Familiar obstacle standing between Georgia and SEC summit

Georgia photo by Skylar Lien / Georgia's Jordan Davis (99) tries to get around Alabama's Evan Neal (73) during last season's 41-24 win by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has defeated the Bulldogs six straight times entering Saturday's SEC championship game in Atlanta. CBS will televise the 4 p.m. matchup.

Far more often than not, the numbers just keep growing.

In Nick Saban's 15 years as Alabama's football coach, the Crimson Tide have won all 15 encounters against both Arkansas and Tennessee and the past 14 against Mississippi State. There was an eight-game winning streak against LSU that ended in 2019 and an eight-game run against Texas A&M that ended several weeks ago.

Alabama has triumphed eight consecutive times against Florida, six straight against Ole Miss and six straight against Georgia, with its success against the Bulldogs getting a bit more attention this week due to the magnitude of Saturday afternoon's Southeastern Conference championship game collision between the No. 1 Bulldogs (12-0) and the No. 3 Crimson Tide (11-1) inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"I think that what's happened in the past in games really doesn't have a lot of impact on what happens in the future," Saban said. "I think that you've got to line up and play well in this game. What happened last year doesn't matter. What happened the year before that doesn't matter. You've got to play well in this game, and that's the challenge that we all have."

The Tide's current dominance of Georgia - Bear Bryant's longest streak against the Bulldogs was five wins from 1960-64 - began in 2008, when Alabama went to Athens and built a 31-0 halftime lead against the black-jerseyed Bulldogs before cruising 41-30. The second triumph in this run was the 32-28 thriller in the 2012 SEC title game, with the third Alabama's 38-10 blowout in 2015 at Sanford Stadium.

Kirby Smart was Alabama's defensive coordinator for those three games, but he's yet to stem the Tide since taking the reins at his alma mater after the 2015 season.

"I haven't been a part of all those, but obviously this year is this year, and every year is independent of the previous year," Smart said. "I don't think there is overlap between any two. I know people want to make it that and make it some kind of overlap, but every year is independent of the previous one. Our job is to go play the best possible game we can, and that's what we've been trying to build towards this year.

"We haven't played our best yet, and we think our best is still out there. That's the goal."

Georgia's past three losses to Alabama transpired in the national championship contest of the 2017 season, the 2018 SEC title game and last season in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs had the lead at halftime in each of those contests and led by double-digit margins during the two Mercedes-Benz pairings.

Alabama is a 6.5-point underdog in this matchup, marking just the second time in the past dozen seasons the Tide haven't been favored.

"What our players need to do is just focus on playing one play at a time and trying to win as many plays in a game as they can and don't worry about the scoreboard," Saban said. "We just need to focus on what we need to do to play well in this game. They are the No. 1 team in the country, and they are a very, very good team.

"It's going to take a very good effort by a lot of people to be able to win those plays, so that's what we're focused on."

Saban won his first 24 games against former assistants before Jimbo Fisher's Aggies pulled off the 41-38 upset on Oct. 9 at Texas A&M. Whether Smart can make it consecutive losses for college football's first head coach to win seven national titles will be decided soon, but there will be no lack of respect with these two regardless of the outcome.

"I think a lot of him," Smart said. "He's meant a lot in my career, as he has to a lot of coaches out there in the country. I think you appreciate the job he does more when you're gone than maybe when you were there, because when you move on, you appreciate the fact that he works really hard and that he doesn't ask any of his assistants to do anything that he doesn't do. He holds everybody to a high standard."

Said Saban: "I'm always very gracious in terms of the gratitude that I have for what guys did when they were with us, and I understand that they do it well because they want opportunities themselves. There is always some pride when they go on and do very well in building their own program. Kirby has just done a fantastic job."

photo AP photo by Butch Dill / Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to reporters during SEC Media Days on July 19 in Hoover, Ala.

No plans to move

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was asked this week whether this championship game could rotate out to Dallas given the looming move of Oklahoma and Texas into the league that is scheduled for 2025 but could happen sooner.

"We have great relationships in Texas, and I enjoyed attending the Texas A&M and Arkansas game at AT&T Stadium this past September," Sankey said. "One of the semifinal sites is at AT&T Stadium with the Cotton Bowl, so we have great relationships, but we have a long-term agreement here in Atlanta. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Arthur Blank, Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur's entire group are incredible hosts.

"Even as we move westward, Atlanta remains an important city, and we're really happy here. Movement of this game has not been a part of the expansion conversation at all for us."

The SEC's most recent contract extension with Atlanta regarding the title game was announced in September 2015 and runs through the 2026 season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.