One and done
Auburn went 3-9 this season and fired coach Gene Chizik. Having covered Auburn in 1998 -- when Terry Bowden was forced out -- I know how miserable things can be on The Plains when football fortunes are flagging.
Folks at Auburn so very much want their football program to be a national power on an annual basis that even food tastes bad when the Tigers are losing. That includes barbecue and sausage gravy.
Of course, back in the late 1990s, Alabama wasn't rolling along atop college football with a glowering Nick Saban making like Bear Bryant II, so maybe I don't know the true depths of the present misery.
Yet here's what I would tell Auburn fans to do before you hire a new coach and inject some renewed hope and optimism into your lives that likely will again melt and resolve itself into a dew: Dust off the copy of your 2010 national championship video and watch it again. And again. And again.
You'll always have Glendale. Here's looking at you, Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That sounds like the sort of poetry talk that could get a fella slugged at a sports bar, but I do know it is better to have won a national championship than to have not, even if what follows thereafter is an unexpected and extended slog through mediocrity.
College football has a lot of one-hit wonders -- Maryland in 1953! -- and teams whose best days came before face masks -- let me tell you about the great football tradition at Minnesota!
But recent decades, at least before the SEC took over college football, feature a number of programs that tasted the sweet championship fruit but once, such as Clemson (1981), BYU (1984), Colorado (1990) and Washington (1991).
(I know, Huskies fans, you claim four national titles; I am too busy typing to argue.)
Those aforementioned programs have known plenty of rough times since their moment on top. Colorado just had its worst season in program history. Washington didn't post a winning season from 2003 to 2009. Clemson has been up-and-down since the Danny Ford era. It averaged five losses per season from 2000 to 2010. BYU, other than a losing lull from 2002 to 2005, has posted several nice seasons since its title, but it has not been a serious national title contender since 1984.
The question for those teams -- and for Auburn -- is, would you trade that national title to escape all downturns? Would you trade experiencing a fleeting moment of No. 1 for winning eight to 10 games a year, guaranteed, but with no hope for a title? You might want to check in with Buffalo Bills fans about the 1990s.
We play sports for many reasons, and there is plenty of cuddly talk about the real meaning being "how you play the game." All that "doing your best" stuff.
It's about winning. It's about standing atop the mountain and looking down at everyone else.
So know that it is far better to suffer the slings and arrows of sporting misfortune and live through that sublime experience of championship glory than it is to wallow in a gentle hum of consistent, moderate success.
Built to last
Sure, Virginia Tech fans probably are disappointed that the Hokies finished 6-6 this season.
Virginia Tech's .500 campaign ended its string of eight consecutive seasons with 10 victories or more, which was the longest such streak in the country.
But isn't it better than finishing 3-9?
The Hokies have been the model of consistency under coach Frank Beamer, who has guided them to 215 victories, nine conference championships and six BCS bowl games in his 26 seasons as coach of his alma mater.
The Hokies came close to winning a national championship only once, losing to Florida State 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl after the 1999 season.
But Virginia Tech playing in a bowl game at season's end has become as predictable as BCS controversies and the Big Ten laying an egg on New Year's Day.
Virginia Tech fans know their holidays are always going to include a trip to a bowl game, and that's a heck of a lot better than most programs.
Auburn finished 14-0 and won a BCS national championship in 2010. The Tigers went 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC two seasons later, and coach Gene Chizik was fired on Sunday.
It's a lot more difficult to construct a program that is built to last rather than a championship team that puts everything together over the course of four months and then collapses when a few star players leave.
Until now, Georgia hasn't come close to sniffing a national championship since 1980. But the Bulldogs have played in 15 consecutive bowl games and haven't missed the postseason since they finished 5-6 in 1996. Georgia Tech also has played in a 15 straight bowl games without breaking through college football's highest ceiling.
Programs like Wisconsin, Boise State, West Virginia, Southern Miss, Utah and BYU also have become postseason staples over the past decade. Only the Broncos and Mountaineers have come close to playing for a national championship in the past 10 years, but the rest have been among the most consistent teams in the country.
Consistency without championships often breeds impatience, but the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower guided the Golden Eagles to 10 bowl games in 11 seasons from 1997 to 2007.
Bower was forced to resign after Southern Miss finished 7-6 in 2007. School officials said Bower's program had gotten stale, so they hired a new coach to pump new life into the Golden Eagles.
Larry Fedora guided Southern Miss to a 12-2 record in his fourth season in 2011, then bolted for North Carolina.
The Golden Eagles went 0-12 this season, and coach Ellis Johnson was fired Tuesday after only one season.
Maybe Bower wasn't so bad.