ATHENS — Georgia football has moved past Alabama in the polls and in the world of public perception, even as Nick Saban continues to be regarded by some as the nation’s top coach.
That might soon change, according to ESPN and SEC Network analyst Paul Finebaum, who predicted the Bulldogs will three-peat this season.
Georgia has won the past two titles with Kirby Smart leading the way in his sixth and seventh seasons as the program’s head coach.
And yet, there are still some who favor Saban, and ESPN GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit recently picked Alabama to win the SEC on the strength of its head coach.
“There’s some people thinking, and (Herbstreit) is part of that old school mentality, that if Saban gets into a battle with Kirby Smart, he’s going to win,” Finebaum said, referring to Saban’s 4-1 advantage over Smart in head-to-head games.
“I think people are obsessing over that. I think Alabama has a legitimate shot of getting to Atlanta and the playoffs,” Finebaum said.
“Even if they stumble a bit a win over Georgia would get them in, but I don’t see that happening. I think the only shot at the playoffs is (Alabama) going to Atlanta undefeated, and you know the scenario there.”
Indeed, an undefeated Georgia team lost the 2021 SEC Championship Game to Alabama by a 41-24 count but made the four-team playoff and avenged that defeat by beating the Tide 33-18 in the CFP Championship Game.
The Bulldogs’ program went on to a 15-0 championship season in 2022 and has many, including Finebaum, believing Smart has elevated his program over Saban’s at Alabama.
“I think today the thing that stands out the most is, not only does Georgia have a better roster, but they have a better staff,” Finebaum said, comparing UGA and Alabama.
“I am somewhat underwhelmed by what Nick Saban has had on his coaching staff in the last two or three years, especially since he lost Steve Sarkisian.”
Finebaum is critical of former Alabama coordinators Pete Golding and Bill O’Brien, along with the hiring of former Tide offensive line coach Doug Marrone.
“I know that sounds like I’m nitpicking, but we’re talking about Nick Saban,” Finebaum said. “At his age and his stature, and his run, you don’t make those kinds of mistakes.”
Finebaum didn’t hesitate when saying he would take Georgia’s coaching staff over Alabama’s.
“I would, because I think Tommy Rees is completely unproven (and) Mike Bobo is not,” Saban said, comparing the offensive coordinators. “We can nitpick about Mike Bobo, but the one thing that drives me crazy is when people blame Mike Bobo for what happened at South Carolina and Auburn. That’s absurd.”
Bobo was the offensive coordinator for struggling programs lacking offensive talent at South Carolina (2020) and Auburn (2021), but in his first tenure at Georgia produced the highest-scoring team in school history along with the winningest QB in the program’s history, the SEC’s all-time leading passer and No. 1 overall pick and future Super Bowl champion Matthew Stafford.
“As far as Kevin Steele, I respect Kevin Steele immensely, but I don’t know if Kevin Steele is the answer,” Finebaum said, assessing the new Alabama defensive coordinator. “Nick Saban wasn’t looking to hire Kevin Steele alone, he was looking to bring Kevin Steele in and have Jeremy Pruitt be an analyst for one year and then put him in that position.
“Jeremy Pruitt is more highly regarded in that position than Kevin Steele. Kevin Steele is not lowly regarded, but I’m trying to count up all the championships Kevin Steele has been part of and I’m struggling.”
Georgia counters with arguably the best defensive staff in the country, as Smart continues to be involved with co-defensive coordinators Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann.