As the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, who led the Tigers to wins over Alabama in 1993 and 1995, Bo Nix has dreamed of playing in an Iron Bowl ever since he left diapers behind.
On Saturday, the freshman quarterback will get his own opportunity when his 16th-ranked Tigers (8-3, 4-3 SEC) welcome the No. 5 Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1) to Jordan Hare-Stadium.
"There have been a lot of years building up to now, and the fact that it's actually here is crazy," Nix told reporters moments after Saturday's 52-0 stomping of Samford. "It's an important week, and we're going to have to get after it. We're going to have to practice well and be on our A-game mentally and physically.
"I'm looking forward to it greatly. I'll be ready to go, and our team will be ready to go. We know the crowd will be electric and the atmosphere will be crazy, but at the end of the day we're just playing football."
The Alabama-Auburn game has been college football's greatest rivalry of this generation, with the Tide and Tigers combining to win four consecutive national titles from 2009 to 2012. The last seven Iron Bowl winners represented the Western Division in the Southeastern Conference championship contest, but that streak has expired with LSU having earned this year's West crown.
There are still plenty of national implications with this year's contest, most notably Alabama's hopes for a sixth appearance in the sixth year of the sport's four-team playoff.
Which brings us back to Nix and Alabama counterpart Mac Jones in one of the oddest quarterback pairings in Iron Bowl history. Nix in late August became the first true freshman to start a season opener for Auburn since Travis Tidwell in 1946, and he immediately delivered with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams that propelled the Tigers to a 27-21 victory over Oregon.
Through his first 11 games, Nix has completed 185 of 321 passes (57.6%) for 2,193 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. His 185 completions are an Auburn freshman record.
In Auburn's losses to the top-10 trio of LSU, Georgia and Florida, however, Nix has completed just 50% of his attempts with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
"Each week, you just see him growing and improving, but that's to be expected," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "We're in game 12 coming up, and he's started 11 games. He should be more comfortable, and I feel like he is."
Jones is a redshirt sophomore for the Crimson Tide who will be making his third career start Saturday and his second since junior Tua Tagovailoa was lost for the season with a dislocated hip. Tagovailoa threw for five touchdowns and rushed for another in last year's Iron Bowl, with his six overall scores setting an Alabama single-game record.
In starts over Arkansas on Oct. 26 and Western Carolina last Saturday, Jones has combined to go 28-of-34 (82.4%) for 510 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We have a lot of confidence in Mac," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "He's played well when he's had the opportunity to play, and I think our team has confidence in him. This is going to be the first game he's had to play on the road, so it will be a little different from that standpoint for him in terms of game management and things he has to do to be effective against a very good team.
"We have every confidence that he'll be able to manage the game well and do what we need to do to get the ball to the skill players that we have and create balance in the offense. I think he's confident because he's got some playing experience now, and we certainly have confidence in him."
The 13 combined starts by Nix and Jones are the fewest for an Iron Bowl in decades, and their one common opponent sheds no light on any potential advantage. Both the Nix-led Tigers and the Jones-led Tide beat Arkansas by 41 points.
Nix has grown up knowing that this state championship can make many folks forget disappointments that may have occurred earlier in a season.
"A win in the Iron Bowl solves a lot of problems," he said.
For Jones, this week's trip will be unlike any he has experienced before, but a third career start for Alabama is a bit different than at most other programs.
"If you talk to most any of our players, the competition every day in practice is really what makes them better," Saban said. "Marlon Humphrey had to cover Amari Cooper every day. Cam Robinson had to block Jonathan Allen every day. Hopefully that has been a positive for Mac as well, and I would assume so."
Alabama does not have any finalists for the nine awards that will be presented next month at the annual ESPN-televised show from Atlanta. The Crimson Tide had four finalists last year and three winners — receiver Jerry Jeudy (Biletnikoff), nose tackle Quinnen Williams (Outland) and Tagovailoa (Maxwell). ... Receiver Henry Ruggs III and defensive linemen Raekwon Davis, DJ Dale and Phidarian Mathis all practiced Monday.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.