PASDENDA, Calif — And so they meet again.
Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. Georgia and Alabama.
The protégé against the mentor.
Their teams go head to head for the first time Monday in the national championship game.
No. 3 Georgia’s 54-48 double overtime win over No. 3 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl coupled with No. 4 Alabama’s 24-6 victory against No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl sets up a national title game showdown at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Georgia is seeking its first national title since 1980. Alabama is one win away from its fifth national title under Saban going back to 2009.
Smart was defensive coordinator for Saban at Alabama, where he was on staff for nine seasons and coached with him with the NFL Dolphins and at LSU.
“He’s a very bright guy, and he took over a program that has been very successful and was actually successful when he took over the program,” Saban said following his team’s semifinal win. “He’s done a great job of taking it to the next level.”
This will be just the fourth meeting between the teams since 2008. Alabama has won three straight, including a 38-10 win in Athens in 2015.
The teams could have met in the SEC championship game last month before Auburn knocked off Alabama, 26-14.
Smart was asked the day before the SEC title game if he thought to himself that he would avoid 60,000 questions about Saban since that matchup didn’t happen then.
“Now that you say that, I can only imagine sitting here today, if we were playing them, what the questions would be like,” Smart said then.
They are coming this week in an All-SEC national title tilt.
“I think it speaks volumes to the quality of programs that we have,” Saban said. “Sometimes I think people try to put a little hate on the SEC because of the success we have, and I don’t think that’s really fair. I think it’s a great competitive league with a lot of great coaches.”