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Ole Miss Athletics photo / Ole Miss second-year coach Lane Kiffin will try to halt Nick Saban's 23 consecutive wins over former assistants this Saturday when his No. 12 Rebels travel to face top-ranked Alabama.

What if Kirby Smart lost to a former assistant before Nick Saban?

That's a possibility this Saturday when the Southeastern Conference's two football matchups involving top-12 teams — No. 8 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia and No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama — contain the added elements of Smart and Saban facing former understudies. Saban is 23-0 against head coaches who once worked for him and can get to 25-0 by defeating Lane Kiffin's Rebels this weekend and prevailing Oct. 9 at Texas A&M, which is guided by Jimbo Fisher.

Only two of Saban's 23 wins against former assistants have been decided by single digits — the national championship game of the 2017 season and the 2018 SEC title game — with both at the expense of Georgia's Smart.

"There's a reason he's the best in the history of college football," Kiffin said Wednesday.

Kiffin nearly knocked off Alabama as Tennessee's coach in 2009, falling 12-10 in Tuscaloosa, and his three seasons as Saban's offensive coordinator from 2014-16 yielded three consecutive SEC crowns. In his first pairing against Saban as a former Crimson Tide assistant, Kiffin and the Rebels played Alabama to a 42-42 standoff early in the fourth quarter last season in Oxford before the visitors broke free for a 63-48 win.

Before last season's game, Kiffin revealed to the SEC Network that he and other former Saban assistants such as Smart, then-South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and then-Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt had a text thread, adding, "We all have the same father."

When asked Wednesday about that thread, Kiffin said: "Jeremy and Will aren't head coaches anymore, so our thread has died down a little bit. Jimbo didn't make our cut, since he was a long time ago. Kirby and I are the only ones left, and every once in a while there is something on there, but not as much anymore."

Smart is only 2-0 against former assistants, defeating Sam Pittman's Razorbacks 37-10 last season and Shane Beamer's South Carolina Gamecocks 40-13 this month. The Bulldogs have actually been more dominant than Alabama so far this season, outscoring opponents 160-6 through the first three quarters.

"They're an outstanding football team that's been able to play a lot of players and develop them because they have been so dominant in the early parts of the game," Pittman said. "They're giving up 185 yards a game on defense, and it's hard to get a first down. When it's hard to get a first down on your defense, your offense is out there a lot and able to score a lot of points.

"They've scored over 100 points in their last two games, and that tells me they're either the best team in the country, or they're No. 1 or No. 2. We know the task is going to be very difficult."

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AP photo by Butch Dill / Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks to reporters during SEC Media Days on July 22 in Hoover, Ala.

Pasquali's Pix

Arkansas at Georgia: This will mark the eighth top-10 opponent the Bulldogs have faced in their past 17 games, a streak that began with the 2019 loss to LSU in the SEC title game. Bulldogs 30, Razorbacks 10.

Tennessee at Missouri: If Hendon Hooker can't play, the college football world will be glued to see what happens when a quarterback who overthrows everybody faces a defense that can't stop anybody. Volunteers 30, Tigers 27.

Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech: From a one-point loss to Northern Illinois to a 23-point rout of North Carolina, has any team improved more in September than the Yellow Jackets? Jackets 26, Panthers 23.

Western Carolina at UTC: Never bet against Saban in a neutral-site season opener, and never bet on a team that yielded 52 points to Gardner-Webb. Mocs 34, Catamounts 26.

Ole Miss at Alabama: Saban's 23-0 mark against former assistants began with Derek Dooley in 2010 and most recently continued with Pruitt last October. Crimson Tide 33, Rebels 31.

Florida at Kentucky: On Nov. 15, 1986, "Crocodile Dundee" was the No. 1 movie in the United States and the Wildcats last beat the Gators in Lexington. Gators 31, Wildcats 24.

UConn at Vanderbilt: In going from last week's 62-0 loss to No. 2 Georgia to facing the 0-5 Huskies, the Commodores could be experiencing the biggest talent drop between consecutive foes in college football history. Commodores 27, Huskies 16.

Auburn at LSU: Bryan Harsin could make the Georgia State escape a distant memory by becoming the first Auburn coach to win in Baton Rouge since Tommy Tuberville in 1999. LSU 27, Auburn 22.

Other picks:

Miami 38, Virginia 31

South Carolina 24, Troy 19

Texas A&M 19, Mississippi State 16

Notre Dame 27, Cincinnati 24

Maryland 26, Iowa 23

BYU 35, Utah State 22

North Carolina 42, Duke 15

Memphis 33, Temple 20

Wake Forest 31, Louisville 28

N.C. State 30, Louisiana Tech 17

Oregon 34, Stanford 29

Oklahoma 41, Kansas State 26

Ohio State 34, Rutgers 13

Florida State 22, Syracuse 21

Marshall 23, MTSU 10

Penn State 29, Indiana 14

Clemson 37, Boston College 18

Last week:

Winners — 17

ACC title tickets — 8

Pasquali is 76-24 overall (76.0%) this season.

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

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