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Both brushed off their first eight opponents with a series of double-digit wins, walloping East Division foes Florida and Tennessee by a combined 61 (LSU) and 59 (Alabama) points.

The Tigers dispatched No. 6 Oregon by 13 points; the Tide walloped No. 8 Arkansas 38-14. It didn’t take long for this one to start seeming like the big one.

Even bigger than usual. The winner of this game has played for the SEC championship game four of the past six years, twice apiece. And last year was the first time in that span that the winner didn’t either play in Atlanta or in a BCS bowl.

It seems everyone knows it’s not just another game.

“Twitter, Facebook, we’ve been hearing it from everywhere,” Hightower said. “It’s really exciting. You’ve been hearing about it ever since the Tennessee game. As soon as I got home, I saw the commercials for it, LSU versus Alabama. We’re really excited for it, but we can’t let that get to us.”

Saban said instructing players to ignore the hype and keep the TV and laptops tuned away from pre-game coverage is like laying down dating ground rules for your children _ you hope they abide by them but you can’t really be sure.

“I’m sure that there’s some players on our team who pay very little attention, and there’s other players who could get caught up in that type of thing,” Saban said.

He isn’t dismissing the notion that the loser of the game is bumped from the national title picture, and maybe even a possible rematch in the BCS championship game.

Chances are, that would require a loss by unbeaten teams like No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Boise State.

“I think everybody should view that game as these are two of the best teams playing and how that game affects the future should not be relative to just who won and lost, but actually the quality of the teams,” Saban said.

That’s a down-the-line concern, though. He’s more concerned about stopping LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson and finding a way to score against LSU’s defense.

Saban said there’s no “magic formula” for winning such games, just the basics like execution, focusing and winning the turnover battle.

In a region where priorities often go something like faith, family and football, they’ve become intertwined for some fans.

“People are coming up to me and saying they are praying for us,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “I am getting so many text messages and phone calls. They say, `Bring it to Alabama. You are playing for the state of Louisiana.’”

For Australia, too. LSU punter Brad Wing doesn’t have many comparisons for this game from his native country. The stadium will be packed to its 101,821-fan capacity for a primetime game.

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