When they look at one another, it’s as if they’re looking in a mirror.
There are slight differences -- school colors, the personality of their head coaches, etc. -- but many more similarities between the two programs.
Alabama and LSU.
LSU and Alabama.
They’re the same but different, built on foundations as closely aligned as any in college football.
When Nick Saban was at LSU from 2000-04, his strength and conditioning coach was Tommy Moffit. And when Saban left the NFL for Alabama in 2007, he turned to a Moffit assistant, Scott Cochran, to run his weight room in Tuscaloosa. So it’s more than hyperbole -- these two teams are literally shaped the same way.
When they meet on Saturday night, LSU will be ranked No. 2 and Alabama No. 4. It will be the 10th consecutive time that both schools are ranked at kickoff. In nine of those past 10 meetings, the winner has gone on to play in the SEC championship game or a BCS bowl/playoff game.
“They’re two powerhouses,” said LSU offensive lineman Ethan Pocic. “Two teams that are going to contend for the national championship. Pro-style systems. They’re very similar.”
“They’re tough, they like to run the ball and they have a really good defense,” said Alabama safety Geno Matias-Smith. “So I feel like we’re playing ourselves, basically.”
Alabama safety Eddie Jackson called the rivalry game “old-fashioned.”
Another term you’ll hear a lot this week is "grown-man football."
“There’s no doubt about that,” said Alabama center Ryan Kelly. “You can’t be hesitant up front when you play LSU.”
And up front, in the box, is where this game will be won and lost. It’s how both programs are constructed, and it’s a big reason why they’ve been able to have such sustained success over the years, with Alabama and LSU both in the top six nationally and No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC in terms of total wins since 2007.
In the age of spread offenses, they’ve stayed focused on the line of scrimmage, the secondary and running the football. Since 2009, Alabama has had 47 total draft picks, of which the two most prevalent positions selected were defensive back (11) and offensive line (10). LSU, during the same period of time, has had 44 total draft picks, with 11 defensive backs and 11 defensive linemen leading the way. Both teams had seven running backs and five linebackers selected.
“The front seven is always the judge of who’s going to win this game,” said Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, a likely first-round pick tasked with trying to stop LSU star running back Leonard Fournette. “Whoever dominates up front is going to win.”
While the cameras will be focused on the coaches for much of this game, it’s the talent between the lines that should really grab your attention. Since 2007, Alabama-LSU has yielded 100 NFL draft picks, 25 of which were first-rounders.
Said Miles: “If you were an NFL scout and you had any wisdom to you at all, you would line up and get to the LSU and Alabama game.”
They recruit the same players. They start freshmen without hesitation. And they still find a way to win more than their fair share of ballgames.
While other programs ebb and flow, Alabama and LSU have remained remarkably consistent.
LSU is undefeated, despite having played 13 first-time starters. Alabama has one loss, but would be in the College Football Playoff if it was played today, despite throwing 11 first-time starters to the wolves this season.
The names on the jerseys change every year, but the competitiveness of the two programs has been a constant, which is a testament to the coaches in charge.
On Monday, Miles tried to name his favorite memory of playing against Alabama and couldn’t. There were just too many.
“It's impossible,” he said. “What you'd have to say, then, is that a player or a play in a year had priority over what could be this very next game, and it's hard for me to pick favorites. It really is.”
While other rivalries are often defined by bitterness and borderline hatred, Alabama-LSU is all about respect.
“We've had some great games with LSU through the years,” Saban said. “This has turned out to be a great rivalry, and I think it's a great rivalry because of the quality of the programs."
Six of their past nine meetings have been decided by seven points or less and three have gone to overtime.
When you listen to the coaches and players, they expect more of the same.
"When you play games like this," Saban said, "you don't ever really dominate the other guy because of his quality. But you have to be able to focus on the next play ... because that will ultimately determine the outcome."