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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Bill Snyder: National Coach of the Year

The final list includes five names, but there are at least a dozen candidates worthy of being named the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. There’s likely one deserving nominee from each conference: Dana Holgorsen from the Big East, Hugh Freeze from the Sun Belt, David Shaw from the Pac-12 and so on down the line. Each of the five finalists are extremely deserving, however, and it’s hard to find fault with one being picked over a coach who didn’t make the final cut. The five finalists: Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Michigan’s Brady Hoke, L.S.U.’s Les Miles, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. My vote went for Snyder.

My final voting went in this order: Snyder, Hoke, Gundy, Miles, Swinney. I’ll try to explain the rationale below. In my opinion — and with all due respect to the four other finalists selected by the Football Writers Association of America — I think it’s a one-horse race. Hoke did a magnificent job, but no coaching job compares to Snyder’s latest miracle in Manhattan.

1. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Final record 10-2 (7-2)
Best win 36-35 vs. Baylor on Oct. 1
Worst loss 58-17 vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 29

Why Snyder? Because no coach in college football did more with less. The Wildcats are not star-studded, to put it lightly. But Snyder coaxed 10 wins out of this team in a strong Big 12, going 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. If that’s not great coaching, I don’t know what is. And no, this isn’t the first time Snyder’s put on a season-long coaching clinic. It’s merely the most recent success in a career littered with unexpected successes, with 2011 being added to 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999…

Why not? Because there was only one win over a team ranked in the final A.P. poll. In all, Kansas State went 1-2 against teams that ended the season ranked in the Top 25. But the Wildcats did beat six bowl teams, and took Oklahoma State to overtime on the road before losing by a touchdown. A win on that day would have given Kansas State a most unforeseeable Big 12 title.

2. Brady Hoke, Michigan

Final record 10-2 (6-2)
Best win 40-34 vs. Ohio State on Nov. 26
Worst loss 28-14 at Michigan State on Oct. 15

Why Hoke? Because in the span of 12 games, he rebuilt a proud program in Ann Arbor. It’s easy to forget how rudderless Michigan seemed prior to Hoke’s arrival last winter. And based on the way the Wolverines played in 2011 — simply, consistently and gimmick-free — it’s very easy to see Hoke building upon this success in 2012 and beyond. Oh, and he beat Ohio State.

Why not? Because the Wolverines finished second in the Legends division. Kansas State, in comparison, finished in sole possession of second place in one of the top conferences in the country. In addition, while Hoke needed to remake the Wolverines, he did inherit a fair amount of talent from his predecessor.

3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Final record 11-1 (8-1)
Best win 44-10 vs. Oklahoma on Dec. 2
Worst loss 37-34 at Iowa State on Nov. 18

Why Gundy? Because Oklahoma State came within decimal points of meeting L.S.U. for the national championship. This isn’t Norman; it’s Stillwater, and going 11-1 and making a distinct case for the No. 2 spot in both polls is truly a watershed event. Gundy has worked hard to get the Cowboys to this point, first leading the program from four wins to nine before cracking through the glass ceiling over the last two seasons.

Why not? Because Snyder did the best coaching job in the Big 12. For all of this season’s success, Oklahoma State did go 11-2 in 2010 and win nine games in both 2008 and 2009. So while this was unprecedented, it wasn’t as if the Cowboys came out of nowhere. None of this necessarily detracts from Gundy’s season, but when picking between such qualified candidates, it does stand out.

4. Les Miles, L.S.U.

Final record 13-0 (8-0)
Best win 9-6 at Alabama on Nov. 5
Worst win 19-6 at Mississippi State on Sept. 15

Why Miles? Because he’s the coach of the clear top dog in college football. And Miles has also weathered a few storms, such as the early-season suspension of his starting quarterback and the midseason suspension of three key players. Through it all, Miles has been his typical self: confident, calm and collected — and a great quote — he’s been the steady hand behind the nation’s best team.

Why not? Because he’s playing with a full deck. Miles is playing with two decks — three decks, his own and yours and another’s. L.S.U.’s overwhelming talent is, well, overwhelming. Defensively, Miles has enough talent to one day stock an N.F.L. team. L.S.U. is 13-0, the best team in the country, but with this talent, shouldn’t the Tigers be 13-0?

5. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Final record 10-3 (6-2)
Best win 38-10 vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 3
Worst loss 34-13 at South Carolina on Nov. 26

Why Swinney? Because he led Clemson to its first A.C.C. championship since 1991, or the year before Florida State joined the league. Swinney also solidified his own spotty job status heading into the year, when many wondered if he was the right coach to lead the Tigers back into the B.C.S. mix. After beating Virginia Tech on Saturday, Swinney and Clemson will take on West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Mission accomplished.

Why not? Because I wonder if his assistant, offensive coordinator Chad Morris, might be more deserving of the credit. Even if that was the case in 2011, shouldn’t Swinney be rewarded for making the hire in the first place — doing his job, basically? I don’t think Swinney is the coach of the year, and I could probably make an argument for his spot among the finalists going elsewhere: Bret Bielema, Kevin Sumlin, Chris Petersen and Lane Kiffin, to name a few. But Swinney did a terrific job in taking the Tigers to B.C.S. play. In the process, he took himself well off the hot seat.

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  1. quigley says:

    I’m surprised that Morris hasn’t been part of the coaching rumor mill.

  2. Sean T says:

    Sorry buddy, I hate to point out an error on something so kind to Snyder, but the Cats did not force OT at OSU. They lost with three tries at the 4 at the end of regulation.

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