A Different Kind Of College Football
Bryant's time was more about media relations and playing the system of that day. Of course, Bryant played it better than anyone. But he didn't have to beat one of the top two of the season annually to win a national title like Nick Saban must do in today's era. That only happened two times in his entire career; he was 1-1 in those games. Bryant had three trophies which were awarded at the end of the regular season. 1961 (Consensus National Champs), 1964 (Consensus National Champs), and 1973 (Coaches Poll National Champs); he was 1-2 in bowl games following those trophies.
Not So Easy In The 21st Century
Nick Saban's Journey has been much different than Bryant's. His entire National Title quest up till now has occurred in the BCS / CFP era. That means he had to beat at least one of the top two teams in the nation to win his first four national championships. And two of the top four to win his last three CFP titles. In addition, Nick Saban has the SEC title game to contend with; Bryant's teams never had to play in one. Nick's teams have also lost three title games, So it goes without saying that his run has been genuinely extraordinary.
Bear Bryant Vs. Nick Saban In The Modern Era
In my wildest imagination, I cannot envision Bryant winning more than two titles in the previous 20 years under the BCS / CFP model. On the other hand, Nick could have won even more than he has with some luck. Seven titles, but he's played for ten. 11 if you count the 2014 season, in which most people believe that Ohio State / Alabama in the Semifinal was the real championship game. Nick has had to win it on the field; Bryant did not have to do that in five of his six titles.
I mean no disrespect to the generation that thinks Bryant hung the moon; he was great in his time. However, I don't think he would translate well to the modern-day college football game. Saban, though, I think his methods are timeless, and he would adapt quickly to any situation. Saban is the top coach in the history of college football; without a single doubt, and Bryant is certainly top five. However, It's not that close when you consider everything.
Comparing Their Numbers
Looking over their comparison numbers, it is undeniable that some things about both careers are not comparable. Bryant's quest for national titles was more of a popularity contest than what Saban has endured. The dysfunctional bowl system of Bryant's day rarely had #1 vs. #2 matchups; in fact, Bryant only played in two #1 vs. #2 matchups (1972 Orange Bowl and the 1979 Sugar Bowl) in his entire career.
Vs. Top 5 Opposition
Their records vs. the top five give us an insight into the differences between Saban and Bryant. Saban has won two of his three games vs. top five teams. On the other hand, Bryant is barely above .500. But Bryant's Bowl appearances are a little more impressive than they would be in the modern day because there were fewer bowls back in that time. Making a bowl was not as generic of an event in Bryant's day.
Both have impressive resumes, but only one of them can be the GOAT. It's Nick by a mile.