By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - 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. 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.
"It'll definitely be the most physical game we play all year, without a doubt," Alabama center Barrett Jones said. "The most physical games I've played in my life have been against them. We really respect the way they play football."
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.
"To be honest with you, I'm not sure any game will be like that game was last year," Minter said, shaking his head as he remembered the hype. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime type of game."
Turns out, it wasn't a once-in-a-season type of game.
Even though Alabama was runner-up in the SEC West, the Crimson Tide climbed back to No. 2 in the BCS standings, earning a much-debated rematch with the conference champion Tigers in the national title game.
That one was no contest. The Crimson Tide ruined LSU's perfect season in the New Orleans Superdome with a stifling defensive performance, limiting the Tigers to 92 yards and five first downs.
LSU has been stewing about it ever since.
"They took something from us," running back Michael Ford said. "We should have won the national championship. We got it taken away. It should have been a magical season for us."
Ever since Saban took over at Alabama, the teams have met with one or the other _ or both _ ranked in the top five. They have split their previous six meetings, four of which were decided by a touchdown or less, including two that went to overtime. It's not always pretty, but it sure is intense.
"They're not really going to try to trick us," Jones said. "That's why we like playing them and that's why they like playing us. We both respect each other and both really are kind of founded on toughness."
Especially on the defensive side.
Despite losing six players from one of the greatest defenses in college football history to the NFL (including three first-round picks), the Crimson Tide has picked up where it left off in the Superdome.
Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major defensive categories.
"Coming into the season, we were always talking about what was going to be our identity," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Great players left last year, but we had players that could fill their roles. So far, we're getting the job done. It's all about communication because we've got the athletes and we've got the players that can play with anybody in the nation."