No. 4 LSU, No. 7 Alabama clash in pivotal SEC showdown

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) By now, O.J. Howard and a few million college football fans pretty much know what to expect when Alabama and LSU meet on the football field.

The stakes will be high, the hits will be punishing and plentiful, and there might even be some free football thrown in as a bonus. The fourth-ranked Tigers visit No. 7 Alabama Saturday night in a Southeastern Conference showdown that has mostly lived up to its billing in recent years.

Howard, Alabama's tight end, has a good idea what it will be like with 100,000-plus raucous fans packed into Bryant-Denny Stadium.

''Loud, for 60 minutes. Everybody's into it,'' he said. ''A great atmosphere. You won't be able to get this one back, and I think it'll be a game everybody will want to remember.''

More often than not, this one has lived up to the billing. The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1) are both in the top four of the initial playoff rankings released Tuesday. LSU is second, Alabama fourth.

This is the seventh time in the past decade that both teams entered the game ranked in the top 10, with four meetings going into overtime during that span. That includes Alabama's win last season in Baton Rouge. Nine times during that span, the winner has played in a BCS bowl and/or for an SEC championship.

''I think it's going to be a quality game with the best of both teams being featured, and some special players on both sides,'' LSU coach Les Miles said.

It's also the type game where finesse pretty much goes out the window. LSU will run 230-pound tailback Leonard Fournette, college football's top rusher, right at the nation's No. 3 run defense.

Alabama sends 242-pound Derrick Henry, the league's No. 2 rusher, at the sixth-best run defense.

''It's a banger for sure,'' LSU center Ethan Pocic said.

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Here are some things to watch in the LSU-Alabama game:

FOURNETTE & HENRY: The SEC's top two rushers have been racking up yards and touchdowns - and now they'll each face one of the nation's top six run defenses. Fournette has gained 1,352 yards and run for 15 touchdowns. Henry has 1,044 rushing yards and 14 TDs. Something has to give. Alabama has allowed just 78.5 yards a game on the ground with four rushing touchdowns. The Tigers are giving up 93.7 rushing yards on average with five TDs surrendered.

PICKS ANYONE? LSU quarterback Brandon Harris hasn't thrown an interception this season, on 128 attempts. Alabama's ball-hawking defense has picked off 10 over the last five games, returning four for touchdowns.

KICKING GAMES: If the game proves as close as some recent meetings, special teams could play a huge role. LSU kicker Trent Dominque has made all nine field goal attempts while Alabama's Adam Griffith is 10 of 16 after a poor start. Alabama does have one of the league's better punters in JK Scott. ''We've just got to do a good job of executing all the way around when it comes to special teams and try to win that part of the game,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

LOSING STREAK: LSU has lost four straight games in the series starting with the national championship game in January 2012, including one by four points and another in overtime. Ending that streak isn't foremost on the mind of LSU defensive back Jalen Mills but it'd be nice. ''Just me being my senior year, trying to end it right,'' Mills said. ''We know the goal we have at the end of the year. We want to win the national championship and us coming out with a win this week would be big.''

STEELE EFFECT: LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is fresh from his second stint under Saban at Alabama, so there's a certain familiarity from both sides. Miles doesn't think it's much advantage. ''We've worked as much as we can against what we see on film,'' he said, ''and I don't know that the translation could help us any more than what the film gives us.''

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