For Alabama coach Nick Saban, it is just another game.
While his successor with No. 15 LSU -- Les Miles -- may agree with the sentiment, the highly charged atmosphere in Baton Rouge may show otherwise Saturday when the top-ranked Crimson Tide try to clinch the West Division title of the Southeastern Conference and a spot in its championship game.
Saban has been adamant in downplaying the impact of his return to "Death Valley" in his second year with Alabama (9-0, 5-0 SEC). While he did coach a game at LSU while with the Miami Dolphins in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, coming back to the campus he led to the 2003 BCS championship as Crimson Tide coach is expected to produce a hostile reaction among the 92,000-plus LSU fans.
"I know there are going to be a lot of people, who want to talk about this game, and I am going to say it again, this game is not about me," Saban said Monday at his weekly news conference. "We appreciated our time there. It was very special what we were able to do there. We have great memories and great friends, but my heart is with this team.
"This is a very good team and this game should be about the players, on both sides."
The Tide had little more than a tuneup for this game last Saturday, routing Arkansas State 35-0 in a game they completely dominated before supplanting Texas as the No. 1 team in the AP poll and BCS standings. Freshman tailback Mark Ingram had 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 rushes, and Alabama limited Arkansas State to 158 total yards and also scored on a 32-yard interception return by Rashard Johnson.
But the key for Alabama staying unbeaten this weekend may rest with quarterback John Parker Wilson, who has played two of his best games against ranked opponents. He threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns as the Tide opened the season with a victory at then-No. 9 Clemson, and delivered 205 yards and a touchdown in a 41-30 victory at then-No. 9 Georgia on Sept. 27 that thrust Alabama into the national title chase.
"I think more of it is stability on his part and managing and handling situations," Saban said when asked why Wilson has improved so much. "He is a very competitive guy and very emotional. To be able to kind of stay in his zone and make good choices and decisions and make business decisions has probably been the biggest difference in his play."
Wilson had 234 yards and three touchdowns against LSU last year, but the Tigers rallied for a 41-34 victory at Alabama.
That victory was part of LSU's run to an eventual BCS title, but Miles also has spent part of this week trying to get his players to avoid the distractions that have come with Saban's impending arrival. The Tigers (6-2, 3-2) must win to have any hope of advancing to the SEC title game and keep whatever slim hopes they have for a second straight national championship.
"I promise you that it's not (in the locker room) for us," Miles said about Saban's return being overblown. "They are a Western Division rival. This is a team that you have to go through to sit atop the conference. They have the same issue. It's something we look at with great importance, but it has nothing to do with who coaches there or who coaches here, at least it doesn't by me."
LSU has split its last four games after a 4-0 start, and like Alabama, beat up on a non-conference opponent to prepare for this game. The Tigers had little trouble with Tulane in a 35-10 victory last Saturday, rolling up 231 rushing yards -- 114 by Charles Scott.
They also had a defensive touchdown, with Chris Hawkins picking up a fumble and racing 24 yards after a sack by Rahim Alem.
The Tigers' ability to win may hinge on their running game, which has produced at least 166 yards in all but one game this season. But LSU must devise a plan to neutralize 380-pound Alabama nose tackle Terrance Cody, who has anchored a stout Tide defense that has limited opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and 65.6 rushing yards per game -- good for second among FBS teams.
LSU has won the last five games between the teams, while Alabama has not won at Baton Rouge since a 31-0 victory Nov. 16, 2002. The Crimson Tide, though, lead the all-time series 43-23-5.
Top 25 Overview
It's the Saban Bowl. Nick Saban makes his return to LSU as his No. 1 Alabama team travels to Baton Rouge. The Crimson Tide will be trying to secure the SEC West and a spot in the SEC title game. LSU has split its past four games after a 4-0 start. The Tigers have won the past five games between the teams.