There are ample historical angles to any college football national championship game, but this year's clash between Alabama and Georgia on Monday in Atlanta seems to feature more than most.
After all, it's two teams from the same conference meeting. It's one national power, Georgia, trying to end a long title drought against another, Alabama, that has had one of the greatest dynasties in the sport's history. It's arguably college football's greatest coach against his longtime protégé. It's a true freshman quarterback trying to win a national title.
Let's look at the history to know before kickoff on Monday.
Bama, Georgia have been playing on and off for 122 years
The Alabama-Georgia football relationship began on Nov. 9, 1895, in Columbus, Ga., effectively a neutral site halfway between Tuscaloosa and Athens. The result -- like many 1890s football results -- wasn't pretty. Brief newspaper reports described a rain-soaked game in which Georgia was clearly the superior team, resulting in a 30-6 victory. In fact, it sounded a lot like Alabama's most recent trip to Georgia in 2015, only with the result reversed.
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That's still Georgia's second largest margin of victory against Alabama, topped only by a 35-0 win in 1948. Alabama leads the all-time series 38-25-4. It has won seven meetings by at least 28 points, and it has dealt Georgia both recent humiliation -- the 2015 game, 2008's Georgia blackout debacle -- and excruciating heartbreak, including the 2012 SEC championship that sent Alabama to the BCS title game.
For nearby conference foes, they haven't been particularly common opponents. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide met every year from 1944-65, but they've played each other only 16 times since then, with eight meetings since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992. The 2012 game was the only time they've faced off for the SEC championship. Despite the limited number of matchups in recent years, five of their eight battles as teams ranked in the AP poll have come since the turn of the century. Georgia is 5-3 in such games, although Alabama has won the past three under Saban.
Monday will be their third game with both ranked in the top five, joining the 2012 showdown when No. 2 Alabama beat No. 3 Georgia 32-28, and the 1942 game, when Heisman winner Frank Sinkwich led No. 2 Georgia to a 21-10 win.
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The Alabama-Georgia series may be most famous for something that happened off the field. A 1963 article in The Saturday Evening Post accused Alabama coach Bear Bryant and Georgia athletic director Wally Butts of fixing the 1962 game that Alabama won 35-0. Butts sued the magazine and won, and Bryant reached a settlement.
Saban's perfect record vs. former assistants is on the line
It's probable that the most cited statistic before and during the game will be that Saban is 11-0 when coaching against a former assistant who has become a head coach. Not only is Saban undefeated against his protégés; just about every game has been a blowout. The list includes Mark Dantonio, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, Derek Dooley and Jimbo Fisher, who's the latest victim after Alabama beat Florida State 24-7 on Sept. 2. The only one to stay within two touchdowns was McElwain, who lost 29-15 with Florida in the 2015 SEC championship game. It was a game that wasn't as close as the final score, as Florida was outgained 437-180. In other words: No former Saban assistant has come even close to beating him.
Smart hasn't had a chance to do so yet. Smart has already had success recruiting against his former boss, and he has a talented team that is built similarly in many ways, revolving around a physical running game and a well-rounded defense, with a quarterback who's not asked to do too much in the passing game. Teams rarely have success trying to beat Alabama at its own game, and now it's Smart's turn to try.
Nobody does same-conference postseason games like the SEC
It feels different than some games -- like the BCS national title game in the 2011 season -- because they didn't play each other in the regular season, but Alabama-Georgia is nevertheless a rarity in that it's a postseason contest featuring two teams from the same conference. It was something more common in the 1950s through the '70s, almost exclusively in games involving the SEC.
Gator Bowl, 1955. The SEC has a long-running relationship with what's now the TaxSlayer Bowl, including a few all-SEC matchups. While Vanderbilt and Auburn were both SEC members, they rarely scheduled each other. The 1955 Gator Bowl, a 25-13 Vanderbilt win, was their only meeting from 1952-77.
Gator Bowl, 1958. Ole Miss had a strange habit of playing conference foes in the postseason. It began in the 1958 Gator Bowl, its only matchup with Florida from 1949-63. The No. 11 Rebels beat the No. 14 Gators 7-3, setting the stage for a big season in 1959.
Sugar Bowl, 1959. The 1960 Sugar Bowl was a rematch of one of the most memorable games -- or, at least, most memorable plays -- in college football history. On Halloween 1959, No. 1 LSU beat No. 3 Ole Miss 7-3 thanks to Billy Cannon's 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. On Jan. 1, No. 2 Ole Miss beat No. 3 LSU -- which had lost to Tennessee -- 21-0. Despite the revenge, Ole Miss' 10-1 season can't help but be remembered first and foremost for its one lapse.
Sugar Bowl, 1963. When Ole Miss and Alabama met in New Orleans, it was their first matchup since 1944. The Sugar Bowl, a 12-7 Alabama win, jumpstarted the rivalry, as the two became mostly regular SEC opponents again afterward.
Liberty Bowl, 1965. After five years in Philadelphia and one year in Atlantic City, the Liberty Bowl opted for warmer weather and moved to Memphis. The first Memphis matchup featured a pair of SEC teams, as Ole Miss beat Auburn 13-7. It was their first meeting since 1953, and it turned out to be their last meeting until another bowl in 1970.
Gator Bowl, 1969. Florida and Tennessee didn't really become rivals until the formation of the SEC East in the 1990s. The 1969 Gator Bowl was their first meeting since 1955. The No. 15 Gators beat the No. 11 Volunteers 14-13.
Gator Bowl, 1970. The Gator Bowl's last all-SEC matchup was the second time Ole Miss and Auburn met in the postseason in six seasons. Pat Sullivan, who would win the Heisman Trophy the next season, led Auburn to a 35-28 win over Archie Manning and the Rebels.
Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl, 1972. Tennessee and LSU had met only twice in the 1960s, and they reconvened on a football field in the Astrodome in 1972, a 24-17 win by the No. 11 Volunteers over the No. 10 Tigers.
Orange Bowl, 1978. Same-conference bowl games revolved around the SEC until the 1978 season, when the Oklahoma-Nebraska Big Eight rivalry was played twice in less than two months. No. 4 Nebraska dashed No. 1 Oklahoma's national title chances in a 17-14 win in Lincoln on Nov. 11. Oklahoma still won the Big Eight title, and on Jan. 1, the No. 4 Sooners got revenge with a 31-24 win in Miami.
BCS national championship, 2011. All-SEC postseason matchups have happened many times before, but this is the one everybody remembers, for several reasons. LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in a "Game of the Century" in November. When Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State, Alabama vaulted back into the top two of the BCS standings, creating a rematch with the Tigers for the national title at the Superdome. This time, Alabama dominated the game, 21-0. LSU had 92 total yards and five first downs. It was the only BCS title game to feature two teams from the same conference, and the rematch helped lead to the creation of the College Football Playoff.
Arizona Bowl, 2015. The inaugural Arizona Bowl in Tucson was forced to match a pair of Mountain West teams who at least didn't meet in the regular season. Nevada beat Colorado State 28-23.
Can a true freshman quarterback win the national championship?
In 1985, Troy Aikman opened the season as Oklahoma's starting quarterback. With a defense led by Brian Bosworth, the Sooners opened the season ranked No. 1, but they lost their fourth game, at home against Miami, a day when Aikman was lost for the season to a broken leg. Aikman was replaced by a true freshman, Jamelle Holieway, whose running ability helped lead Oklahoma to coach Barry Switzer's third and final national title. Holieway rushed for 862 yards and nine TDs, and the Sooners crushed everybody the rest of the way, beating No. 1 Penn State 25-10 in the Orange Bowl for the championship.
Holieway is still the last true freshman starting quarterback for a national champion, a feat that Jalen Hurts and Alabama came so close to matching last year. Hurts took over as the starter in Week 2 of 2016, and the Crimson Tide went undefeated in the regular season. In the national title game against Clemson, Hurts put Alabama ahead by three points on a 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left, but Deshaun Watson and the Tigers responded with a game-winning drive.
One year later, Hurts is back in the championship game as a sophomore, facing off against another true freshman quarterback who has the chance to match Holieway. Like Hurts last year, Jake Fromm took over as starter in Week 2. In this case, it happened after Jacob Eason, a sophomore who had been a five-star recruit, was injured in Georgia's opener against Appalachian State. Eason came back healthy, but he couldn't retake the job from Fromm, a top-50 overall recruit who enrolled early and impressed in the offseason. (Fromm initially verbally committed to Alabama back in 2015 before flipping to the home-state Bulldogs.) Supported by a strong running game and veteran defense, Fromm has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards, 23 TDs and five INTs, ranking fourth nationally in passer rating.
Although Fromm has attempted just 18.5 passes per game, he's still shouldering more of a load as a passer than Georgia's quarterback the last time it did win a national championship. In 1980, a freshman running back named Herschel Walker carried the Bulldogs to a perfect season. Junior QB Buck Belue attempted 14.2 passes per game during the regular season, then completed just 1 of 12 passes for seven yards in Georgia's 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the national title. Of course, Belue's one completion came when Georgia needed it most, as he converted a third down with only a couple minutes left to put the game away.
Saban takes aim at tying the Bear
Even today, when there's a playoff system in place, it's hard to go too long before a team disputes a national championship. Such is the case with UCF. It went undefeated but was left out of the playoff, which hasn't stopped it from declaring itself national champions. It's a long tradition in college football, of course, making it hard to determine who really was the national champion in many seasons.
Georgia is commonly credited with one, in 1980, but its media guide claims two consensus titles, also recognizing the 1942 team that went 11-1 and finished No. 2 in the AP poll behind Ohio State. It also references three other teams with a claim to a title, including the 1968 squad that went 8-1-2 and was ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll. Meanwhile, NCAA.com's list credits Alabama with 14 national titles; Alabama claims 16.
The NCAA doesn't crown a national champion itself at the FBS level, but going by its list of recognized champions, two coaches stand atop the rest of the sport: Fielding Yost, who led Michigan to six mythical national championships before polls even existed, and Bear Bryant, who led Alabama to six national titles, the first in 1961 and the last in 1979.
Saban's five -- four at Alabama, one at LSU -- tie him with Ohio State's Woody Hayes and Minnesota's Bernie Bierman. Bierman, who's become underappreciated as time has progressed, won five titles in eight years from 1934-41. Saban nearly matched that last year, so now Saban is pursuing a fifth title in nine years.
Should Alabama win on Monday, Saban will claim his sixth championship, matching Bryant atop the leaderboard. Two summers ago, my list of the top 100 coaches ever featured Saban at No. 3, behind Bryant and Rockne. Another championship would likely push Saban to the top, if he isn't there already.