Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on Saturday’s showdown in Atlanta.

A berth in the national championship is the first and only thing that matters for anyone with a vested interest, but individual legacies are also on the line. If Ryan Day wants to move past the “standing on third base” narrative, beating top-ranked Georgia in a Playoff semifinal in Atlanta seems like a good way to do it. If Kirby Smart wants to further establish himself as the premier coach in the sport, earning a 3rd national championship berth seems like a good way to do it.

That feat is rare. Super rare. It’s easy to lose sight of that because of how easy Nick Saban often makes it look.

But for the rest of college football mortals, it’s something we’ve seldom seen this millennium.

Here’s the list of coaches who led their teams to 3 national championship berths in the 21st century:

  • Nick Saban, 10
  • Dabo Swinney, 4
  • Bob Stoops, 4
  • Urban Meyer, 3
  • Jim Tressel, 3

You’ll notice that Pete Carroll and Les Miles are absent from that list. Technically, Carroll didn’t reach the BCS National Championship in 2003 even though his team was No. 1 in the AP Poll, though he does have something Smart doesn’t have yet. That is, 2 rings.

Here are the list of coaches with multiple national championship victories in the 21st century:

  • Nick Saban, 7
  • Urban Meyer, 3
  • Dabo Swinney, 2
  • Pete Carroll, 2

If you’re making a Mt. Rushmore of college football coaches in the 21st century, those 4 coaches are probably it. Smart is currently in a class of 21st century coaches that includes the likes of Tressel, Stoops, Miles and a few non-title winners in the 21st century like Mark Richt, Gary Patterson and Steve Spurrier (Spurrier makes any list of “best coaches of the past 30 years” but we’re sticking with just the 21st century today).

With a win against Ohio State, Smart would have a legitimate case to trail only Saban, Meyer and Swinney on that list.

I know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t Smart still be tied with Tressel for rings (1) and total national championship appearances (3)? Shouldn’t we wait until Smart gets multiple rings to put him ahead of someone who already did that like Carroll? And wouldn’t Stoops still have the slight advantage with 4 national championship appearances compared to Smart’s 3?

Tie goes to the Playoff. And tie goes to the SEC. Hence, advantage Smart.

Call it “recency bias” or better yet, call it “SEC bias,” but Stoops, Carroll and Tressel never had to get through a 15-game schedule, much less one in the conference that saw 15 of its past 16 champions reach the national championship game.

It’s never been harder to reach a national championship. If Smart takes care of Ohio State, Georgia will have beaten its 12th Power 5 program this season. In the years that Stoops reached a national championship, it took 9-10 wins against Power 5 foes to get there. Shoot, in 2007, LSU and Ohio State only beat 8 Power 5 programs to earn a berth in the title game.

Smart, meanwhile, led Georgia to its first 13-0 start in program history with 11 victories against Power 5 competition, only 1 of which was decided by single digits. The fact that Smart did that after losing a whopping 15 players to the NFL Draft from a national championship-winning team makes that feat all the more impressive.

Smart is 2 wins from accomplishing something that only Carroll and Saban did in the 21st century. That is, repeat. You could make the case that Carroll doing that, though not in consecutive BCS Championship games, gives him the current edge over Smart if he beats Ohio State but loses in the title game.

You cannot, however, say that Smart is a significant notch below Carroll because “Georgia just has 5-stars all over the field.” Last I checked, talent acquisition is the name of the game. Smart has been better than 99.99% of 21st century coaches in that department, including the aforementioned Richt, who signed 2 top-5 classes in 15 years at Georgia (Smart has an active streak of 7 consecutive top-3 classes). Also, that ignores the Stetson Bennett IV element of this.

As crazy as it sounds, the lingering question facing Smart’s legacy could soon be “well, can he win it all without Bennett?” That stuff impacts legacies. Ultimately, Carroll wasn’t able to get it done at USC with any quarterback besides Matt Leinart. I’m old enough to remember when we wondered if we’d say the same thing about Swinney in the post-Deshaun Watson era. Granted, Watson was held in a different regard than the former walk-on that Smart doubled down on as his QB1.

It was at this time last year when it felt like Smart was at a true fork in the road. On the heels of yet another demoralizing loss at the hands of Saban in the SEC Championship, it was fair to wonder if Smart was ever going to get over the hump for a program trying to win it all for the first time in 4 decades. We questioned if the decision to stick with Bennett would haunt him and if he was on his way to becoming the ultimate “close, but no cigar” coach of the 21st century.

That narrative died last January in Indianapolis.

Joining the likes of Saban and Swinney as the only coaches to earn repeat trips to the national championship in the Playoff era would be yet another notch on Smart’s ever-growing belt. Right now, he’s probably somewhere in that mostly interchangeable 6-13 group among 21st century coaches. A win would absolutely vault Smart into the top 5 and I’d argue for him to be the last member of the 21st century coach Mt. Rushmore.

Whatever the case, it’s become abundantly clear — Smart is quickly moving past “mortal” status.