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How Texas A&M, Ohio State capture the absurdity that college football expectations have reached in 2023

The 2023-’24 college football coaches carousel is moving with the Texas A&M Aggies firing coach Jimbo Fisher and replacing him with Mike Elko. Amid growing calls for Ohio State Buckeyes coach Ryan Day to be fired, it’s worth addressing the alarming point college football expectations have reached around the country.

In the last two years alone, schools have spent more than $150 million on coaches buyouts. With the expansion of the College Football Playoff in 2024 to 12 teams, many schools and fan bases will be setting their expectations even higher.

Related: 2023 college football rankings

While Ohio State and Texas A&M aren’t alone in having unattainable expectations, the Buckeyes and Aggies represent two of the latest instances of schools, boosters and fans losing touch with reality.

Ryan Day, Ohio State and the downside of unreasonable expectations

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At the end of the 2023 college football regular season, Ryan Day had the second-highest winning percentage (.889) in Buckeyes’ history, ahead of legends like Woody Hayes (.731), Jim Tressel (.828) and John Cooper (.715). If Day met the 10-season minimum, he would have the highest winning percentage in college football coaching history.

Related: Heisman Watch

Under Day, the Buckeyes have earned a spot in the College Football Playoff in three of six seasons as head coach. The only coaches with more CFP appearances (Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley have been coaching for much longer.

Yet, after a third consecutive loss to the Michigan Wolverines, there are calls for Day to be fired. The head coach who took over as the successor for Urban Meyer, one of the greatest coaches in college football history, has done what almost no other successor in any sport outside of rare exceptions (Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana to Steve Young, David Robinson to Tim Duncan).

Yes, Day is 1-3 against the Wolverines. The Ohio State vs Michigan rivalry is important to the history of both programs and it means everything to the fans. If all that matters to Buckeye Nation is beating Michigan, there’s a price to pay for those college football expectations.

During that 7-0 run by Meyer against Michigan from 2012-’18, the Buckeyes had a .905 winning percentage compared to the Wolverines’ .644 mark. He took advantage of a Michigan program under Brady Hoke that took Jim Harbaugh multiple years to rebuild. Importantly, Harbaugh started out 0-5 against the Buckeyes. Michigan gave him time and was rewarded.

Putting aside the fact that Harbaugh could leave for the NFL, which would be devastating for the Wolverines’ football program, firing Day is short-sighted for another reason. It puts Ohio State at risk of falling into the same downward spiral that has swept up other programs that had sky-high college football expectations.

After posting a 158-48 record (.767) with Mack Brown, a winning percentage weighed down by his final years, the Texas Longhorns burned through Charlie Strong and Tom Herman, recording only one season with double-digit wins. Finally, after going 13-1 in 2009, Texas is finally back in 2023.

Since Meyer left the University of Florida, the Gators are now on their fourth head coach since 2011 and they haven’t won an SEC Championship Game. After Pete Carroll (.836 winning percentage) joined the NFL, the USC Trojans have spent more than $160 million on head coaches and staff since 2010. Over that span, USC is 103- 62 (.624) with one conference title.

Who would even replace Day? Mike Vrabel is very comfortable as an NFL head coach, a job he could keep for years. Even if he considered leaving the highest ranks to coach his alma mater, there are major risks in hiring a coach whose only college coaching experience came as a position coach (2011-’13). As for Meyer, he’ll be 60 in July and his reputation after leaving the NFL could easily follow him back to college with the next wave of stars from high school remembering how he treated professional athletes and coaches who worked with him.

If that’s what Ohio State fans want to sign up for, they need to be prepared for the real risk that the Buckeyes’ football program becomes a shell of what it is now. If fans thought losing to Michigan three years in a row sucks, imagine perennial seasons with single-digit wins.

The national champion of unrealistic college football expectations

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M
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Texas A&M has earned its reputation for having one of the most passionate fan bases in college football, with the “Home of the 12th Man” creating a stadium atmosphere like few others around the country. The Aggies’ athletic department also has backing from boosters with some of the deepest pockets in the country, creating one of the NCAA’s most lucrative NIL programs and providing a massive budget for the football coaching staff.

However, expectations can’t be shaped entirely by fandom and financial resources. When you look at the history of the Aggies’ football program, nothing about it equates to the incredibly high college football expectations and reputation this program gives itself.

Texas A&M football history

DecadeRecordConference TitlesNational Titles
1960s31-64-6 (.307)20
1970s65-49 (.570)20
198071-44-1 (.612)30
1990s94-28-2 (.758)10
2000s63-59 (.516)00
2010s84-46 (.646)00
2020s29-17 (.630)00
Statistics via College Football Reference

Of the 20 claimed conference championships by Texas A&M’s football program, none have come in the SEC and the Aggies only won the Big 12 outright once (1998). Outside of that, Texas A&M’s storied history of championship success came from the Southwest Conference.

Of the 17 SWC titles, five were shared with co-champions and eight of those conference championships came before 1960, with another four occurring before 1980. In the last 30 years, A&M has had one conference title.

The Aggies are a perennial eight-win team that can at times run into a 10- or 11-win season when a few things go their way and they have a good coaching staff with a quality quarterback. Of course, it’s also worth examining how coaches have performed with the Aggies versus elsewhere.

  • Bear Bryant with Alabama Crimson Tide: 232-46 (.824), 6 national titles
  • Bear Bryant with Texas A&M: 25-14-2 (.634)

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  • Jimbo Fisher with Florida State: 83-23 (.783), 1 national title
  • Jimbo Fisher with Texas A&M: 46-26, .639

Fisher, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Sherman, Dennis Franchione and even the legendary R.C. Slocum were fired for failing to reach the unattainable expectations the Aggies have for their football team. Bear Bryant knew the Aggies had a ceiling and left for Alabama.

This is who Texas A&M is. No matter the amount of money poured into the program, the Aggies are a perennial eight-win team with a slightly higher ceiling. Fisher was rightfully fired for not meeting that mark, but A&M will keep burning $100-plus million on football coaches if it doesn’t accept reality. This is a good job that obviously pays well, but it’s not a top-15 job.

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