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FSU and Clemson aren’t ‘built like SEC teams.’ They’re better.

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Roughly 13 of 14 SEC teams would trade situations with either ACC power.

The ACC’s last two national title games
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At SEC Media Days, Nick Saban said this as a compliment toward his season-opening opponent, and it should be taken as such.

Florida State, especially, is built like an SEC team, you know, like our teams. You think of Florida State, you think of fast, explosive players, which they have a lot of. But they are also a big, physical, play great defense, tough, you know, team. And I think it's probably Jimbo [Fisher]'s experience in this league that sort of why he built his team that way.

Praising good teams that play tough defense, have balanced offenses, and have rabid fan bases as being “built like SEC teams” has long been a thing, especially when it comes to Clemson and Florida State. They’re nearby national champs who have ties to the SEC via rivalries, coaching histories, and cultures. We’ve used a version of the phrase ourselves, to describe the ACC’s 2017 season as likely being more defense-focused than usual.

There’s nothing insulting or offensive about saying Clemson and FSU are like SEC teams.

Saban’s citing the conference brand that he (and Urban Meyer, some older coaches, and a few other top coaches) built, and lots of people have made these comparisons as praise before. Some Clemson and FSU fans describe their programs as being more SEC than ACC.

It’s just not technically accurate.

They’re not like average SEC teams. They’re like SEC elites. The SEC’s been able to brand those two terms as synonymous, but they’re not.

How many SEC teams would trade their 2013-to-2018 circumstances with either Clemson or FSU? All except Bama?

  • Non-Bama SEC teams have won one title since 2008. Clemson and FSU have titles within the last four years, each winning double-digit games in six of the last seven years.
  • Plenty of non-Bama SEC teams have simply been bad. FSU and Clemson have no recent losses to The Citadel, Georgia Southern, Indiana, Middle Tennessee State, Rutgers, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Temple, Toledo, WKU, or WKU again, as SEC members have since 2013.
  • FSU and Clemson have two of the country’s four best head coaches, plus the country’s best defensive coordinator. Who’s the SEC’s second-best coach? Dan Mullen? Gus Malzahn? Kevin Sumlin? B- ... Butch Jones? I’m sorry.
  • The SEC (counting Bama) is still the best overall at NFL production. But three ACC teams dominated the 2015 NFL draft, FSU recently set a national record for picks in a three-year span, and Clemson topped all but one non-Bama SEC team in 2017.
  • The ACC was 2016’s best and maybe deepest conference, winning the national title, Orange Bowl, and Heisman, with few truly bad teams.
  • FSU ranks No. 4 in five-year recruiting, ahead of 12 non-Bama SEC teams, and has a good shot at 2018’s potential No. 1 recruit. Clemson’s been surging and holds commits from the other two of 2018’s top three recruits.
  • Since 2013, FSU and Clemson are 12-3 against SEC teams, including Bama, and they didn’t even get to play most of the SEC’s weaker schools.
  • FSU’s beaten Florida in six of the last seven years, with a 28-13 average score (the Gators hold the all-time edge). Clemson dominates its SEC rivalry overall, has beaten South Carolina three times in a row, and won by 49 points last year.

The Bama dynasty is the only SEC team that’s reliably been as good as or better than these two.

So the best way to compliment Clemson or FSU isn’t to say they look like SEC teams.

It’s to say they look like Alabama.