College Football: Nick Saban is the best against the best

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Let’s talk about Nick Saban and some other 2023 college football head coaches. Specifically, the current head coaches who have performed best against ranked competition. Several other big-name coaches who have not done so well are also included.

Brad Crawford of 247Sports conducted a similar exercise, listing several ‘best’ and ‘worst’ coaching records against Top 25 opponents.  Crawford provided considerable detail and some of it is included in this post. Addressing the same analysis a bit differently, the records of coaches at ‘lesser’ programs are not used in the details that follow.

For example, Matt Rhule’s Temple record is not used. Neither is James Franklin’s record at Vanderbilt. Mel Tucker is measured only by his three Michigan State seasons, without including his single season at Colorado.

12 Power Five College Football Head Coaches

At least 10 of the coaches listed below can be defined as ‘Big-Time’ head coaches. Only games against ranked teams are calculated.

  • Matt Rhule – Baylor (2017-2019) 0 Wins and 11 Losses; 0%. Nebraska fans are excited to have Rhule with the Cornhuskers. His college, ‘big-game’ record can only go up.
  • Jim Harbaugh – Stanford (2007-2010) and Michigan (2015-2022) 16 Wins and 18 Losses; 47.1% – In Harbaugh’s most recent two seasons, his record has greatly improved.
  • Mel Tucker – Michigan State (2020-2022) 6 Wins and 6 Losses; 50%.
  • Brian Kelly – Notre Dame (2010-2021) and LSU (2022) 33 Wins and 31 Losses; 51.5%
  • James Franklin – Penn State (2014-2022) 12 Wins and 11 Losses; 52%
  • Jimbo Fisher – Florida State (2010-2017) and Texas A&M (2018-2022); 53.5%
  • Chip Kelly – Oregon (2009-2012) and UCLA (2018-2021) 20 Wins and 16 Losses; 55.5%
  • Dabo Swinney – Clemson (2008-2022) 37 Wins and 23 Losses; 61.6%
  • Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma (2017-2021) and USC (2022) 16 Wins and 8 Losses; 66.7%
  • Nick Saban – Michigan State (1995-1999), LSU (2000-2004) and Alabama (2007-2022) 99 Wins and 46 Losses; 68.3%
  • Kirby Smart – Georgia (2016-2022) 28 Wins and 11 Losses; 71.8%
  • Ryan Day – Ohio State (2018-2022) Day was the Ohio State head coach for the Buckeyes’ last three games only in the 2018 season. 16 Wins and 6 Losses; 72.8%

The schedule strength among the 17 programs included for the 12 coaches varies, making it impossible to state that the highest percentages prove a precise running of the coaches.

Is Nick Saban College Football’s Best?

What Alabama football fans are most interested in is Nick Saban’s record without his seasons at Michigan State and LSU. That record against ranked teams is 76-21; 78.3%. Eight of Nick Saban’s losses against ranked teams came in his first four Crimson Tide seasons.

Note: Considerable data for this post was provided by Sports Reference

Click on the link at the top of this post to see Brad Crawford’s longer list, including more of the ‘worst’ records.

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Nick Saban, the best against the best? Of course, he is.