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June 4, 2010

Mailbag: Snyder built K-State from bottom up

Every season, the question of which is the best college football team in the nation is raised. But what about the worst FBS programs?

Like the "Who's No. 1?" question, that changes from season to season.

For now, upstart Western Kentucky is having difficulty starting up. Washington went winless in '08. A few years ago, Duke was on the bottom after going winless in '06 and managing just one win in '05 and '07.

Northwestern endured 34 consecutive losses from 1979-82, but eventually awoke and even won the Big Ten championship in 1995.

But no program ever endured more futility than Kansas State, which in its history has struggled through separate losing streaks that spanned 16, 17, 18 and 28 games.

From 1985-88 the Wildcats managed a mere three victories. In fact, only an '87 tie with Kansas avoided a 27-game losing streak. Among the teams to beat the Wildcats in that stretch were Northern Iowa, Austin Peay, Army, Tulane and Tulsa.

That led to the hiring of coach Bill Snyder in 1989. Seven years later, the Wildcats made their first of six top-10 finishes under Snyder.

It was an amazing turnaround that established Snyder as a great coach. But is he among the greatest ever? That's up for discussion in this week's mailbag.

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Status check

So where does Kansas State coach Bill Snyder fall in your list of greatest college coaches ever? Perhaps not winning an NCAA championship is a big hole in the resume, but nobody in Division I history has done more to turn a program around than Snyder. Your thoughts?
Mike at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany

I have to admit that I've never compiled a ranking of top Division I coaches. Perhaps that could be a fun project to tackle this summer. But if I had put together a ranking, I can guarantee my list would include Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne, Nick Saban, John McKay, Barry Switzer, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osborne, Darrell Royal, Bobby Bowden, Woody Hayes, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Each won multiple national championships.

My list also would include coaches who never won national championships, like Bo Schembechler, Frank Beamer and Hayden Fry. Snyder would be on the list, too.

What Snyder accomplished at Kansas State was amazing. In his first stint as Kansas State's coach (1989-2005), Snyder posted 136 victories. That's exactly how many wins the Wildcats managed in the 54 seasons before Snyder's hiring.

Under Snyder, the Wildcats posted at least nine victories every season from 1993 to 2000. Before his arrival, the Wildcats hadn't managed at least nine wins since 1910, a season that started with a victory over William Jewel -- Snyder's alma mater.

K-State frequently had struggled through seasons of zero or one win, but Snyder changed that. Indeed, the Wildcats may have won the national championship in 1998 if not for a late fumble by quarterback Michael Bishop that allowed Texas A&M to rally and win the Big 12 championship game in overtime.

The lack of a national title should not diminish in any way the incredible job that Snyder did at Kansas State. I could make a long list of coaches who have won national championships that I'd rate below Snyder because it was easier to win national titles at some schools than it was to win conference championships at Kansas State.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts that Snyder can transform the Wildcats into national championship contenders during his second stint as coach. He's older now, and the philosophy of using junior college prospects to bolster his program will be more difficult to execute because those types of players are now recruited more heavily by other schools.

But even if he cannot duplicate that feat, Snyder should be listed among college football's great coaches.

Not so dark

Would you consider Florida State to be a dark horse in the ACC championship race? The entire starting offensive line has returned, as well as quarterback Christian Ponder. New coordinator Mark Stoops is implementing a new defense, and the Seminoles have a good deal of athletes on that side of the ball.
Garrett in Tallahassee, Fla.

The Seminoles aren't a dark horse; they're a legitimate contender.

Last season, Florida State was just 4-4 in the ACC, but three of those losses were by seven or fewer points. Ponder has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, the offensive line projects as one of the best in the nation, three receivers with at least 35 catches return and running back Jermaine Thomas has 1,000-yard potential.

But the problems on defense curb the enthusiasm. Last season, the Seminoles ranked 108th in the nation in total defense and their best player -- cornerback Patrick Robinson -- now is in the NFL.

Yet, you can bet any coach with the surname "Stoops" knows defense. With Stoops, six returning starters and some talented prospects such as sophomore end Tosh Stevens stepping up, the defense figures to be improved. The Seminoles also get a break by playing Atlantic Division rivals Clemson and Boston College in Tallahassee.

If they're able to win the division, the Seminoles likely would be underdogs to the Coastal Division champion. But they have a legitimate shot at the title.

Bronco blues

In all the talk of expansion, why isn't Boise State coming up more often? I understand that the Broncos' other programs are not up to par with football, but the community is growing, the fans are fanatical and the football program is good. In the argument for best coach ever, why not at least mention Chris Petersen? He has the best four-year coaching record (49-4). He took over a high-performing team in 2006, and he has continued to recruit high-character student-athletes and win.
Matt in Bethesda, Md.

Despite its football success, Boise State isn't an attractive target for one of the Big Six conferences looking to expand because of the state's population.

The city's population is just over 200,000, while the entire state of Idaho is just over 1.5 million. There aren't enough televisions involved. Boise State also wouldn't be geographically desirable for any Big Six conference other than the Pac-10, and the general thought is that conference would target Utah, Colorado and possibly Texas before anybody else.

But the Mountain West Conference may extend Boise State an invitation for membership as soon as Monday, when the MWC board of directors meet in Jackson, Wyo. Boise State could be eligible to compete in the MWC by 2011. That would strengthen the MWC in football and enhance its chances of earning automatic qualifier status to be included in a BCS bowl.

Then again, if the Pac-10 expands with Utah, the MWC even with Boise might be in the same position it's in now.

As to your second point, Petersen is an exceptional coach, but I wouldn't list him among the best ever in college football. My guess is he wouldn't, either.

He needs much more than four or five years of success to be considered among college football's greatest coaches. And, frankly, he needs to have that success in a conference that is stronger than the WAC. Ask Dirk Koetter or Dan Hawkins if winning in a major conference is more difficult than winning in the WAC.

Not quite

Does Georgia Tech have a shot at the national championship?
Michael in Buford, Ga.

Sure, there is a shot. As the ACC's defending champion, the Yellow Jackets can't be totally dismissed. Paul Johnson's triple-option offense always gives opposing defenses headaches, and quarterback Joshua Nesbitt is back to run it.

But the national championship probably is aiming too high. Georgia Tech had four star players leave early for the NFL -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, running back Jonathan Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan and strong safety Morgan Burnett. Each was drafted, and Thomas and Morgan were taken in the first round. That's a lot of talent to replace.

The Yellow Jackets will move the football on the ground; that's a given in Johnson's offense. But at some point they will have to pass, which will be dicey. The defense has to make significant improvement, too.

The feeling here is Georgia Tech will challenge in the ACC Coastal Division but come up short behind Virginia Tech. A nine- or 10-win season seems realistic, though.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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