Players handle hype

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was hard to escape the hype around the LSU-Alabama game when both squads were off last week. Now, it’s downright impossible.

Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower had just finished celebrating a win over Tennessee two weeks ago when he saw the first ad for the LSU game. When Barrett Jones chatted with family and friends back home in suburban Memphis, they didn’t want to talk about the Vols game.
Like everybody else, they wanted to talk No. 1 LSU versus No. 2 Alabama.

“Everyone I saw pretty much was like, ‘You’ve got a pretty big game this week,’” said Jones, the Crimson Tide’s left tackle. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we do. That’s an underestimation.’”

After a nearly two-month buildup, Judgment Day — SEC style — is now just days away.

The Tide and Tigers collide Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that’s gotten weeks of hype as a potential national title elimination contest.

The winner certainly does have the inside track to play for both the Southeastern Conference and national titles, with no guarantees beyond that. The game is so big that even Alabama’s all-business coach, Nick Saban, didn’t try to downplay its magnitude Monday before a room packed with close to double the normal media contingent on his 60th birthday.

LSU coach Les Miles as usual wants his players to embrace the big-game trappings. He said he doesn’t want the Tigers coaching or playing like normal for a game that’s anything but.

“I want the players to enjoy the glare and the light of the big stage,” Miles said. “I want them to enjoy the opportunity to play for a big victory. Once I’ve prepared the team and after I feel I’ve done a quality job, I want the players to play with freedom.

“If there is a chance to make a dominant play, I want them to make that play.”

This isn’t altogether uncharted territory for either SEC power. The veterans have played in big games like this. But it’s the first time two SEC teams have met before the league title game ranked 1 and 2 in the nation.

“We live for games like this,” Tide noseguard Josh Chapman said. “You want to go against great teams. Being in the SEC, it’s a great matchup.

“We’re ready for it.”

The two SEC West rivals have been on a season-long collision course.

“Twitter, Facebook, we’ve been hearing it from everywhere,” Hightower said. “It’s really exciting. You’ve been hearing about it ever since the Tennessee game.

“As soon as I got home, I saw the commercials for it, LSU versus Alabama. We’re really excited for it, but we can’t let that get to us.”

Saban isn’t dismissing the notion that the loser of the game is bumped from the national title picture, and maybe even a possible rematch in the BCS championship game.

Chances are, that would require a loss by unbeaten teams like No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Boise State.

“I think everybody should view that game as these are two of the best teams playing and how that game affects the future should not be relative to just who won and lost, but actually the quality of the teams,” Saban said.
Of the buildup, Saban said, “I’m sure that there’s some players on our team who pay very little attention, and there’s other players who could get caught up in that type of thing.”