Nick Saban could catch Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant with a college football championship win over Georgia

Nick Saban could catch Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant with a college football championship win over Georgia
Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings (33) signals during the Tide's Sugar Bowl win over Clemson. Alabama is one victory away from regaining the title of No. 1 team in college football -- and giving Head Coach Nick Saban his fifth national championship at Alabama and sixth overall. (Crimson Tide Photos)

Nick Saban could tie Paul “Bear” Bryant with six national championships if Alabama beats Georgia on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Saban’s national championship run started in 2003 when he was head coach at LSU and continued at Alabama, where he won national titles in 2009, ’11, ’12 and ’15.

Bryant, who died on Jan. 26, 1983, at the age of 69, won national titles in 1961, ’64, ’65, ’73, ’78 and ’79.

Monday’s clash between Saban’s Crimson Tide and Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs will kick off at 7 p.m. CST on ESPN. Alabama is a 5-point favorite.

The Saban/Smart relationship dates to 2004 at LSU. Saban was looking for a defensive backfield coach and hired Smart, then a graduate assistant at Florida State. Smart also worked with Saban as the safeties coach for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and then followed Saban to Alabama, where he became the defensive coordinator.

Now Smart, in his second year as head coach at Georgia, will try to beat his mentor and win the national title for the Bulldogs. Their last one was in 1980, when Vince Dooley was the coach and Herschel Walker ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

Saban is 11-0 against his former assistants, including a 24-7 win over Florida State and Jimbo Fisher in the 2017 season opener at the stadium where the championship game will be played.

“I don’t think this game is about coaches,” Saban said. “I think it’s about the players. I mean, I didn’t catch any passes or make any tackles (in the 24-6 win over Clemson). The players did it all.”

Both Smart and Saban would have preferred more time between the semifinals and the championship game of the College Football Playoff.

The Georgia-Oklahoma game on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl went to two overtimes before the Bulldogs won 54-48.

And the Alabama-Clemson game wasn’t over until nearly midnight last Monday. Saban kept his team in New Orleans and they flew back to Tuscaloosa Tuesday.

Last year, Saban said, there were 10 days between the semifinal game with Washington and the championship game with Clemson.

“That makes sense,” Smart said.

So the two coaches whose teams will battle for the national championship may have sent the College Football Playoff Committee and ESPN a message.

That message: More rest and preparation needed.

Back to Bryant, who had little in common with Saban.

While Bryant was happy to be athletic director at Alabama, Saban has wanted no part of the job. Instead, he has preferred to spend his time recruiting and, like Bryant, playing a little golf during the summer.

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