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Alabama Crimson Tide VS Georgia Bulldogs

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Alabama meets Georgia in College Football Playoff final: Mirror images, striking differences

NEW ORLEANS — There are obvious differences between Alabama and Georgia. One wears a red-hued helmet and uniform combination. One resides in the Southeast. One plays in the Southeastern Conference. One is led by a head coach with deep ties to the Crimson Tide.

OK, so there are similarities at play in the College Football Playoff national championship game. The matchup of Alabama and Georgia is the equivalent of a spot-the-difference picture quiz: There are subtle and some not-so-subtle contrasts between the two programs, if you know where to look, but at first glance the Tide and Bulldogs could pass for duplicates.

Begin with what make the two programs near-mirror images of each other, an inevitable consequence stemming from the ties between the head coaches. It will be sensei against star pupil, the master against the former right-hand man who knows all the tricks.

Nick Saban invented the process, installed it at Alabama and taught it to his crew of loyal assistants. Chief among this group is second-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who initiated his own foundation-laying exercise with the Bulldogs to familiar results.

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Alabama won seven games in Saban’s debut. Georgia took eight wins in Smart’s debut a year ago. Saban’s second team knocked on the door of a national championship before falling to Florida in the SEC title game. Smart has the Bulldogs one victory away from the program’s first championship in decades heading into the final game of his second season.

“It’s no surprise to me that his role expanded to be a head coach,” Saban said of Smart. “He’s a good football coach, a very bright guy. And he took over a program that has been successful and was actually fairly successful when he took over the program. And he’s done a great job of taking it to the next level.”

Smart and Saban have built their respective teams on defense, both with a base formation of three linemen and four linebackers that is equally effective stopping the run and defending the pass.

Of course, the dominant tie between the two programs is conference affiliation. Six years ago, the all-SEC title game between Alabama and LSU was the death knell for the Bowl Championship Series. At least this year’s one-league pairing won’t be a rematch — a small victory, though not one that will pacify the masses.

“I think sometimes people try to put a little hate on the SEC because of some of the success that we have,” Saban said. “And I don’t think that is really fair because I think it’s a great competitive league with a lot of great coaches and a lot of great institutions.

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