Auburn was firing and hiring coaches this time a year ago after going 3-9. A year later, the 12-1 Tigers beat Missouri 59-42 on Saturday for their third victory in five tries at the SEC Championship Game.
That victory, coupled with Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten final, earned Auburn a shot at Florida State in the Bowl Championship Series national title game Jan. 6, making it five consecutive years that either Auburn or Alabama has played in the game.
That would cover the last five years of the BCS, which goes away in favor of a four-team playoff after this season.
Auburn and Alabama have also combined to win four of the past five SEC titles.
As for Alabama, the 11-1 Tide will play in its fifth BCS bowl in six years, including three victories in the BCS final over a four-year span. Alabama will play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville State (11-3) is still playing football. The Gamecocks beat McNeese State 31-10 in a second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game Saturday at Lake Charles, La.
Over the past two Saturdays, JSU has picked up its first two playoff victories since leaving Division II in 1992 and won them by a combined score of 86-24. They will play at Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals.
Oh, and JSU was firing and hiring this time a year ago, too.
Alabama, Auburn and JSU are a combined 34-5. Did I mention what a remarkable season this is in our little corner of America’s college football capital?
Alabama: Dealing with it
Of course, it doesn’t feel so remarkable in Alabama’s camp.
The Tide, having won two straight national titles, held the nation’s No. 1 ranking from preseason until losing to rival Auburn in the regular-season finale, so a BCS bowl feels more like a consolation prize.
The question becomes, will the Tide handle disappointment like 2008 or 2010?
In 2008, Alabama entered the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game undefeated and leading Florida. The Tide wound up 12-1 and playing Utah in the Sugar Bowl, and we all know how that turned out.
Alabama was No. 1 for the first six weeks of 2010 but lost three regular-season games and wound up playing Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Remembering the lessons of 2008, the Tide put on a dominating show and went on to win the next two national titles.
Once again, Alabama’s postseason is not about winning a national title -- it’s about setting a tone for future seasons.
Unlike in 2008, Alabama will have a name-brand opponent to fill in the motivation gaps.
Auburn: Wanna bet?
Auburn will open as a 7-point underdog against Florida State, according to pregame.com. Some offshore books have Auburn at minus-8 to minus-9.5.
The Tigers are 5-0 against the spread as an underdog and won four of those games outright, but Florida State has dominated a weaker schedule. That’s what odds makers see.
We’ve seen the Tigers assert its run-oriented, hurry-up, no-huddle offense against the SEC’s top run defenses, but recent dramatic finishes have more shaped the view of Auburn outside of its base.
Auburn ran itself into position for its breaks. Through Saturday’s games, Auburn leads the nation in rushing offense at 335.7 yards a game, and this after coming through an SEC schedule.
The 545 rushing yards Auburn mounted Saturday dropped Missouri from 14th to 47th nationally against the run. Missouri’s per-game average dipped from 119.1 to 151.8 rushing yards allowed.
Florida State dropped from 13th to 14th against the run after Saturday’s games. Alabama, which gave up 296 rushing yards to Auburn, dropped from 10th to 11th.
Florida State quarterback and likely Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will have a big day against Auburn’s defense, but there’s no reason to think Auburn can’t play its game.
Expect a high-scoring game in Pasadena, closer than odds makers think.
While JSU didn’t come into this season from depths Auburn experienced in 2012, there’s a developing sense of parallel between their two seasons.
Head coaches were fired -- Auburn’s Gene Chizik after a sudden, sharp downturn and JSU’s Jack Crowe after years of not quite getting over the hump.
Both teams hired coaches not long from the high school ranks that wanted to bring fast-paced offenses. Auburn’s offense has done its thing under Gus Malzahn, and JSU’s set a school record for total yards during the regular season.
Auburn’s defense wakes up in the fourth quarter, and JSU’s defense has gotten hottest in the playoffs. The Gamecocks mounted 11 sacks against the No. 6 national seed on Saturday.
Both teams have gone farther than anyone dreamed in preseason. JSU was picked fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference, which wouldn’t be good enough for the playoffs most years. The Gamecocks eked into an expanded field this year as the OVC’s third entry.
Auburn has a date to play for a national title on its level. JSU stands three playoff victories away from winning one in a division where improbable runs happen.
What’s more, JSU, like Auburn, looks to be playing its best football at just the right time.
Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.