When they were coaching at schools about four hours apart, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn faced off only once, some 2,000 miles away in the Rose Bowl for the last BCS national championship.
Now with Fisher moving on to Texas A&M, they will meet every year as colleagues in the West Division of the SEC starting Saturday in Auburn.
Kickoff for the No. 20 Aggies (5-3, 3-2 SEC) and unranked Tigers (5-3, 2-3) is noon ET on ESPN.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Fisher and his wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig. Fisher was an Auburn assistant in the 1990s. Craig is a former Auburn quarterback whose name is scattered throughout the school record book, including marks for most yards passing in a season (3,277 in 1997) and consecutive games with a touchdown pass in a season (eight) and career (13).
Asked for his memories of Craig, Fisher responded, “I got a lot of ’em.
“I coached him and recruited him. He was one of the great players in history.”
Fisher also has fond memories of his time on The Plains, but as he noted with Craig, it will be his business now to defeat the Tigers.
The matchup is one featuring a team apparently on the rise in the Aggies, whose spot in the initial College Football Playoff rankings was somewhat of a surprise, and another trying to claw back to respectability and write a more pleasant ending to what will go down as a disappointing season for the Tigers.
They were thinking playoff and SEC title when they started the season with a win over a highly regarded Washington team, but an early loss to LSU and later losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee squashed that dream.
But just as a big finish last year served as a springboard to a West Division title, the Tigers this year are hoping a similar November will take some of the sting out of the disappointment.
“For us, obviously last year November was huge,” Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. “We didn’t know exactly how it was going to turn out, obviously, but we just really came together the entire month and played really well each week.
“It started off with A&M last year and obviously it starts off with A&M this week. I think you can take a lot from it, last year’s experience, and I know our guys are excited about it and ready for the challenge.”
The Tigers got a bit of respect back with a 31-16 victory at Ole Miss before taking last Saturday off in advance of this week’s home game against the Aggies.
“The off week went very well,” Malzahn said. “I think we accomplished all of our goals — more than anything, I think just to get physically and mentally refreshed. We got a chance to work on ourselves and then get a head start on Texas A&M, which definitely is much needed.
“Probably more than anything is evaluating us, and getting a chance to work on us, and clean some things up really in all three phases that can help us the last four weeks.
“And then, of course, any time you get an extra couple days on your opponent, that really helps. Got a chance to watch them play on Saturday, so it was good to get a head start on that, too.”
The extra time may not get running back JaTarvious Whitlow back on the field, however. The talented Auburn redshirt freshman and team’s leading rusher is dealing with shoulder and leg injuries. He needs 374 yards to give Auburn a 1,000-yard rusher for a 10th consecutive season.
The Aggies are coming off a 28-13 loss at Mississippi State that snapped their winning streak at three games. Led by quarterback Kellen Mond (254 yards a game passing) and running back Trayveon Williams (824 yards rushing, second in the SEC), the Aggies are the fourth-most productive team in the SEC in yards (462.5 per game) but only No. 7 in scoring (29.9)
“We don’t have issues moving the football,” Fisher said. “We’ve just got to finish.”