Since 2009, Alabama has been an underdog three times – in October 2015, in the 2021 SEC championship game and now. Its opponent each time: Georgia. You knew that already.

This much-discussed series – the national championship game will be the ninth meeting since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa – doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of new discussion. The same thing keeps happening. Georgia last beat Alabama on Sept. 22, 2007. Matthew Stafford found Mikey Henderson for a walk-off touchdown in overtime. We didn’t much notice at the time, but the Bulldogs blew a 10-point lead twice that night.

Every meeting thereafter sticks in memory. The blowout blackout night in Athens in 2008, a season Georgia entered ranked No. 1. The epic SEC Championship game of 2012, essentially a playoff semifinal before the playoff existed. The rainy day in Sanford Stadium in 2015 when Georgia was favored but lost 38-10, a result that led to Mark Richt’s firing and Kirby Smart’s hiring before the year was done.

The College Football Playoff final of Jan. 8, 2018: Georgia led 13-0 at the half but lost on second-and-26 in overtime. The SEC Championship game 11 months later: Georgia led by 14 in the second half but lost when Jalen Hurts scored with 1:04 left after Smart’s infamous fake punt. Last season’s regular-season meeting: Georgia led 24-20 at halftime but lost 41-24. The SEC Championship game last month: Favored Georgia led 10-0 but lost 41-24 again. Even the scores have taken to repeating themselves.

ExploreMore from the AJC on Georgia's Orange Bowl victory

Their meeting in Indianapolis holds some measure of novelty. It will mark the first time they’ve played twice in a season. It will be the first time Alabama and Georgia have met anywhere but in Alabama or Georgia. The rest is standard-issue Bama-UGA stuff. Can Smart finally – finally! – outflank his mentor? Will the Bulldogs take a lead they can’t squander? Is there even such a thing? Is Georgia playing the wrong quarterback? (Boy, am I tired of that one.)

The only way the narrative changes is if Smart’s team wins. Then everything changes.

He has been Georgia’s coach for six seasons. He has done everything except beat Alabama and win it all. He can manage both in one fell swoop, though the same was true in January 2018 and also last month. (Had the Bulldogs beaten Bama for the 2021 SEC title, the Crimson Tide wouldn’t have qualified for the playoff, which would have left Georgia with no serious challenger.) It’s fair to say Alabama is never far from Smart’s mind. We were handed yet another reminder in the final seconds of the Bulldogs’ Orange Bowl demolition of Michigan.

His players readied to administer the traditional-if-hackneyed Gatorade dump. Smart advised them, perhaps in words stronger than these, not to proceed. “I was wanting to get a real shower, not a Gatorade bath,” he said, “because I want to get focused on Alabama. They got a five, six-hour head start. I’m not interested in celebrating (a semifinal). We’ll look back on that win and that’ll be great, but we’re focused on the task ahead, and that’s the objective. Our guys worked their tail off for three to four weeks to get this opportunity, and it was a one-game season, and now it’s another one-game season. I’m not focused on Gatorade baths.”

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Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart coaches on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

kirby smart-gatorade-alabama

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart coaches on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The bit about the head start – knowing Smart, he had the timing down to the nanosecond – recalled the time a coach said of a victory over Notre Dame for the BCS title: “That damn game cost me a week in recruiting.” That coach was Nick Saban. You knew that already.

Back in the ‘70s, the big game in college football was Oklahoma-Nebraska. For a while, it was Miami-Florida State. Now it’s Alabama-Georgia, even though the two aren’t on each other’s schedule all that often. They keep making it happen, though. This will be their fourth meeting for some sort of championship in four years and two days. They know each other well. We know them well. We also know what happens when they play.

Alabama-Georgia would be a classic rivalry, except for one thing. Georgia never wins. That’s subject to change, sure, but we’ve been saying that for so long that we’ll only believe the Bulldogs can win once they do. They’re fully capable of beating Bama. They have been for four years. It’s time – way past time, truth to tell – they do.

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