Who should Florida State fans be rooting for in the college football national championship? Kyle Griffis says Alabama, and I'll say Clemson for the sake of argument.
There are many reasons why FSU fans should pull for Alabama to beat Clemson Monday night, and it can mostly be summed up in the Cold War adage of "the enemy of my enemy is friend." It's important to first acknowledge that Clemson not only is in FSU's conference, it is in FSU's division. Contrary to what most SEC fans would have you believe, there is no such thing as "conference solidarity" in college football. The entire concept is an imaginary fiction invented by fans of lower-tier SEC programs in order to justify their own program's mediocrity. FSU fans know better. College football is a zero-sum game; you fly your own flags. When your conference or division rival moves up, your program has to slip...that's just a fact of life. College football fans who cheer for their conference rivals do so at their own program's peril. Most FSU fans rooting for Clemson tonight will say they're rooting for the ACC to gain respect at the SEC's expense. This may be a noble idea, but at its core it is the same flawed concept that SEC fans follow when they root for their conference rivals. Did the ACC really gain that much more respect two years ago when FSU went 14-0 and defeated Auburn in the national championship game? Florida State did, sure, but the ACC as a whole didn't. Ultimately, that's all that should matter. The idea of pulling for Clemson for the ACC's sake is a mistake.
It's also important to mention that Florida State is still the bell cow of the ACC. Clemson was a founding member of the ACC in 1953, while FSU joined 40 years later. Yet as of this year, FSU and Clemson have the same number of ACC championships. While Clemson has steadily improved as a program, this is the first year in over three decades the Tigers have been truly nationally relevant. Clemson last won a national title in 1981, while FSU has won three since joining the ACC.
Meanwhile, Alabama is not only the top dog in the SEC, but it has set the standard as the top program in college football for the last decade. Like almost every other program in the United States, it's tough for FSU to compete with Alabama at a program-level when Alabama is at its best. An Alabama loss doesn't necessarily return them to the pack. However, that is not the case with Clemson. FSU fans should think long and hard about picking their battles, particularly since FSU has to face Clemson every single year and will have to beat them every year just to win the Atlantic division. The ‘Noles would really only see Bama in a playoff scenario or kickoff classic.
A Clemson win Monday night would also mean a bigger recruiting bump for the Tigers than for the Tide. Alabama already out-recruits almost everyone, and as usual it will get its pick of elite recruits. Clemson would not only get a bigger recruiting bump if it were to win, it would get it to the greater detriment of Florida State, who has to play Clemson every year. And while FSU has dominated recruiting in the state of Florida, Clemson has made a habit of chipping away at Florida recruits. A Clemson win would only cause that pattern to increase. An Alabama win, or even a loss, likely wouldn't affect its recruiting much, particularly not at FSU's expense.
In sum, having another national powerhouse in the ACC might slightly help the conference's image, but an upside to a Clemson win in that regard would be substantially outweighed by the detriment to FSU's future and place it currently enjoys in the ACC and the national picture. Alabama and FSU have carried the weight for their conference mates up to this point; let's keep it that way. Leave cheering for conference rivals to SEC fans. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if it means cheering for a SEC program tonight (led by a Florida State alumnus at QB I might add).
Kyle, I think you raise a good argument from the FSU fan's perspective. However, I do not agree with all of it.
I'd note that the ACC did not receive much respect from FSU winning its third national title in 2013, but I believe that is because the league is seen as FSU and the 13 dwarfs by many. Clemson, which has a large regional following but basically no national following would be a marked change in perception for the league. It would no longer just be FSU and a bunch of basketball schools. I'd compare this to, say, the Pac-12, for which only USC has for a national title in the last quarter century. If Oregon or Stanford were to actually lift hardware, it would receive more respect. And I'd argue that the ACC is already receiving respect and credit for a non-FSU team even making the title game, much like the Pac-12 has for Oregon making it in two of the last five seasons. I do think a Clemson win could set up a scenario in which it becomes more likely that a one-loss ACC team gets in the playoff.
And I'd disagree with the idea that this is the first year in three decades in which Clemson has been nationally relevant, unless your definition of that is to have played in the championship game, which it might be.
Your comments about the recruiting bump Clemson would see from a win and the lack of a recruiting downturn Alabama would experience is spot on. Alabama kicks everyone's butt in recruiting. Over the last four cycles, for every two blue chippers FSU signs, Alabama signs three. Heck, I think FSU's defensive line is a stellar unit, and yet I don't think any of FSU's defensive linemen or linebackers would start for Alabama. That's insane, and not winning titles in 2013 or 2014 didn't stop the Tide from signing those
kids freaks. Clemson is a lot closer to FSU in recruiting than FSU is to Alabama, and a Clemson win could close the gap more.
But don't you find Alabama's dominance boring? We've never seen a run like this through what is by far the toughest conference in America. 87-12 since 2008 is insane. The next closest SEC team, LSU, has lost 26 games in that span. At what point is it not fun to watch college football any longer because you know that you need a miracle of epic proportions (five turnovers and an 80-yard TD on a bounce off a helmet) to narrowly squeak out a win?
I still run Tomahawk Nation, but my main job is National Recruiting Director for SB Nation so I get to see the kids Alabama signs, and no team is really that close in combined quality and quantity. And then give them the best coach of the last quarter century and it becomes really unfair. The inevitability of Alabama just feels tiring to me. Will failing to win the title this time around begin to erode Alabama's dominance? I don't know, but it sure would make college football more interesting.