Alabama won one more game than Notre Dame — against an undoubtedly harder schedule, to boot — but that didn’t stop the Associated Press from placing Brian Kelly above Nick Saban this season.
The organization named Kelly its Coach of the Year on Monday, a somewhat surprising move considering Saban piloted the Crimson Tide to a dominant undefeated season and an SEC championship. Kelly and Saban each earned 16 of the possible 58 first-place votes, but Notre Dame’s coach finished with 81 points to Saban’s 66.
The other finalist, UCF’s Josh Heupel, received 33 points and five first-place votes. All three coaches led their teams to undefeated seasons.
Kelly became just the third two-time winner since the award’s inception in 1998, joining Saban and TCU’s Gary Patterson. He was also the AP’s Coach of the Year in 2012, when Alabama demolished the Irish in the BCS National Championship Game.
The teams could be set for another collision in this year’s College Football Playoff if the Crimson Tide defeats Oklahoma and Notre Dame beats Clemson.
Kelly may have gotten the nod because of Notre Dame’s 2018 surge and a general fatigue with Alabama, but this year’s Crimson Tide squad has been perhaps Saban’s best. Paul Finebaum argued that Saban has at least performed his best coaching job this season, but it seems like the AP thought otherwise.