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Butler County's great daily newspaper

Georgia coach Smart hopes to rewrite legacy with win

Kirby Smart did his best to get ahead of the questions about Nick Saban while acknowledging the topic was inevitable.

It seems the Georgia coach can’t avoid Saban, when championships — and Smart’s big-game legacy — are on the line.

Smart is 0-4 against Saban, his former boss at Alabama. That includes Georgia’s 41-24 loss to Saban’s Crimson Tide in the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 4.

Smart fielded questions about Saban prior to that game before earning a rematch when the Bulldogs beat Michigan 34-11 on Friday night in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

The Georgia coach insisted on Monday the Georgia-Alabama rematch for the national title is not about Smart vs. Saban.

“Each game has been different,” Smart said. “And it will never be about he and I. I know he won’t make it that and I won’t make it that, because that’s for you guys to do that.”

Smart’s Georgia legacy is on the line. That’s about more than how he compares with Saban, already assured of being remembered as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

As Smart wraps up his sixth season at his alma mater, the national championship game will help determine his place in Georgia history. That includes how he will be judged in comparison with his predecessor, Mark Richt, as well as Vince Dooley, who won Georgia’s last national championship in 1980.

Smart was hired to give Georgia the push it lacked to win the biggest games. He was hired to bring championships to the Bulldogs.

So far, Smart trails Richt. Thanks to the humbling loss to the Crimson Tide last month, Smart remains stuck on one SEC title, in 2017. Richt won two SEC championships in his first five seasons in Athens.

Smart’s big-game history also includes an overtime loss to the Crimson Tide in the 2017 national championship game.

By bringing the Bulldogs to another national title game, Smart has made Georgia a regular part of the championship picture. He has brought Georgia to the biggest games.

Saban has blocked Smart’s path to big-game success. Smart can change that script by winning the biggest game of all in his second national title appearance against Alabama.

Saban has won seven national championships, including six in the last 12 years at Alabama. He is looking for back-to-back titles with the Crimson Tide.

Smart was the defensive coordinator on Saban’s Alabama staff before he was hired to lead Georgia’s program.

Smart’s Bulldogs were 12-0 following their first undefeated regular season since 1982 and on track for their first national championship in 41 years before the SEC title game loss to Alabama.