Early angst aside, Alabama-LSU game is once again a huge factor in SEC West

After all the angst about Alabama's offense and LSU's defense, they'll meet up with both still having a realistic shot at the Southeastern Conference title.

That, at least, is business as usual.

LSU and Alabama's respective earlier stumbles haven’t derailed the prospect of either team finishing atop the SEC West. That shakeup doesn't usually happen until they’ve met face to face, as they will on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“Everybody knows this is one of those games that puts you in a position to challenge for an SEC championship,” Tigers coach Brian Kelly said on Monday.

The eighth-ranked Crimson Tide (7-1, 5-0), who already have a win over fellow contender No. 11 Mississippi, can strengthen their hold on the division with a victory.

No. 13 LSU (6-2, 4-1) still would need to close with wins over Florida and Texas A&M, along with a Rebels loss. The Tigers have losses to No. 4 Florida State and Ole Miss in which their defense allowed a combined 100 points. Alabama fell to No. 7 Texas, though its offense has progressed since then.

The winner of this game has gone on to play in the SEC championship game 10 times in the last 12 seasons. There's good reason to expect one of these teams to make it to Atlanta again.

Alabama especially hasn't given up on its national title aspirations, either.

“I think this has developed into sort of a rivalry game, because they’re always ranked. We’re always ranked,” said Tide coach Nick Saban, who once led LSU to a national title.

“It’s always a big game relative to what happens in our division. So it’s an important game for both teams.”

With respect to the coach who turns 72 on Tuesday, it has become more than “sort of” a rivalry. The stakes are too high most of the time, the teams too good. And the emotions simmer year-round.

They must be threatening to boil over in Tuscaloosa following last year’s 32-31 overtime game that helped launch LSU to an SEC title showdown with eventual national champion Georgia in Atlanta. An open date for both teams gave the anticipation time to build.

Kelly is relatively new to this rivalry, though he made his presence felt strongly with last season's win and his own gutsy gamble. The Tigers won on a 2-point conversion in overtime.

“For me, it’s exciting, right?" Kelly said. “Because I get immersed in some of the great games and the great rivalries and the great names that have been part of this game. So, I love it.”

For his part, Saban won't have much time to celebrate his birthday this week. That's pretty standard for the ultra-focused coach, who's far more concerned with preparing for the game.

“When your birthday and holidays come up during the football season, they’re really not holidays and they’re really not birthdays,” Saban said, in a very Saban-like sentiment. “You get older, but you don’t really celebrate much.”

What do you get the coach whose salary tops $11 million, anyway? Quarterback Jalen Milroe, who has led the offensive resurgence, knows exactly what would make Saban happy on his birthday week.

“I think the biggest gift he wants is a win this week,” Milroe said. "We all know that in the locker room. We all definitely tell him happy birthday. He's getting old.

“He’s still that young, that’s the funny part. He does everything young. Yeah, he's a lot of fun.”

And so are most of the games between Alabama and LSU.


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.


Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here


AP college football: and