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College Sports: Back in Florida, Jimbo Fisher understands what a Gator Bowl win vs. NC State could could signify for Texas A&M 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The last time Jimbo Fisher was at the Gator Bowl, he was preparing for the next step in his career.

When Florida State met West Virginia to cap the 2009 season, Fisher was getting ready to take the reins of the Seminoles’ program from head coach Bobby Bowden, who was wrapping up a storied 34-year career.

Eight seasons later, Fisher is back in Jacksonville and on the verge of another significant career milestone. On Monday, Fisher will lead No. 19 Texas A&M against N.C. State to cap his first season with the Aggies.

During the final news conference before A&M’s first Gator Bowl since 1957, Fisher said he had no set schedule of where the Aggies (8-4) needed to be after his opening year in College Station. However, he understood what a win over the Wolfpack signifies.

A&M hasn’t been ranked in the final Associated Press poll since 2013. That was also the last time the Aggies won more than eight games in a season.

They have a chance to void both of those stats and show tangible evidence that the program is trending upward under Fisher.

“If you’re in the top 20, that’s great,” Fisher said Sunday. “Top 15, top 20 — heck, you want to win the whole thing. This game is an important game in that regard.”

However, Fisher also added that the results aren’t always the most important thing during a coach’s first season. He said establishing expectations and the proper culture are two of the things he wanted to accomplish in his first season.

But Fisher knows the results must come eventually, especially when A&M’s administrators expect a national championship from the coach they hired to a 10-year deal that features a guaranteed $75 million in base salary.

In the regular season, A&M showed glimpses of where the program could go under Fisher.

The Aggies closed the regular season with a win over No. 11 LSU in a seven-overtime thriller, A&M’s first victory against the Tigers since it joined the SEC. When the final College Football Playoff ranking was released at the end of the regular season, the Aggies were included for the first time since the CFP debuted in 2014.

Another baby step toward building a title contender could come with a win over N.C. State, a team looking to accomplish its own notable milestones. The Wolfpack (9-3) is looking for its first 10-win season since 2002, a year that ended with a Gator Bowl.

N.C. State junior wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said the game against an SEC opponent also serves as a measuring stick for a program looking to gain a little respect.

“We want to treat every game the same, but I mean, a chance to get that recognition and show everybody that we deserve the same hype that other people are getting, I feel like that’s major to us,” Meyers said.

Because of the significance a victory could have for both programs, it adds a little intrigue to one of the oldest bowl games in college football. In addition to the long-term implications, A&M is looking to snap a three-game bowl skid.

“I’ve been saying since before we came here, I feel like everybody deserves to experience a bowl win in their college football career,” A&M senior defensive end Landis Durahm said. “I’m trying to get mine.”

Durham and the rest of the outgoing players could also establish the foundation of a program that yearns to be one of the best in the SEC. A win in the Gator Bowl and a ranked finish could foreshadow what to expect from A&M in the coming years.

“I think we’re putting a great foundation down for our understanding of what we do,” Fisher said.

Twitter: @Ben_Baby

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