturday, a win over Louisville in which the Noles’ defense led the way.
Washington will play Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, while Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential. Both semifinal games will be played on New Year’s Day and aired on ESPN.
The CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T will be played Monday, Jan. 8 on ESPN.
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