On this Friday morning in January, Malachi Dupre slept in.
After all, his plane landed at 1 a.m. after a whirlwind recruiting visit to Ole Miss just a week before National Signing Day.
A groggy Dupre awoke on that January morning, walked into his living room and found Alabama coach Nick Saban there. Saban left, and in walked LSU coach Les Miles.
“It was pretty insane,” he said. “Not many people have Nick Saban and Les Miles in their house on the same day.”
For players involved in Saturday’s showdown between No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Alabama, this is no rarity. The two Southeastern Conference powerhouse programs — and their relentless coaches — battle over the nation’s best recruits each year.
The recruiting war between the two programs, jump-started when Saban arrived at Bama in 2007, has been well-documented. If there’s a highly ranked recruit in the southeast, there’s a good chance the Tigers (7-0, 4-0) and the Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1) are fighting over him.
When the teams meet on the field, it’s a collision of two recruiting-centric coaches who hold similar program-building philosophies. It’s a clash of former highly regarded prospects who chose one school over the other.
It’s a showcase, too, for NFL scouts hoping to learn the most about players in the college game’s best imitation of an NFL duel.
“I would think if you were an NFL scout and you had any wisdom to you at all,” Miles said, “that you would line up and (watch) the LSU and Alabama game.”
Oh, they do.
Leading up to the NFL draft each year, LSU players often find themselves in a room with a scout who’s grading their performance in the game against Alabama.
“I’ve sat down and watch this game tape with NFL coaches and scouts,” said former LSU fullback Connor Neighbors, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans in the spring. “This is the game they want to watch. Are you going to produce against these players at the next level?
“How you play against this team shows others how you’re going to play in the NFL,” he said.
Neighbors, a former walk-on, is an outlier to a trend at each program. The programs sign the nation’s best high school players, who evolve into the best college players, who leap to the NFL as highly rated draft picks.
Take, for instance, Saturday. The two running backs — Leonard Fournette for LSU and Bama’s Derrick Henry — were each the top running back out of high school in their respected signing class.
Each was a five-star, gem who has now turned into a Heisman Trophy candidate. According to the gambling site Bovada, Fournette is the Heisman front-runner with odds at 4-9. Henry has the fifth-best odds to win the top prize.
That’s just one example. Another: LSU safety Jamal Adams was the second-best safety in the 2014 class. Alabama’s Geno Smith was the fourth-best in the 2012 class.
There’ll be some head-to-head clashes, too. Bama freshman Calvin Ridley was the No. 1 receiver in the 2015 group. LSU freshman Kevin Toliver was the second-best cornerback in the same class.
“You know a lot of talent will be on the field,” Fournette said.
That’s for sure. Of the 44 combined starters between the two teams, 33 exited high school as four- or five-star recruits, and 23 were ranked in the top 5 at their position nationally.
That list includes Fournette, Dupre and linebacker Kendell Beckwith. That trio chose the Tigers over the Tide. Alabama left tackle and Louisiana native Cameron Robinson, safeties Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison picked the Tide over the Tigers.
Bama has won the recruiting fight recently over LSU — and every other team. The Tide’s past five classes have been ranked No. 1, according to 247Sports’ composite team rankings.
“On any given day, Alabama is the more talented team,” said T-Bob Hebert, a former LSU offensive lineman who’s now a radio talk show host in New Orleans. “I’m not saying they always win, but they’re viewed as having the most talent in 99 percent of games.”
But is LSU closing the gap? The Tigers’ 2014 class was No. 2, and the current 2016 group is No. 1.
Adams was in that 2014 class. He visited Alabama as a sophomore in high school.
“Just not my cup of tea,” Adams said this week. “It just wasn’t me. I didn’t fit in, didn’t fit in at all.”
The choice between Alabama and LSU isn’t all that different. In fact, LSU center Ethan Pocic, also recruited by Bama, says the programs are “very similar.”
“Two powerhouses,” he said. “Two teams going to contend for a national championship. Pro-style systems.”
The difference: the personalities of the two head coaches.
Dupre harkens back to that January day when Miles and Saban took turns pitching their programs.
“Everybody knows how coach Saban is on camera. That’s how he is in person. Very serious person. Very straightforward. Very honest recruiter, from what I could tell,” he said. “I felt the same about coach Miles, but he just takes a different approach.”
What’s that approach? Goofy, right?
“Yeah,” Dupre said. “I think he can relate to guys better than coach Saban, but coach Saban’s a very good recruiter, obviously.”
The quirky Miles and the serious Saban meet for a 10th time on the football field Saturday — their crop of star recruits-turned-NFL-ready stars battling in front of them.
“It’ll be a fistfight,” Fournette said, “all night.”
A starry night
Each year when LSU and Alabama meet, the field is littered with highly touted prospects. That’s no different this time around. Here’s how the teams’ 22 starting players ranked out of high school.
Team.......5 stars...4 Stars...Total 4 & 5 stars/starters...Top 5 at their position/starters
*247Sports composite rankings used
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.