COLLEGE STATION – Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin couldn’t help but gush over Texas A & M’s No. 1 recruiting class for the 2022 season. Gush might not be the right word.
Criticizing the athletic department could be a better way to describe his thoughts.
“We don’t have the funding resources as some schools with the NIL deals. It’s like dealing with salary caps, “Kiffin said in November. “I joked I didn’t know if Texas A&M incurred a luxury tax with how much they paid for their signing class.”
Since the words left his mouth, A&M has been portrayed as a villain in college football. It only took five seasons for Jimbo Fisher to bring in the top recruiting class to Kyle Field, finally dethroning either of the usual suspects in Georgia or Alabama.
The Aggies have much to prove. They finished 8-4 on the campaign last fall and 4-4 against conference opponents. At this point, however, most players are steering into the skid and embracing being the “bad guys” of the sport.
“We have to embrace it because that’s what we’re targeted as,” receiver Ainias Smith said “Everybody looks at us as the bad guy. I honestly don’t have any problem being the bad guy. That means you’re doing something right. “
Everyone has a role in the conference. Maybe A & M’s is to play spoiler of a repeat for Georgia. Perhaps its purpose is to finally dethrone Alabama from being the consistent representation of the SEC West.
The pieces are finally in place for the Aggies to be a worthy challenger of the top programs in the country. A&M landed 12 players from YES All-American’s top 99 prospects, including five inside the top 20.
It hasn’t stopped there. The Aggies are already looking ahead to 2023 and thriving on the recruiting trail, adding prospects such as offensive tackle Colin Thompson and defensive lineman Anthony James.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep doing it and making ’em all mad,” Fisher said Tuesday.
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Fisher isn’t worried about name-calling. He’s worried about finding consistency on the football field. That starts by adding the best players to the roster to create a balanced approach year in and year out.
Look at Alabama and Georgia: should one player suffers an injury, another worthy of starting sees the field. Wash, rinse, and repeat on the way to the College Football Playoffs.
It’s not Fisher or the Aggies’ fault that the new NIL parameters have helped in recruiting.
“Those were fingers pointed right at us,” Fisher said of those blaming A&M for using the NIL to its advantage. “That’s unfair to the kids who got recruited. It’s unfair to their families. It’s unfair to the staff who recruited them and it’s unfair to Texas A&M. “
If competing with those who are synonymously known for being great makes A&M a villain, it’ll be fine. The Aggies are closing out the spring with a roster filled with starting-caliber players, some of which won’t the field until 2023 or even 2024.
Looking ahead, A&M is silent in terms of responding to the criticism of finding ways to up its credibility. It’ll let the on-field production do the talking starting on Sept. 3.
And if the Aggies become villainous along the way, so be it.
“With the recruiting class we’re getting, with the focus we’re all trying to pursue, that’s what drives us,” Smith said. “That’s going to help us become as great as we want to be.”
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