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How Alabama and LSU stay on top

They show up every year, four-star and five-star recruits en masse.

Like clockwork, they arrive on campus and fill the empty cupboards where precious supplies used to rest.

Never miss a beat; that’s the plan.

Need a running back? Take your pick.

What about an offensive lineman? Surely there’s one in there somewhere.

Need a second or third wide receiver? Take a handful, just for good measure.

Granted, it’s not always that easy, but the ability to replace all-conference starters with blue-chip prospects is often the difference between rebuilding and retooling a program. It’s what allows Nick Saban and Les Miles to keep Alabama and LSU on top of the SEC despite losing key players early to the NFL every year.

On Saturday, when the No. 5 Crimson Tide travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to face the No. 16 Tigers, a glance at the two-deep depth chart for both teams reveals more than 30 first-year or second-year players, combined.

According to Phil Steele’s annual Combined Experience Chart, Alabama ranks 107th and LSU 119th in a formula that breaks down the returning experience of every depth chart in college football. Compare that to Mississippi State and Auburn, which have two of the 10 most-experienced rosters, according to Steele, and rank No. 1 and No. 3, in the College Football Playoff rankings.

But rather than throw in the towel and wait for next year, Alabama and LSU are competing now.

Cam Robinson, a freshman, protects Blake Sims’ blind side at left tackle for Alabama. Fellow rookie Rashaan Evans gets playing time on defense rushing the passer, and the anchor to the defensive line is second-year star A'Shawn Robinson.

Meanwhile, LSU’s top rusher is freshman Leonard Fournette. Quarterback Anthony Jennings is a true sophomore and the team's second and third leading receivers are first-year players Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre.

So how do Alabama and LSU do it? How do they have so many guys ready to make an impact so early?

It goes back to recruiting, of course.

On Feb. 4, 2009, LSU signed ESPN’s top-ranked class and Alabama finished second, nationally. Since then, neither program has failed to sign a top-10 class, and Alabama has had the No. 1 haul three years in a row.

In the past four-plus seasons, Alabama and LSU have a combined 84.5 winning percentage (104-19), despite having more than 80 players drafted into the NFL.

Every January, Saban and Miles have their rosters cleared out as players turn pro. A month later, on signing day, they sow a new harvest and wait for whatever seeds pop up. They combine premier talent with a dash of quality coaching and know they’ll get a few players who are ready to play.

Experience is a great commodity, but the two coaches have shown that ability will almost always win out.

“We always put the best guys on the field, the guys who give us the best chance to win” said LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, who has been a starter since his freshman year in 2012. “Sometimes in those cases they’re young guys,and we historically play young guys.

"And so if the most talented, most gifted, most ready guy is a young guy, he’s going to play.”

Come Saturday night, Alabama and LSU will rely on their youngsters to make a difference.

Whoever shows the most talent and poise could very well come out the victor.

ESPN SEC reporter David Ching contributed to this report.