TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -LSU is one of the nation's best teams. Coach Les Miles is doing a fantastic job. The defense is outstanding.
Alabama coach Nick Saban couldn't say enough nice things about his former team on Monday, but chances are none of it will get him back in the good graces of fans still bitter about him leaving for the NFL and then winding up at a division rival.
He sprinkled his opening statement with 15 of the above superlatives at his weekly news conference. When Saban wasn't heaping praise on the No. 3 Tigers, he tried his best to avoid becoming the story line leading up to Saturday's game between his teams past and present, contending the attention should be elsewhere.
``The focus on the game should be about the players, not about anything else,'' Saban insisted.
It's certainly where his focus is, since Saban said he spends little time watching TV and doesn't listen to talk radio or surf the Internet. He has a game to prepare for, after all, one between the two SEC Western Division co-leaders.
``I don't know what people are saying,'' Saban said. ``I don't know what's going on out there. I know you guys (the media) are busy creating it. Unfortunately, I'm not interested in trying to be a part of it.''
Sorry, coach. There's no avoiding it.
Saban led LSU to two SEC titles and a Bowl Championship Series national championship during five seasons in Baton Rouge, and recruited 17 of the team's current starters. Then he bolted for the NFL's Miami Dolphins for two seasons before returning to the SEC West.
What's the big story this week?
``Coach Saban, of course,'' Tide receiver DJ Hall said.
That's outside the team, though. Within the team, Saban really doesn't want to hear it.
``I don't think about it,'' Hall said. ``He told us not to think about it. We all knew they were going to try to make this a Him vs. LSU kind of thing. We were prepared for it.''
The No. 17 Tide (6-2, 4-1) have plenty of other reasons to look forward to this game. Alabama has won three straight to move into a tie atop the West with LSU (7-1, 4-1) and returned to the rankings after a 41-17 rout of Tennessee two weeks ago. 'Bama had a bye last week.
Saban said he had no update on the status of five players who were suspended before the Tennessee game for rules violations involving textbooks. The group includes starting offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis and No. 2 rusher Glen Coffee.
Regardless, ``We're excited about having the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country,'' he said.
Big as the game is, Alabama players are trying to keep things in perspective. The fans, however, are under no such obligation.
``The buzz around town is coach Saban against his old team, but in the locker room and on the practice field it's going to be just another week for us,'' quarterback John Parker Wilson said. ``This isn't the game of the year for us, by any means.''
It has been a hot topic since Saban took over the Tide in January, especially but hardly exclusively among LSU fans.
Safety Rashad Johnson said Tide faithful started quickly after the Tennessee game, asking the players, ``Are y'all ready for LSU?'' And that's coming after a big win over one of the team's chief rivals.
``I've been hearing it ever since he took the job here,'' receiver Matt Caddell said. ``That's probably been the biggest story of the year ever since he took the job. We're not going to let that be a factor with us. We're just going to go out there and do what we have to do.''
Tide players said Saban doesn't change from week to week, no matter who the team is playing. Before the Tennessee game, he didn't bother with some of the old traditions like playing ``Rocky Top'' during practice.
Saban does practice what he preaches, though, about treating every game the same.
``He takes every opponent as if they're the best team ever - ever,'' offensive tackle Andre Smith said.
For the ultra-intense Saban, his history with LSU is one of those ``external factors'' he frequently talks about. Keeping that from being a distraction, he said, is ``not difficult at all.''
``I'm on this side of the fence now,'' he said. ``That means I respect the other guys, but we want to help our guys compete the best that they can to play winning football against a very good team.
``There's nothing hard about that.''
His wife, Terry, can't as easily dodge the issue. He said she has been busy finding hotel rooms, getting tickets and food to accommodate friends from their LSU days who are coming into town for the game.
``We feed them if we win, they're on their own if we lose,'' Saban said. ``Not to say we're sore losers or anything like that.''

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