LSU and Alabama will collide Saturday afternoon in college football's first regular-season matchup of the top two teams in the Associated Press poll since 2011.
That's a lot of hype to navigate between now and when the teams run out of their respective tunnels inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"A lot of people will bring it to your attention this week," Alabama redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said Monday in a news conference. "They'll say, 'I hope you have a good game,' and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, they're not going to be on the field with us. We just tune that stuff out and go about it casually, but you definitely feel the atmosphere, and it's different."
What isn't different are the teams from the last 1-2 showdown. Top-ranked LSU traveled to Tuscaloosa eight years ago and topped the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime, but Alabama won the rematch 21-0 a few weeks later at the BCS championship game in New Orleans.
College football now has a playoff system, and both the No. 1 Tigers (8-0, 4-0 SEC) and the No. 2 Tide (8-0, 5-0) could be among the four teams invited regardless of Saturday's outcome, but that's part of the peripheral conversation to this week's showdown that each coach is hoping to avoid.
Both ESPN's "College GameDay" and the SEC Network's "SEC Nation" shows will be televised from Tuscaloosa, and Sports Illustrated reported Monday that President Donald Trump plans to attend.
"I think the big thing you want the players to do is not get involved in the hype surrounding the game or even think about the implications of the game," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "You want them to prepare for the game as if this is the best team you've played and that this is the best player that you've played against at his position all year long. They've got to challenge themselves to be their best as a football player and stay focused on that and not the distractions that surround the game relative to the implications or whatever else is created."
Said LSU counterpart Ed Orgeron more succinctly: "Don't over-hype it. There is going to be enough hype out there."
Both teams have internal matters that need addressing before Saturday's 3:39 p.m. EST kickoff on CBS.
For Alabama, the top storyline is junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who led the Tide to a 29-0 blanking of the Tigers last season in Baton Rouge but has been mending from a high-ankle sprain that required a medical procedure following the 35-13 win over Tennessee on Oct. 19. Saban said Monday that Tagovailoa practiced last Wednesday and Thursday and would split repetitions this week with redshirt sophomore Mac Jones, who led Alabama to a 48-7 shellacking of Arkansas on Oct. 26.
Tagovailoa, Saban said, remains a "game-time decision."
Orgeron announced Monday that senior outside linebacker Michael Divinity had left the team for personal reasons. He added that K'Lavon Chaisson, Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton have plenty of experience and that "we should be fine."
Defending national champion Clemson began this season ranked No. 1 but was passed by Alabama after five games. The Tide held the top spot until being passed a little more than a week ago by LSU, which has more quality wins with toppings of Auburn, Florida and Texas.
The recent switch will not serve as motivation.
"I don't really talk about rankings," Saban said. "If you don't have success in what you're doing, you're not going to be ranked there long. You need to focus on what you need to do to play well in the game."
Alabama junior right tackle Jedrick Wills agreed, saying, "From week to week, it really doesn't matter where they place us. We want to go out and play winning football whether we're No. 2 or No. 10."
The Tide have won eight straight series meetings, but Orgeron was quick to point out that none of those outcomes has anything to do with Saturday's showdown. He confidently said that this is the best team he has taken into this game, and nobody from Alabama was doubting that.
Orgeron has stated with regularity that Alabama is the benchmark standard in SEC football and was asked Monday how much his Tigers have gained on that front.
"You can tell by the rankings that it looks like we've made up some ground, but we've still got to beat them," Orgeron said. "You're still got to go through them to win the SEC West."
Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings and Georgia's Tae Crowder are the SEC's lone semifinalists for this season's Butkus Award. ... Alabama's game next week at Mississippi State will have a noon EST kickoff on ESPN. ... Saban said Monday that freshman kicker Will Reichard (hip) remains questionable. ... Alabama holds a 53-25-5 series advantage over LSU.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.