As Florida State's success has grown, many have comparing the Seminoles to the elite SEC teams of recent years, suggesting that Fisher has built his program according to an SEC blueprint. Fisher, however, resists the notion that he has built an SEC-style program.
''I built our program like I thought we needed to build it to win a championship,'' Fisher insists. ''We don't model ourselves after nobody. We're Florida State, we do things the way we do them and the way I think you have to play to win a championship.''
Freshman safety Jalen Ramsey reiterated this sentiment on Saturday. "You can say the SEC [is on top], but there are teams in the SEC that couldn't even step on the same field with us."
As brash as Ramsey's quote might sound, he has a point. Although comparisons to the dominant LSU and Alabama programs of the last few years are reasonable, Florida State doesn't much look like Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, or even teams toward the top of the conference like Texas A&M or title game opponent Auburn.
FSU players and coaches are ultimately reacting against the way the term "SEC-style" has come to be synonymous with "championship football" in recent years, something of a self-perpetuating victory for the Southeastern Conference marketing department.
The truth is a little more complicated. No one seriously questions that the SEC has been the nation's best conference over the past few years, but the reality is that not all championship teams from the SEC have used the same blueprint.
Of course all championship teams are outstanding on the line of scrimmage and play a physical brand of football, so that part of things is common to all SEC champions—but as Fisher points out, it is common to all championship teams, not simply those from the Southeastern Conference.
But there is no denying that the 2010 Auburn team—which was not especially strong on defense—was very different from the championship teams from LSU or Alabama, and the two Florida championship teams were different from each other. How then is it that most observers do seem to have a sense of what "SEC-style" football looks like—and associate Florida State with that stereotype?
Saban-style vs. SEC-style
At bottom, I suspect that what most people really mean when they say "SEC style" is actually Saban-style, as four of the conference's seven straight titles (and five of the conference's last eight overall) have been won by programs built by current Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
Although one of those titles was actually won by Les Miles at LSU in 2007, Miles had taken over a program Saban had already built into a monster—and with players largely recruiting by Saban and his staff. Although Miles certainly brought his own twists, the LSU program had (and in many respects, still has) Saban's fingerprints all over it.
Then, after returning to the college game to coach Alabama in 2007, Saban again built an SEC West program into a monster, winning titles in 2009, 2011, and 2012. Those two programs—and their bone-jarring rivalry—has come to define the SEC in popular consciousness over the past seven years, a timeframe perfectly coinciding with the SEC's championship run.
Nevertheless, the championships won by Urban Meyer's Florida Gators and Gene Chizik/Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers over that period did not really follow the Saban (or so-called "SEC model") aside from the excellence on the line of scrimmage shared by all championship teams.
Fisher is, of course, a Saban disciple and borrowed heavily from his mentor when rebuilding the proud Seminole program. In that sense, if one takes "SEC-style" as a euphemism for "Saban-style," it's true that Fisher's Seminoles are more of that than those Florida or Auburn teams.
But Fisher and his players are also right to point out the inadequacy of that label, since those two Saban-sculpted teams do not define the entire SEC, though they have certainly carried the conference torch more often than not over the past decade.
What Goes Around…
It's also worth remembering that not long before the recent run of SEC dominance another pair of teams—and their rivalry—dominated college football for a period twice as long as the present SEC-dominated era: Miami and Florida State.
Those programs, together with Steve Spurrier's Florida teams in the 1990s, forced the previously stodgy three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SEC to embrace the faster, more aggressive, more spread-out game dominating college football at the time.
It is no accident that the SEC's period of championship dominance arose only after Miami and Florida State abdicated their thrones with a prolonged period of mediocrity. Outstanding coaches like Saban and Meyer brought new approaches to counter some of the trends the Seminoles and Hurricanes (and Spurrier's Gators) had introduced and were also able to land players who might have wound up in Coral Gables or Tallahassee during the previous two decades.
The Seminole Blueprint
Fisher's Bowden-influenced offensive background (having assisted both Bobby and Terry) has also brought about a few differences in the on-field product when compared to LSU or Alabama, each of which is less quarterback-centric on offense and tends to beless aggressive in the passing game than Fisher's Seminoles.
In contrast to the common misconception that Fisher has built Florida State according to an SEC model, the Seminoles' return to dominance is really a return to what made the program great in the Dynasty years combined with the detail-oriented "process" borrowed from Saban. In that sense, Fisher's "Seminole blueprint" is really something all its own, perhaps a next step forward in college football as the pendulum swings back to the Sunshine State.