Jonathan Wallace was still in high school with no clue he'd wind up playing for Auburn when AJ McCarron was leading Alabama to a national title.
Now, the Tigers' freshman quarterback is set to start in the first Iron Bowl he's ever attended Saturday against the second-ranked Crimson Tide and one of the nation's best defenses — in front of some 102,000 mostly hostile fans.
"It's a pretty good position to be in, I would say," Wallace said. "It's really a blessing. I'm very excited. I can't wait."
McCarron is in a pretty good position, too.
He has the Tide (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) two wins away from a return trip to the national title game, where he was MVP last season.
The two quarterbacks are at very different stages of their careers leading teams having even more disparate seasons. Wallace has three career starts and none on the road for the Tigers (3-8, 0-7).
McCarron has started 24 games, winning 22 of them, and has 36 career touchdown passes compared to Wallace's four. He just set Alabama's single-season record with passing touchdown No. 21 last weekend against Western Carolina, a week after his school mark of 291 passes without an interception ended.
McCarron is one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award given to the nation's top junior or senior quarterback.
"I think everything with their offense starts with their offensive line," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "I think it's an extremely talented, well-coached offensive line. I think for a quarterback there's great comfort in that, but he's been very, very efficient. He's very good at protecting the football. McCarron has done everything that I think you do in games to win."
McCarron is third nationally in passing efficiency, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,291 yards with two interceptions.
Wallace's ride has been unpredictable. He was bound for Central Florida until Auburn offered the player from nearby Central-Phenix City a scholarship on the eve of national signing day.
He took over the offense after both Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier struggled, but hasn't started in an unfriendly environment yet.
"Jonathan is one of these guys that's mature beyond his years," Chizik said. "But it's going to be a different environment. A kid that grows up this close to Auburn and growing up in this state knowing what this game is and what this game means, it will be different for him. My gut is to say that he'll handle it wise beyond his years. He'll know that it's a different deal. He'll be excited about it, but he'll handle it well."
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