ATLANTA — Brent Key might very well be Georgia Tech’s version of Kirby Smart, a former player coaching at his alma mater with a Nick Saban-assistant coaching pedigree.

First things first, Key must coach against Smart in the Yellow Jackets’ annual rivalry game with Georgia at noon on Saturday (TV: ESPN) and have the “interim” tag removed from in front of his name.

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The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are a 35 1/2-point favorite, and Key explained why.

“It’s not just a collection of good players — it’s a collection of good players playing good football,” Key said at his outdoor press conference this week at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“They play sound, they play well together, and they do a good job of the game-planning week to week versus different opponents’ offense and defense.”

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Smart has built arguably the best staff in college football with Broyles Award favorite Todd Monken as his OC and veteran Will Muschamp assisting Glenn Schumann as co-defensive coordinator.

It has taken Smart seven years to grow and build the Georgia program to this point, now six years removed from Georgia Tech’s 28-27 win over the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium in 2016.

The fact the Yellow Jackets still have the benefit of a valuable home-and-home series with Georgia is a win for their program. Tech has fallen off to the degree that the game does not draw much attention nor add value to the Bulldogs’ season.

The Yellow Jackets, however, can sell to recruits the opportunity to play the most elite SEC team every year -- and in Georgia Tech’s home stadium every other year -- in addition to facing ACC powerhouse Clemson each season.

Further, for Georgia Tech to score a program-changing win over an elite program like Georgia, they must first make sure they are on the schedule to play them.

Key has made the most of his seven games leading the Yellow Jackets this season, scoring wins over Top 25 programs Pitt and North Carolina.

Georgia Tech’s “interim” head coach understands what success looks like and how to build it.

In addition to his three-year stint and national championship season coaching under Saban at Alabama, Key went 3-1 as a player for the Yellow Jackets against Georgia.

Kirby Smart still remembers losing his final home game to a Georgia Tech team that featured Key on the Yellow Jackets’ powerful offensive line.

Key was also part of the Alabama staff that beat Georgia in 2018 by a 35-28 count in the SEC Championship Game.

Key has had an up-close look at Smart’s powerhouse Georgia program the past three seasons as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia Tech.

“Offensively they have really good weapons, on that side of the ball, they are unique to college football,” Key said on Tuesday.

“Very rarely do you see a group of tight ends that are that explosive and is able to block, and they have good clutch running backs and some receivers that can hurt you.”

To Key’s point, a large portion of Stetson Bennett’s 3,011 yards passing has come on yards after the catch, as UGA has relied heavily on a shorter, more controlled pass game.

“Defense, they will do what they do, mixing it up between their mint (three-down) front and four-down front, but they will keep you honest by the way they stem the front with movement pre-snap,” Key said. “They have evolved over time, but it’s really good, sound football on that side of the football.

“They are really sound on special teams with a really good kicker, so they can control the field position with their kicking game.”

Key wasn’t trying to make Georgia sound unbeatable, but the reality is that the Bulldogs’ only struggles have come when they have turned the ball over or been inefficient in the red zone.

Georgia Tech likely doesn’t have enough talent to take advantage of a bad day for the Bulldogs in Athens — at least, not to the extent of pulling off an upset.

But in Key, the Yellow Jackets might finally have a coach capable of matching wits with Smart and understanding what it will take to make the Yellow Jackets contenders once again.

As long as Georgia maintains a home-and-home series with Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets are ensured at least a chance of pulling off a program-changing win every year.