Alabama-LSU has become the greatest rivalry in college football. Last year, these Southeastern Conference powerhouses met twice -- once with the Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 and the Tigers No. 2, the second time with the roles reversed.

Another epic showdown looms Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. Top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) is looking to stay on course for its second consecutive national title, but a familiar foe -- No. 5 LSU -- stands in the way.

"You've got your Michigan-Ohio States and stuff like that, but I feel like those games are not what they used to be," LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said. "This is the gusto right here."

The teams have long been SEC rivals, but it was a largely overlooked game on the national stage. That changed in 2007, when former LSU coach Nick Saban, after a brief stint in the NFL, returned to college -- at Alabama, of all places.

Suddenly, this series took on a whole new level of nastiness and vitriol.

"It has definitely grown," LSU safety Eric Reid said. "I grew up watching LSU-'Bama, and it was always a good game, but since I got here it's definitely gotten way bigger. Both of our teams have developed and become very good football teams. Whenever we play each other, everybody expects a big game. We can't disappoint them."

Despite losing six players from one of the greatest defenses in college history to the NFL (including three first-round picks), Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major defensive categories.

LSU isn't too shabby, either, ranking among the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, pass defense and run defense.

While both defenses are stout, Alabama would appear to have a clear edge on offense. That's why the Crimson Tide is a surprising nine-point favorite.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron has been about as close to perfection as one can expect, completing nearly 69 percent of his throws for 1,684 yards and 18 touchdowns -- and not one interception. He has put together a stretch of 262 passes without an interception, the longest streak in school history.

Pittsburgh: Three Pitt players, including starting running back Ray Graham, will play Saturday against No. 4 Notre Dame despite being charged with simple assault and conspiracy in connection with an incident last month involving three other students.

Graham, junior wide receiver Devin Street and redshirt freshman defensive back Lafayette Pitts deny they were involved in a confrontation with a student who told police he was hit in the head by one of the players.

The players were not arrested but have been mailed summonses to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on the charges Jan. 9.