Saturday November 3, 2012

BATON ROUGE, La. -- OK, so maybe it’s not the Game of the Century.

No disputing it’s the game of the year.

Nothing new about that.

Alabama-LSU has undoubtedly become the greatest rivalry in college football, supplanting Michigan-Ohio State, Florida-Florida State and any of those other annual showdowns with historic overtones. Last year, these Southeastern Conference powerhouses met twice -- once with the Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 and the Tigers No. 2, the second time with the roles reversed.

Another epic showdown looms Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) is looking to stay on course for its second straight national title, but a familiar foe -- No. 5 LSU -- stands in the way.

"You’ve got your Michigan-Ohio States and stuff like that, but I feel like those games are not what they used to be," LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said. "This is the gusto right here."

The teams have long been SEC rivals, but it was a largely overlooked game on the national stage. That all changed in 2007, when former LSU coach Nick Saban, after a brief stint in the NFL, returned to the college game -- at Alabama, of all places.

Suddenly, this series took on a whole new level of nastiness and vitriol.

"It has definitely grown," LSU safety Eric Reid said. "I grew up watching LSU-Bama, and it was always a good game, but since I got here it’s definitely gotten way bigger.


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Both of our teams have developed and become very good football teams. Whenever we play each other, everybody expects a big game. We can’t disappoint them."

Indeed, these are two modern dynasties. LSU, guided by Saban successor Les Miles, won the national title in 2007. Alabama finished on top in 2009, then did it again last season -- by beating the Tigers 21-0 in the title game.

When the teams met last year in Tuscaloosa, the buildup was so intense that everyone broke out the "Game of the Century" moniker. Alabama was the favorite but LSU pulled out a 9-6 victory in overtime, winning a battle of the field goals.

This game doesn’t have quite the same luster, since LSU (7-1, 3-1) already has a loss on its record, a 14-6 setback at Florida.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger hasn’t been nearly as effective, raising familiar concerns for a team that has flailed around for several years trying to settle on a starter and didn’t reach the end zone in two games against the Crimson Tide a season ago.

Mettenberger, a transfer from Georgia, has completed about 57 percent for 1,419 yards, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Essentially, his role is to make sure he doesn’t do anything that gets the Tigers beat.

"Not making mistakes will be huge," he said. "We can’t turn it over for sure."