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Even Saban admits ’Bama-LSU a big game

– Even Nick Saban isn’t protesting too loudly that Alabama-LSU is just another game.

The stakes are too high, the recent meetings too competitive and the rivalry just too compelling.

“It’s probably hard for everybody to think that this is just another game,” Saban said.

For the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s laser-focused coach, that amounts to a monumental concession to what tonight’s meeting with the Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium means for both teams and fan bases.

For Alabama (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference), it represents one of the biggest remaining hurdles toward a crack at a third consecutive national title.

LSU (7-2, 3-2) hopes to spoil that bid and still turn the season into something special despite losing to both Georgia and Mississippi by a field goal. Plus it’s Alabama.

Here are three things to watch in this SEC West showdown:

LSU receivers

Alabama’s secondary has typically been Saban’s pride and joy, but injuries and youth have turned the cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue into a revolving door of starters. LSU receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have a combined 1,891 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans torched the Tide for 279 yards early in the season. Saban calls both LSU receivers as good as any “you’re ever going to play against.”

QB battle

They’re two of the SEC’s most efficient, dangerous passers. Alabama’s AJ McCarron has the big-game reputation, but LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is poised to become the first LSU quarterback to pass for 2,500 yards in back-to-back seasons. McCarron has been steadily leading Alabama to big leads and hasn’t gone the distance much this season, keeping his numbers down some. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns against three interceptions. Mettenberger has thrown five interceptions in the past two games but only seven all season.

Third downs

Stopping LSU’s offense on third down plays has been every bit as hard for opponents as converting them against the Tide’s defense. The Tigers trail only Louisville nationally with a 57.6 percent success rate. Opposing offenses are converting just 29.5 percent of their chances against Alabama.