Kirby Smart coached under Nick Saban for nine seasons, so the former Crimson Tide assistant is no stranger to ‘rat poison’.
Flash forward to the present and the Georgia coach is fighting to keep it out of his locker room as the program strives to surpass Alabama as the next SEC dynasty.
Alabama (6-0) and Georgia (6-0), which competed in last season’s national title game, are currently No. 1 and No. 2. in the AP poll and if both remain undefeated through the regular season, a rematch is a distinct possibility.
According to ESPN’s FPI, if Georgia and Alabama are both 12-0 when they meet in the SEC Championship, regardless of the outcome of that game both teams would have better resumes than and undefeated Clemson & Notre Dame.
— blakejmorgan (@blakejmorgann) October 9, 2018
On Saturday, defending national champion Alabama hosts Missouri, while runner-up Georgia travels to No. 13 LSU.
Alabama’s fan base is quite impressive but Dawg Nation has the added enhancement of being in a major metropolitan market, creating a unique challenge for Smart.
Smart appreciates the fans but wants his players to remain focused on the task at hand.
“The hub of the SEC, near Atlanta, the Georgia Bulldog nation creating a monster of telling you how good you are,” Smart said to ESPN. “Letting that become a distraction is the biggest thing to overcome. Our football site has the most followers in the whole country. They’re on social media 24/7. They see themselves. They even have their own TV channel, their own, on the phone, and I don’t think you can control that or manipulate it. I just think you’ve got to manage it and educate them.”
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) October 9, 2018
Smart admits there’s components of Saban’s influence as he grinds away to turn Georgia into a perennial national power. Yet ultimately if that moment arrives, it will have a more “Georgia feel” as Dawg Nation writer Connor Riley frames it.
Alabama has set an incredible standard for the rest of the conference but the only competition Georgia cares about is in the mirror.
“It’s tempting,” Smart said to ESPN. “Coach Saban’s a great coach; he does it his way, and I have to do it my way. I have to cut my own cloth. But yeah, when you say, ‘What’s the infrastructure like? What’s the core beliefs?’ A lot of that is going to be similar because that’s what I know and that’s what I know has been successful. You can say it’s copying, but not everything here is going to be the same as it was there.”