Tigers aim focus in the right direction

North central Mississippi is gearing up for what many expect to be one of the biggest games in half a century this Saturday in Oxford. <br><br> With the SEC Western Division title at stake, frontrunner Ole Miss (8-2, 6-0 in SEC) hosts No. 3 LSU (9-1, 5-1) in a game with not only conference, but also national implications at stake.

Speaking of what is at stake, LSU head coach Nick Saban would rather eat a "steak" than talk about the stakes of this weekend's critical matchup with the red-hot Rebels.

 

"There is nothing at stake," Saban said. "We have a game next week. When you start acting like there is something at stake that is when you mess up and create expectations and anxiety. Our worst enemy right now is expectations."

 

Expectations are high in Tigertown as LSU clings to its highest ranking in 40-plus years and holds the school's best record since the days of Bert Jones. The Tigers are currently on a four game winning streak since their only loss of the year last month to Florida and have mowed through opponents like a John Deere in a hayfield. Expectations did not appear to deter LSU last weekend as Saban's squad went on the road dismantling Alabama 27-3 on the Crimson Tide's Senior Night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

 

"I was pleased with the way the players focused on what they needed to focus on in terms of competing, which was the game and not the stuff that a lot of people would like to talk about," Saban said. "We will try and have the same approach next week."

 

Those things people like to talk about include national polls, BCS rankings and the ultimate goal of the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the site of the national title game. LSU is currently fourth in the computer-generated rankings and is primed to move closer to a title game berth if USC and Ohio State in front of them should falter.

 

With the game in Oxford ultimately set to decide the SEC's Western division champion, Saban hopes it is not his Tigers that falter as LSU looks to win its 10th game of the season. It could be Saban's second 10-win tally in three years and the sixth, 10-win season in school history. But those are storylines that Saban would rather leave to keyboard pecking sports writers – not his team.

 

"Our greatest ally is our ability to focus on what we are doing and play good football and keep our poise in doing it," Saban said. "(We need to) play together as a team, have confidence in what we are doing and have fun taking advantage of this opportunity."

 

Saban has made a habit lately of not mixing words in addressing questions concerning the fate of his team. He was criticized for downplaying the Florida game to excess. Saban continues to minimize the task at hand, but his team's play on the field shows they are buying into to what he preaches.

 

"I know you all would like to mess that up, but you aren't going to do it," Saban said.

 

But Saban knows he can only worry about what he can control and the fourth-year head coach cannot stop the hoopla and hype which will grow as the days grow fewer until Saturday's kickoff with the Rebels.

 

"I know I mess you guys up in the media, (louder) BUT write about it!" Saban said. "I just don't want the players to read it. Everybody else can talk about it but I don't want to talk about it and I don't want our players to talk about it. I want them to play good football because that is the best chance they have to take advantage of their opportunity."

 

The Tigers have survived 10 weeks of the regular season and looked poised to make a late season run as a legitimate contender. Although the "Bristol Brainiacs" at ESPN continue to ignore LSU's push to national prominence, the Tigers are one of few teams left in the hunt whereas the Hurricanes, Hokies and Seminoles of the college football world are now playing second fiddle.

 

"Successful teams shut those things out and I think that is the only way you can play with consistency," Saban said. "I think that is the reason you see teams get beat. Then you say how does Clemson beat Florida State and how did Miami lose to this team and how does this team lose to that team – that's how it happens."

 

One thing is for certain; Saban has learned the lingo of Tigerland that surrounds the LSU program when things go bad.

 

"The sun will not come up tomorrow if we lose a game," Saban said. "They sky is going to fall – it is catastrophe in south Louisiana."

 

Let's just say, we are pretty sure none of the above is likely to happen anytime soon.


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