Georgia football-Kirby Smart-Brian Kelly-2022 SEC Championship
Georgia coach Kirby Smart celebrates a play in the Notre Dame game, a 20-19 win on Sept. 9th that keeps looking better with every passing week. (David Weikel/UGA)

Kirby Smart, Brian Kelly recognize it’s good for college football when their teams play: ‘It doesn’t get better than this’

ATHENS — Kirby Smart agrees that when his team’s matchup with Brian Kelly’s teams, it’s usually good for college football.

Of course, the two previous matchups between Kelly and Smart took place when the former was the head coach at Notre Dame. Georgia won both matchups as well, with the road win in 2017 propelling Georgia to the College Football Playoff that season.

“Both hard-fought, physical football games in both cases. Got a lot of respect for Notre Dame’s program,” Smart said. “I thought it was great college ball to have Notre Dame and Georgia matched in those two games.”

When the two sides meet on Saturday, Kelly will be in charge of the LSU program. The Tigers went 9-3 in Kelly’s first season, with the Tigers picking up a big win over Alabama to help clinch the SEC West.

While much has changed for both Kelly and Smart since the last time the two sides met back in 2019, Kelly has a good idea of what he and his team will be facing on Saturday.

“It’s just really good college football. Look, it’s going to be a similar situation,” Kelly said. We’re going to play a physical football team that has the style of its head coach. They’re going to play great defense. They’re going to be physical on both sides of the ball.

That’s the nature of a well-coached football team that’s won a national championship and is competing for another. You know what you’re going to get here.”

Related: Brian Kelly reveals what makes Georgia football so difficult to play: ‘Nothing’s going to be easy’

Both Kelly and Smart also spoke about the value these past matchups have created in recruiting. Many of Georgia’s top players on the current team were at the Notre Dame game in Athens in 2019.

Part of the reason Kelly left a strong Notre Dame program for LSU is greater access to talent. Whereas at Notre Dame he would have to search the country for elite players to win a national championship, Kelly now only needs to look in the fertile recruiting grounds of New Orleans for elite talent.

Smart understands the move, as Georgia has a similar opportunity in recruiting Atlanta.

“They both have great high school football in and around their universities, the proximity to good players,” Smart said. “Got New Orleans, got Atlanta. Per capita, when you look across the NFL, the state of Georgia and Louisiana are always near the top. It has a lot to do with the success of the programs.”

Playing in the SEC championship game undoubtedly helps recruiting, as the contest is frequently one of the most-watched games in the country.

Both times Kelly and Smart’s teams have matched up, it has ended up being a one-score game. That would run counter to what the experts in Las Vegas expect this time around, as the Bulldogs are a 17.5-point favorite.

Kelly knows why that is the case, what with how strong this Georgia team has been over the course of the season.

It’ll be a challenge for Kelly and LSU on Saturday. One the LSU coach is embracing head-on.

“Quite frankly, that’s the exciting part about it. You know what you’re going to get,” Kelly said. “You’re going to get a really well-coached football team, fundamentally sound, and they’re going to play hard for four quarters and it’s going to challenge your football team to play its very best as well.

“It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Brian Kelly talks facing Georgia football team in 2022 SEC Championship game

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