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October 31, 2011

Game week arrives

TUSCALOOSA | OK, so the wait isn't quite over.

But with bye weeks for both the University of Alabama and LSU now squarely in the rear-view mirror, the most anticipated game in college football this season is in full focus for both UA coach Nick Saban and Tigers coach Les Miles. Both coaches spent the bye week focusing less on each other, and more on team improvement.

"We're certainly happy to get back into a regular work routine," said Saban.

Said wide receiver Marquis Maze: "I'm glad (this week) is here; get back to football. A break was fine for the body, but it's time to get back to business."

How big is this game?

ESPN's College Game Day will descend upon Tuscaloosa Thursday for a game the network isn't even carrying. The broadcasting network, CBS, moved the kickoff to prime time at 7 p.m. It will be a rare regular-season matchup of the nation's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams, with potential national championship implications. But none of that is of real importance to Saban, and for the team, the week will largely be routine.

"I think everyone out there thinks there's some special formula or magic that, when you play in games like this, you go do different things to get ready for the game," Saban said. "But the most important thing is that you prepare for the game, that your players are focused on playing their best football."

Saban does what he can to make sure the players focus on playing well, and not the enormity of the contest. That, however, is easier said than done. Friends and classmates bring up the game in conversation. There is the social media buzz on Facebook and Twitter, and during the bye week, the game had already become a daily topic on ESPN.

"It was hard to escape," offensive lineman Barrett Jones said of his bye week time at home in Memphis.

Added linebacker Dont'a Hightower: "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. That's kind of what happened to us at the beginning of the Florida game."

Saban likened the effort to prevent players from absorbing too much outside influence to dealing with children.

"You can give them all the instruction that you'd like, but just like we all have children that we give instruction to when they go out on a date. You're never really sure if they're going to do it or not," Saban said. "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. But it's you goal that players can stay focused on the things that matter in terms of their preparation."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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