So who will break through first against their former boss?
Recently, SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy told SEC Country that Smart is his pick for the former Saban assistant who will beat the Crimson Tide first. McElroy cited the Bulldogs’ significant gains in 2017, which included an SEC title and an appearance in the National Championship Game against Alabama, as to why he considers Smart close.
“If I had to pick right now, I’d say Georgia,” McElroy said. “They almost did it last year. I would say that A&M has all the makings, but we haven’t even seen Jimbo coach a game at A&M yet. So it’s kind of impossible to assume that they’ve closed the gap that quickly. But A&M played Alabama tough last year, and they have obviously a bevy or resources at their disposal, and they have good personnel.
“But Georgia is just so far ahead of A&M right now. They’re two years into the rebuilding process. They’re two years into the Smart era.”
Smart, who was Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-15, led Georgia to a 13-2 finish last season that included an overtime loss to the Crimson Tide in January. As a result, Saban’s record against his former assistants improved to 12-0. To begin the 2017 campaign, Alabama beat Fisher-led Florida State in September. Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04.
Fisher was part of the SEC’s significant coaching turnover after last season. He arrives at Texas A&M after posting an 83-23 record as Florida State’s coach from 2010-17, and he led the Seminoles to a national championship during the 2013 campaign.
Certainly, Fisher enters a demanding situation. He was awarded a 10-year, $75 million contract to help lift the Aggies past the mediocrity of the Kevin Sumlin era. Sumlin was fired in November after going 51-26 from 2012-17. Texas A&M failed to win more than eight games in a season in its last four years under Sumlin.
“In two years, will A&M be where Georgia is?” McElroy said. “It’s tough to forecast that, because I think Georgia had such a nice foundation already laid from Mark Richt’s staff that it was a little bit less of a complete turnaround than what you’re seeing from Kevin Sumlin to Jimbo Fisher. I think Kevin Sumlin runs a completely different program than what Jimbo Fisher would like to run. It’s going to change considerably, the way guys practice and prepare, and the styles of offense and defense that they run.”
It’s not a stretch to envision Smart, who’s 21-7 in two years at Georgia, becoming the first Saban assistant to beat the former boss soon. After all, Georgia held a 13-point halftime lead against Alabama in January before Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa helped spark a memorable rally.
But if all goes well at Texas A&M, Fisher should make the Aggies a rising SEC West threat in short order. To be sure, officials at the school expect him to do so after luring him to College Station..