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Another top-five, GameDay matchup for LSU-Alabama rivalry

BATON ROUGE, La. – After Tuesday’s initial College Football Rankings announcement, Saturday’s LSU-Alabama matchup officially moved back into a familiar position.

It will be the fifth time where the No. 2 Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and No. 4 Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1) meet with both teams ranked in the top five. All five have come since Les Miles became the Tigers’ coach in 2005.

“This is the reason why you come to LSU: To play in a game like this,” LSU defensive back Jalen Mills said. “The hype of the game is going to be up there. Emotions are going to be high. Intensity level. All that.”

As will once again be the case on Saturday at Alabama, ESPN’s College GameDay has aired live from the LSU-Alabama game site for each of those top-five meetings. LSU-Alabama is actually the most popular pairing for the ESPN road show, with Saturday’s game marking the eighth time the Tigers and Tide have been the show’s featured matchup.

The teams have split the previous top-five matchups, with Alabama’s 21-0 win in the 2012 BCS championship game standing as the lone result with a score differential of more than four points.

A review:

2005: No. 5 LSU beats No. 4 Alabama 16-13 in overtime. Miles finished his series debut in style, handing the Tide its first loss of the season when JaMarcus Russell hit Dwayne Bowe with the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime before a stunned crowd in Tuscaloosa. LSU went on to win Miles’ first SEC West title that season.

2011: No. 1 LSU beats No. 2 Alabama 9-6 in overtime. Dubbed the “Game of the Century,” two heavyweight defenses slugged it out, with four interceptions -- including one by LSU’s Eric Reid to stop an Alabama fourth-quarter drive at the 1-yard line -- and four missed field goals by Alabama forcing overtime. Alabama’s Cade Foster missed a 52-yard kick in overtime, allowing LSU kicker Drew Alleman's 25-yard field goal to secure the victory in Tuscaloosa.

2012: No. 2 Alabama beats No. 1 LSU 21-0 in BCS championship game. The rematch to wrap up the 2011 season was a total train wreck for the Tigers. Alabama ventured into LSU’s backyard -- the title game was in New Orleans -- and humiliated Miles’ Tigers. LSU was still unbeaten entering the game despite its underwhelming offense, but the Tide’s stifling defense refused to let the Tigers’ offense off the mat. LSU mustered just 92 yards of total offense and crossed midfield just once all game.

2012: No. 1 Alabama beats No. 5 LSU 21-17. As LSU had done a year earlier in Tuscaloosa, Alabama returned the favor with a soul-crushing victory at Tiger Stadium. LSU led for most of the fourth quarter, but Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron engineered a 72-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes to remain unbeaten. He hit T.J. Yeldon for a 28-yard touchdown on a screen pass with 51 seconds to play to halt the Tigers’ upset bid. Alabama went on to win its second straight BCS title later that season.

Alabama won five of the seven meetings with LSU when College GameDay was in town for the game, although oddly enough, LSU was 2-1 when the game was in Tuscaloosa (2005, 2011 and a 38-17 loss in 2013).

Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Rece Davis and the rest of the GameDay gang coming to your city always signifies that a big game is ahead, and Alabama and LSU are more than accustomed to the hoopla that accompanies that spotlight.

This will be the 35th time that GameDay comes for an Alabama game and the 24th for an LSU game. Alabama is 21-13 in previous games and LSU is 15-8.

No other rivalry game has hosted GameDay as often as LSU-Alabama. According to our highly unofficial count, the next-closest pairings -- Penn State-Ohio State, Michigan-Notre Dame, Florida State-Miami, Florida State-Florida and Florida-Tennessee -- all hosted the show six times.

Saturday’s game doesn’t need any extra exposure to raise the stakes any higher than they would have been otherwise. As two of the four teams included in the initial CFP rankings, the Tigers and Tide are fully aware of the implications -- including the likelihood that the loser will fall from the committee’s top four.

Miles reminded reporters after Wednesday’s practice that Ohio State was No. 16 in the first CFP rankings last year, but the Buckeyes steadily advanced to the top four and eventually won the national title. Miles knows the only way to stay in the playoff picture is to keep winning, starting with Saturday’s monstrous game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“It’s nice to be in the conversation,” Miles said, “but we’ve got a game to play and win this week.”