Bill Snyder or Nick Saban? Who's the Better College Football Coach?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterOctober 23, 2012

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has three BCS championships—two while coaching at Alabama and one while coaching at LSU—as well as a good shot at a fourth when this 2012 season ends. 

Four BCS Championships in less than 10 years would be, well...even more amazing than three BCS Championships in that same time frame. 

Saban is currently the king of college football.

He deserves that title. That crown. Those accolades. Those crystal ball trophies. Before we crown him the best active college football coach however, we need to take a look at his competition this year. 

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly? Nope. He hasn't done anything in his three-and-a-half years at South Bend, albeit his Fighting Irish are currently 7-0. Florida head coach Will Muschamp? No, but we'll keep our eyes on him over the next few years since he has potential. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder? 

Ding, ding, ding. 

Kansas State is currently ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings and while that's not as lofty as Alabama's No. 1 ranking, there is reason to celebrate that No. 3 ranking because Kansas State football is so misunderstood.  

First, Kansas State gets no respect from the media. Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois and Houston all got at least one vote in the AP's preseason Top 25, but Kansas State was snubbed. Heck, even ESPN in-studio analyst Lou Holtz pronounces Heisman candidate and Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein's name as "Colan Klein." 


Second, Kansas State's schedule is perceived as soft when compared to an SEC schedule. So far, Kansas State has had the better quality win beating No. 8 Oklahoma, while Alabama's most impressive win came against No. 22 Michigan. So much for that argument. 

Finally, Kansas State's success gets dinged because it allegedly plays in a conference that doesn't play defense. Let's dispense with the "There's no defense in the Big 12" argument right now.

Of the top 20-ranked total defenses in FBS, four come from the SEC while three come from the Big 12. Of the top 50, eight come from the SEC and five come from the Big 12, but we should note that Missouri—a previous Big 12 member—gives the SEC a two-point swing from 7-6 to 8-5. 

That's not an overwhelming argument. Both conferences have good and poor defenses but since the Big 12 plays more passing offenses than the SEC, their defensive yardage numbers should be negatively affected. There are four Big 12 teams in the Top 10 most productive passing offenses compared to none from the SEC. Of the top 50, the SEC has four passing offenses ranked compared to seven from the Big 12. 

Snyder's Wildcats shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the country with a 55-14 beatdown at Morgantown, West Virginia. Kansas State also beat Oklahoma and its top 25-ranked passing offense, 24-19. 

To be fair, Alabama has beaten one Top 25-ranked passing offense (Arkansas), and did it in a 52-0 rout. But isn't Alabama expected to be completely dominating considering all of the, you know...talent on the team?


Since there are five-year seniors on the Tide's roster (i.e. Barrett Jones, Michael Williams), let's take a look at the last five years of recruiting classes for the Tide via 

2008: Three 5-stars, 17 4-stars, six Top-100 players, ranked No. 1.

2009: Three 5-stars, 12 4-stars, three Top-100 players, ranked No. 2.

2010: Two 5-stars, 14 4-stars, five Top-100 players, ranked No. 4.

2011: Three 5-stars, 12 4-stars, five Top-100 players, ranked No. 7.

2012: Three 5-stars, 15 4-stars, six Top-100 players, ranked No. 6.

Pretty damn impressive. Saban is the ultimate recruiting machine. And if you look at Kansas State's last four recruiting classes since Snyder came back for round two, Snyder does not appear to be in Saban's league.

Snyder's best recruiting class—in his second tenure at Kansas State—was the class of 2011, ranked at...drum roll please...No. 61. His other three classes were ranked No. 112, No. 99 and No. 85.

If you average the last five recruiting class rankings from both teams—since both teams have five-year starters—Alabama averages out to a No. 4 recruiting class while Kansas State averages out to a mind-boggling No. 84. 

So how are Snyder's Wildcats No. 3 and Saban's Crimson Tide No. 1 if there is such a huge discrepancy in perceived talent on the field? 


One could argue that Snyder recognizes more underrated talent than Saban. Or Snyder develops talent from a more raw state than Saban. Or maybe those star ratings aren't very accurate. 

Collin Klein was a 2-star quarterback in the class of 2008. He now looks like a 5-star. 

So who's the better coach?

The true mark of head coaching success is how many rings you have, and Saban beats Snyder in that category. Another factor is recruiting class rankings, and again, Saban beats Snyder. But let's not dismiss that while Snyder's recruiting classes didn't impress anyone, they are impressing the pollsters. Snyder has the same record as Saban so far this season at 7-0.

Perhaps the better question is who has the more difficult job in coaching? Snyder or Saban?

You have to give that edge to Snyder. He has to do more—and I hate to use this term—with less.

True, expectations are probably higher in Tuscaloosa, Alabama than they are in Manhattan, Kansas. True, when you have top-ranked recruiting classes you're expected to do great things every year. True, it's tougher to play great football every season when there's a bulls eye on your back. 

But you're still able to achieve those expectations with the best football players in the country.


Saban, like Snyder, still has to develop his players, but at least his guys are filet mignons; they've been aged, seasoned and are ready to put on the grill.

Snyder has to trim the fat and tenderize his guys with a marinade before they're even seasoned. He has a lot more prep work involved which makes his job more difficult, yet he's in the BCS and Coach of the Year conversation midway through the season.

For the second-straight year.

When your team was a "surprise" last year and not even ranked in the Preseason Top 25 this year, when will you start to get more respect for your coaching genius? 

When will you start being compared to the king of college football?

It starts right now.


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