Strange Bedfellows: Why the SEC Needs Florida State

You could sense it.  Feel it.  Though there is no academic way to prove it, it is likely that approximately 90 percent of the college football nation was beginning to feel uneasy…sort of sickening.  Like realizing that Einhorn is a man!  They knew, probably after the 68-yard touchdown strike, that the game was not going to end up the way they were wishing…praying.  But, they knew…like Josh in Searching for Bobby Fischer.  They knew that Louisville had already lost…the Cards just didn’t know it yet.

Drowning in tears, the country saw the Florida State Seminoles win another game.  It is apparent, given the amount of support seen for Notre Dame and now Bobby Petrino’s team, that Florida State has replaced Alabama as the most reviled team in college football.  Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel wrote an excellent piece on Coach Jimbo Fisher, and how while he is respected as a coach and a recruiter, Fisher’s handling of issues in Tallahassee have left his team marked as arguably the most hated team in the U.S.

Nowhere is this hatred more galvanized than in SEC country.  The hatred SEC fans harbor for Florida State likely began with the university shunning SEC overtures to join the conference in the early 1990s.  Many saw the Seminoles’ dominance to be a product of a weak conference, ironically similar to the run Boise State produced in the WAC.  This perception was even echoed when former coach Bobby Bowden opined that Florida State should remain in the ACC due to its “weakness.”  While the overtures then were mostly from the Big 12, Bowden’s notion that the Seminoles could win championships in the ACC because other conferences were “stronger” only reinforces the ACC stereotype.

Nevertheless, choosing to go to and remain in a perceived weaker conference creates a sour taste in the mouths of SEC fans.  After all, the SEC is God’s gift to the modern college football world.  Why the heck would any team NOT want to join the SEC?  This shunning allowed tFSU to dominate the ACC and have a clearer track to potential championships.  Of course, this was always examined by SEC fans through the lens of the SEC.  What they saw was a talented Florida State team that was mostly buoyed by the weak competition in the ACC.  The accolades were “tarnished” in the eyes of SEC fan as the Seminoles earned them against inferior competition.

How happy SEC fan must have been when Florida State was struggling during the end of the Bowden era!  Florida State shut out at home to Wake Forest?  That had to make SEC fan grin from ear to ear.  All the while the SEC was beginning its reign of dominance, starting with the Seminoles’ bitter rival — the Florida Gators.  From the 2006 season until the 2013 season, the SEC dominated the BCS.  During this reign of terror, the SEC went 7-1 in the BCS Championship game.  That one loss?  Well, that occurred against another SEC foe when Alabama defeated LSU in a somewhat controversial rematch.  So, for SEC fans, that “loss” was not really a loss for the SEC since it came against another SEC team.  In the other six matchups, the SEC defeated the Big Ten (twice), the Big 12 (twice), the Pac 10, and even an Independent for good measure.

The only two “power” conferences that the SEC did not destroy were the ACC and Big East.  But those were weak conferences.  Who cares about those posers?  Yes, life was pretty swell for the SEC.

Then, a resurrection.  Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee and since 2010 has gone 5-1 against SEC opponents.  The rise of the Seminoles was nearly complete in 2012 before Fisher suffered his only loss against an SEC foe — a 37-26 loss to the Florida Gators.  Still, the SEC was put on notice.  And, in 2013, the Seminoles stormed through the ACC on the way to the BCS Championship Game.  There was no doubting that tFSU was a talented team, but the old questions of the weak ACC reemerged.  And, while there was chatter that a battle between Alabama and Florida State would be lopsided, Auburn happened and changed the course of history.

Early in the BCS Game, it appeared that the perception that Florida State — and by extension the ACC — was no match for the SEC was going to prove true.  Auburn raced out to a lead.  But, the Seminoles withstood the flurry and came out victorious.  The mighty SEC struck out.

I see you hatin' over there, SEC fans.

I see you hatin’ over there, SEC fans.

Since the clock hit zero, SEC fans have been waiting for tFSU to get what’s coming to them — a loss to prove they are inferior.  Something needs to happen to the Seminoles for pulling the mask off of the SEC and exposing it.  They needed to pay.  And, for SEC fan, the only way for this to happen is for the Seminoles to falter; to lose.  While the rest of country might be pulling against the Seminoles because of the handling of the off of the field issues, the SEC Nation is dying to see Florida State lose to anyone.  It led to them supporting Clemson, only to after-the-fact call the Tigers overrated since they did not fulfill the deed.  It led to rooting for Notre Dame.  Imagining Alabama fans rooting for the Fighting Irish would make Bear Bryant weep into his Houndstooth hat.  And, then there was the backing of Bobby Petrino, who to some is the epitome of the sketchy football coach.

But, unfortunately for SEC fans, Florida State found a way.  And as the wins keep piling up, the anger in SEC fans burns brighter.  And they glance at the remaining schedule to see where Florida State could falter; what team could keep the Seminoles from making the pseudo-playoffs?  It is looking grim.  Colonel Reb is cryin’.

But why?  Why are SEC fans so desirous for the Seminoles to lose?  Well, the belief is rooted in the notion that the ACC is weak and therefore Florida State is weak.  We’ve touched on this before with Boise State and the WAC — a dominant team is a dominant team regardless of its conference affiliation.  But, there is something about the Seminoles beating the SEC that has them pissed off.  Losing to Ohio State or Oklahoma or Oregon?  Though SEC fans would not be happy, they could likely stomach those teams winning.  However,  for the ACC and Florida State to be the one to end the SEC’s dominance?  A team from a basketball conference?  What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?

Thus, for SEC fans, they need Florida State to lose.  You see, when the Seminoles lose, it will (re)balance the universe.  According to the SEC narrative, in order to return the SEC to its “rightful place” as the king of college football, the ACC and Florida State must be placed back into its inferior position.  But, until tFSU loses, the world is out of whack.  And the more Florida State wins, the more the knife twists.  Hence, the deep-rooted hatred for Florida State and the desire to see them lose.

However, it appears that SEC fans are missing the point.  Or, at least, approaching this situation the wrong way.  Florida State took what was the SEC’s — college football dominance.  The Seminoles beat an SEC team and took home the crown.  Now the Seminoles are rulers of the college football landscape.  If the Seminoles were to lose to an ACC team, it will NOT prove that the SEC is once again the dominant conference.  At best, it will “prove” how weak Florida State must be since they cannot beat a “weak” ACC team.  But, even then it is a stretch.  What it really does is muddy the water.  And, by no means does it reassert the SEC’s dominance.  If anything, it continues to signal its decline as the team that ended the reign is losing to ACC foes.  What does that make the SEC now?

The reality is that the SEC needs Florida State.  The SEC needs the Seminoles to make the College Football Playoff.  Sure, SEC fan would be satisfied with Florida taking out the Seminoles — a weak SEC team beating tFSU.  But, the better way for the SEC to reassert its dominance is to have its best beat the Seminoles.  Alabama?  Auburn?  Georgia?  Mississippi?  Mississippi State?  Does not matter.  It must be an SEC team that does it.  This is not a proxy war where others need to take out Florida State.  To paraphrase former President Lyndon Johnson, the SEC doesn’t need to send ACC teams to do what SEC teams ought to be doing for itself.  The SEC cannot even have the Seminoles lose in the “Playoff” to a team from another conference.  The SEC must do this and do it alone.

It certainly makes for strange bedfellows.  The SEC knows that they will have at least one team in the pseudo-playoff.  But they need to be hoping that Florida State makes it as well, rather than praying for the Seminoles to falter.  Because until an SEC conquers the Seminoles, Florida State will continue to parade around with the SEC’s manhood.

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