Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts can look around Tuscaloosa and spot thousands of people who live and die by the Iron Bowl a lot more than he does.
Having grown up in Texas, he's not consumed by the in-state rivalry, which he admits isn't a bad thing heading into Saturday's showdown between the No. 1 Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 6 Auburn (9-2, 6-1) inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I don't think it's an advantage, but I don't think it's a disadvantage," Hurts said Monday in a news conference.
Hurts completed 27 of 36 passes for 286 yards in his first Iron Bowl, guiding the Crimson Tide to a 30-12 triumph in Bryant-Denny Stadium. His counterpart, former Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson, completed just 4 of 13 attempts for 34 yards.
This year's version could pose quite a quarterback showcase, as Auburn's Jarrett Stidham is having as impressive a season as Hurts, the reigning Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year. A redshirt sophomore who began his career at Baylor University, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Stidham has completed 181 of 267 passes (67.8 percent) for 2,445 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
As a result, Auburn has scored at least 40 points in all eight of its victories against Bowl Subdivision opposition, including the 40-17 win over No. 1 Georgia on Nov. 11.
"He is very, very confident and is a very good decision-maker," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday of Stidham. "He understands what the expectation is from what he needs to do to effectively run their offense, whether it's throwing RPOs (run-pass options) or handing the ball off or pulling it in every now and then on a zone read. He does a really, really good job for them, and he's playing as well as any quarterback we've played against, that's for sure."
The duo of Stidham, who leads the league in completion percentage, and Hurts have compiled 30 touchdown passes and suffered just five interceptions. Hurts has thrown only one interception in 200 attempts, with 123 completions (61.5 percent) for 1,828 yards with 14 touchdowns.
Hurts won the SEC's top offensive honor under former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and he could earn it again under the tutelage of Brian Daboll.
"Jalen has made a lot of progress this year in terms of his pocket presence and his ability to make decisions down the field and when to throw the ball," Saban said. "We're much more effective in that part of our game than we were early in the season or last season."
The Iron Bowl has not been considered even on the quarterback front since 2014, when Alabama's Blake Sims and Auburn's Nick Marshall exchanged fireworks never before seen in the rivalry. Sims completed 20 of 27 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 55-44 win, somehow outlasting Marshall, who went 27-of-43 for 456 yards with three scores.
Perhaps Saturday's outcome will be determined by something as simple as which quarterback plays best, but it's not something Hurts plans to lose sleep over between now and kickoff.
"It's a great rivalry game, like all the ones this time of year across the country," Hurts said. "I grew up in Texas, so I grew up watching A&M and Texas play. This will be another great game in a great rivalry, and we'll do our best to represent the University of Alabama the best that we can.
"You learn from everything you do, and the experience I've had playing in these games, you kind of learn what to expect. There is no pressure or anything. You just have to go out there and play."
Alabama has won three straight meetings against Auburn to increase its series advantage to 45-35-1. ... Saban said Monday that defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) will practice this week after missing the Mercer game. ... Saban listed kicker Andy Pappanastos (muscle pull) and left guard Ross Pierschbacher (ankle) as day-to-day, while inside linebacker Mack Wilson (foot) and outside linebackers Christian Miller (biceps) and Terrell Lewis (elbow) have not been cleared. ... Saban is 0-6 against Auburn teams that have won nine or more games.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.