Would the expanded playoff have saved Jimbo Fisher’s job with Texas A&M football?

If Texas A&M football had made the playoff in 2020, would Jimbo still be around?
Nov 11, 2023; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher reacts to a
Nov 11, 2023; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher reacts to a / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Would an expanded playoff field have saved Jimbo Fisher’s job as Texas A&M football head coach?

Texas A&M football fans are almost uniformly of the opinion that moving on from Jimbo Fisher was the right decision. Mike Elko’s acumen that he has exhibited already has helped ease the transition immensely, such that even those who were not bullish on firing Fisher are now passengers on the Elko express.

That said, as I acknowledge here, there were those who harbored their doubts initially when Fisher was fired. The near-hire of Mark Stoops, had it actually come to fruition, would have justified many of those doubts. Luckily, though, the Aggies ended up with Elko when everything was said and done.

A question has emerged recently, however, with the discussion of the now-expanded College Football Playoff and the backdrop of the Aggies’ near miss from the field in 2020. If the playoff were expanded back then—if the Aggies end up in the field—would that have saved Jimbo’s job?

Before that question is answered, we need to take a look at what might have happened had that been the case. This moves the playoff to a four-round affair (with a first-round bye for the top four seeds) rather than the current two-round format. Because of this, there will necessarily be some guesswork at play.

Let’s rewind. Because of the 5+7 format, the top five seeds would be the five highest-rated conference champions. In 2020, the top five-ranked conference champions were #1 Alabama, #2 Clemson, #3 Ohio State, #6 Oklahoma, and #8 Cincinnati. Those would have been slotted into the top 5 spots. Then would come Notre Dame and Texas A&M. After them would come Florida, Georgia, Iowa State, Indiana, and Coastal Carolina. So here would be the first-round matchups:

  • #5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Coastal Carolina (winner faces #4 OU)
  • #6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Indiana (winner faces #3 Ohio State)
  • #7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Iowa State (winner faces #2 Clemson)
  • #8 Florida vs. #9 Georgia (winner faces #1 Alabama)

I think A&M could have dispatched Iowa State pretty handily, to be honest. That was a great Cyclones team, but with the way the Aggie OL was so dominant that year, it would have been a tall order for them to be able to withstand the A&M running game. Conversely, I don’t think ISU’s offensive style would have been able to take advantage of the defensive weaknesses the Aggies had that year.

The second round would see A&M matching up with Clemson for what would have been the third year in a row. I’m much less bullish on A&M’s chances here, but I don’t think they’re zero. 

The Tigers withered under the unrelenting pressure that the OSU deep passing game placed on them, but they had an explosive pass attack of their own that would have been troublesome for the Ags. This is just a bad style matchup for that year’s A&M team, so I’d have to say it’s unlikely they advance here.

So, what does that leave us with? If things go as I just predicted, Texas A&M football would have been 9-2 with a playoff win. Is that significantly better than 9-1 with an Orange Bowl win? I don’t think so in the slightest.

In fact, Texas A&M football, in my estimation, would have not only had to beat Clemson but Ohio State in the following round, making the national title game, for Fisher to be retained. That’s really the only thing that could be such a feather in his cap so as to counteract some of what was going on at the time he was fired.

The unraveling of the program that took place in 2022 and 2023 was rapid and largely unaffected by the results of the 2020 season. Simply making the playoff is not itself an achievement, even in the 4-team era. An Orange Bowl championship is not an insignificant thing. If anything, making a 12-team field in 2020 would have, in the final analysis, bolstered the argument for firing Fisher.