The question is absurd: can FSU – or anyone – in the ACC compete against the SEC?
I swear, sometimes I think the entire college football world is six years old. How else to explain the utter lack of memory or even perspective? Yes, the SEC is on an incredible run. And, yes, it would be foolish for anyone to deny that the SEC is on top of the college football heap. But the notion that teams might not even be able to compete against the SEC is beyond stupid, and it is silly that people ask it.
Teams from the SEC have won national championships (i.e., national champ as recognized by BCS/Coaches Poll or AP Poll) in 7 of the last 9 years (they split the title in 2003). That’s an incredible run. But if you have any kind of knowledge of the history of the game, then you know that the SEC had only won 2 national titles in the previous 22 seasons (sorry, Alabama fans, I’m talking AP or Coaches Poll/UPI only). During that same 22 year stretch programs from the current ACC won 10 national titles.
Has the rest of college football been helped through the years by the NCAA occasionally getting tough and cracking down on the SEC? Sure. The SEC was pretty much a mess of cheating scandal after cheating scandal during the 1980s and 1990s. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, that, ahem, has totally been cleaned up, of course. And the rest of college football was helped by the SEC’s segregation policies and then by the lingering legacy of segregation (my own theory is that part of the urge to cheat so egregiously from schools in the SEC and the old SWC during the 1980s came from a need to overcome the legacy of segregation and to “catch up” to northern and western schools – remember, many of the players being recruited in the 1980s were children of people that had grown up while the SEC was segregated and hostile to black players).
On the other hand, the SEC has its advantages as well. It has and spends gobs of cash to put itself at an advantage relative to the rest of college football. It benefited from population migration from the north to the south in the latter half of the 20th Century. The SEC is willing to live on the edge of the rules more so than any other conference collectively. And no major conference has bought into the practice of oversigning – a practice that is legal but of questionable ethics – quite like the SEC.
Yet, even accounting for all of the SEC’s advantages and disadvantages, there simply is no basis for even asking whether there are other programs from other conferences that are capable of competing and do compete with the very best that the SEC has to offer (i.e., the best of the SEC, not the Kentuckys and Vanderbilts) on a regular basis. FSU is one program that does it. Others that do it include USC, Texas, Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, and Notre Dame. Teams such as UCLA or Clemson could do it if they get their houses consistently in order. And, of course, in any given year there are a number of other teams that can put it all together to be the very best.
What makes the SEC the best conference is not that no other teams from other conferences can compete on a level playing field. There are plenty of other teams from other conferences that are able to compete at the level of the very best of the SEC. What makes the SEC special – at least what has made it special the last 6 or 7 years – is instead all about the number of elite programs that reside in the SEC and make a serious effort at championship football year in and year out. What makes the SEC better than the ACC is not this silly notion that there are no ACC teams that could compete with the SEC. What makes the SEC better than the ACC is that the SEC has half-a-dozen true powerhouse programs, and several more that are pretty good, and nearly the entire conference takes football seriously, while the ACC only has maybe 2-3 powerhouse programs, a couple more that are pretty good, and half a dozen teams that barely seem to care.