The lore of Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been well documented, and few know more about his prestigious program than Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.
Smart served as the defensive coordinator at Alabama for seven years, learning under Saban before getting an opportunity to run his own program. Georgia hired Smart away from the Crimson Tide in 2015, and in the following years, both programs came to symbolize continued consistency and dominance.
Saban and Smart have already met on the big stage several times before, most notably in the 2017 national championship game. A heroic touchdown pass from then-freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa capped off an Alabama comeback and gave them the overtime victory.
Since then, Smart and company have been rebuilding to meet up with Alabama on that same national stage again. The two teams have since seen each other in the SEC Championship game once (2018) and the regular season once (2020).
Saban is known for helping to produce head coaches out of those on his staff. As a result, Saban has built one of the longest coaching trees in college football, with current head coaches like Lane Kiffin, Jimbo Fisher, Billy Napier, Bill O’Brien, Steve Sarkisian, and Kirby Smart all having experience working under Saban. However, out of all of his former assistants who have faced him as a head coach, only one out of 25 matchups has succeeded, coming this year against Texas A&M and head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Fisher holds the glory of being the first former assistant to beat his legendary former boss, but Smart could become the first former assistant to beat the legend in post-season play. This weekend, a loss to Georgia could knock the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff picture with two losses.
By doing this, Smart would accomplish the one thing critics have held against him taking over the Bulldogs program, his “inability” to win big football games against college powerhouses, most notably Alabama.
He already dispelled that narrative once this year. In week one, Georgia traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take on then ranked No. 2 Clemson and came away with a program-defining win. In retrospect, the win looks less impressive, but the moment told us that beating Clemson was monumental for a program that desperately needed it.
After that opening season victory, Georgia rattled off eleven more wins, many of those coming against proven top-25 teams. Fans haven’t even had to think about a potential loss since midway through the third quarter against Clemson.
If Smart can get over the “Bama Hurdle” with a win on Saturday, it would be the most meaningful win of his career to date, clearing up Georgia’s path towards a potential national championship.
Few have tangled with Saban on big stages and come away victorious, but this season has proven that Smart can. He has cemented himself among college football’s best and now has one more task before starting his playoff journey.
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