When Alabama (13-1) and Georgia (13-1) meet inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this evening they’ll be doing so for the second time in 37 days, as the Crimson Tide upset the Bulldogs 41-24 in the SEC Title Game. The Dec. 4 win secured ‘Bama’s position in the 4-team College Football Playoff and simultaneously handed the ‘Dawgs its lone loss on the season.
Five weeks and two days later, the two Southeastern Conference powerhouses arrive in America’s Midwest, each having handled their business in their respective National Semifinals.
On the afternoon of Dec. 31, Alabama comfortably controlled previously unbeaten Cincinnati by a count of 27-6, in the process confirming the fact that the Bearcats have a ways to go before they’re ready to truly tangle with the Tide and the rest of the nation’s Power-5 elite. Cincinnati had been the first school from a non-Power 5 conference (Those are the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) to reach the College Football Playoff — but they ran into the most dominant program of the last decade and counting.
The result was a swift door-slamming on any hopes of seeing Cinderella Cincy advancing to the season’s final game, as the Bearcats trailed 17-3 at halftime and were held without a touchdown for the first time since the first month of the 2019 season.
The win was Alabama’s 13th on the season, setting up head coach Nick Saban for a shot at his 7th national title in Tuscaloosa, and 8th overall (Saban lead LSU to the championship in 2003.) Standing in Saban’s way? Former Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.
Now the top dog at Georgia, Smart led UGA into its National Semifinal on New Year’s Eve against Big Ten champion Michigan. Riding high after having ousted rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale, the Wolverines were outplayed by Georgia from the onset, falling 34-11 in a game that was 14-0 Georgia after the first quarter, and 27-3 Georgia at the half.
Georgia’s stout defense forced three turnovers in the victory and held Michigan to just 91 yards on the ground. The win gives Smart yet another opportunity to upend his mentor, whom he’s faced four times as a head coach, including most recently in the SEC Championship game.
The mentor vs. the mentees
Smart served under Saban at Alabama for nine seasons and is part of a growling list of former assistants who have struggled against their former boss. Over the past 12 campaigns, Saban is 25-1 against his former assistants when facing them as head coaches, with Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M serving as the only Saban disciple to break the trend. The 41-38 Oct. 1 upset by the Aggies served as the season’s sole defeat for the Crimson Tide.
A second one this evening would see Smart finally sack Saban — and in the process, give Georgia its first national championship since 1980.