CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nobody plays defense like the Southeastern Conference. Remember that?
For years, the SEC — its coaches, players and fans — have crowed about the kind of physical, smothering defense that gets played in their conference.
It has been repeated so many times it’s just considered conventional wisdom at this point. The SEC is where the defense is played. That’s been a college football fact for at least the past half-decade.
Saturday seriously challenged that assertion. On a day when the chest-pumping defensive denizens of the SEC gave up over 100 combined points in their conference championship game, the defense that most resembled a traditional SEC unit was Florida State’s in a 45-7 victory.
And that’s exactly how Jimbo Fisher wants it. When Fisher arrived in Tallahassee in 2007, he bore witness to the decline of the Seminoles’ once-vaunted defense under Mickey Andrews.
Andrews’ units had been the class of college football in the 90’s — back in FSU’s heyday — and they were one of the first things to go at the end of the Bobby Bowden era.
When Fisher took over as the coach of the Seminoles following their disastrous 7-6 season in 2009, he inherited a defense that had statistically been one of the worst in Florida State history.
He set to work rebuilding it using a familiar template — the SEC’s.
Before coming to FSU, Fisher had worked for Nick Saban and Les Miles at LSU. He had seen first-hand how to construct a powerhouse defensive unit. He had won a national title with one. Now he has built that kind of defense at FSU.
Gradually, over the course of the past four years, Fisher has stocked the Florida State cupboard with some of the best defensive recruits in the country. As the program has inched back toward the kind of dominance it displayed during its heyday, FSU’s defense has inched back to that level of dominance, too.
Last season, FSU won 12 games for just the second time in school history. The Noles won the ACC, won the Orange Bowl and finished with the second-ranked defense in the nation.
But they lost seven players to the NFL Draft. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was hired by Kentucky. But just as you would expect from an Alabama or an LSU, FSU never skipped a beat.
This season, FSU has the No. 1 scoring defense in the country and it has a national-best 25 interceptions.
Not surprisingly, defense was what kept Florida State afloat early on against Duke on Saturday.
With Jameis Winston struggling and the Seminoles held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time in 15 games, it was FSU’s defense that stood tall.
Next month, the Seminoles will play for the last BCS championship that will ever be awarded. And they will do it with an SEC-type defense.