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SEC's Favorite Rivalry Renewed in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer Semifinal

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 9, 2014

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When Chris Davis went 109 yards to end last season's Iron Bowl, the rivalry between Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Alabama head coach Nick Saban jumped into national consciousness as one of the best new coaching rivalries in the SEC.

Long before that, though, it was Saban vs. Urban Meyer that stole the show in the SEC.

Those two legends were a major part of the beginning of the SEC's title run. Meyer won national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008, and Saban took the torch and ran with it from there, winning titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
Ohio State head coach Urban MeyerJoe Robbins/Getty Images

The rivalry kicked into overdrive during the 2008 season, when top-ranked and undefeated Alabama took Saban's Crimson Tide to the SEC Championship Game to face off against No. 4 Florida in what was essentially a de facto BCS national semifinal.

The Crimson Tide took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter before Meyer's Gators—led by quarterback Tim Tebow—scored two touchdowns in the final frame to punch a ticket to the BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma.

According to The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), Tebow had been 0-5 as a starting quarterback when trailing in the second half up to that point in his career. However, he put his team on his back, throwing for 53 yards and rushing for seven on the game-winning drive, which culminated with a five-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with two minutes and 50 seconds to play to give the Gators the 31-20 win.

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The next year in Atlanta, the stakes were the same.

Alabama again entered undefeated but was ranked No. 2 thanks to No. 1 Florida navigating the season unbeaten as well.

In a game for the ages—which, according to Lance Taylor of WJOX in Birmingham, was the last time Alabama was the underdog—the Crimson Tide throttled the Gators 32-13 and went on to win their first national championship since the 1992 season.

"I can't remember my address or phone number," Meyer said on Sunday's Sugar Bowl teleconference. "But I can tell you probably every play from those games.

"That [2009 Alabama] team was one of the best teams that I ever coached against."

Meyer retired shortly after the 2009 SEC Championship Game loss only to rethink his plans and recommit to Florida for the 2010 season—his last in Gainesville.

These are the two coaches who were at the forefront of the SEC's rise to a superpower. While they wanted to beat each other in the biggest games of the late 2000s, they remain friends off the field.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban," Saban said on Sunday's teleconference. "We've done some ESPN games together. I consider him a good friend and I certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional that he is and the kind of coach that he is and the kind of programs that he's had."

Urban Meyer (left) with Florida and Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Urban Meyer (left) with Florida and Alabama head coach Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Meyer echoed those sentiments, saying that the two "used to sit next to each other at SEC meetings" and serve on several committees together that focus on the future of player well-being and other goals that could be achieved through autonomy.

It's a rivalry between two coaches who, while friends, are two of the fiercest competitors in college football. On top of that, they boast two different styles.

Saban, a defensive guru who hired Lane Kiffin to become more versatile vs. Meyer, an offensive pioneer who has been at his best at Florida and Ohio State with fearsome defenses.

Two fiery competitors who have competed against each other will renew the rivalry on the biggest stage in college football history.

These are uncharted waters.

New Year's Day 2015 will cut the ribbon on a brand new era for college football, one that includes national semifinals and a Super Bowl-style title game.

It's only fitting that two of the best coaches of this generation have the scissors in their hands to get the festivities started.

Saban and Meyer helped put the SEC on the map, and they'll do the same with the College Football Playoff.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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