AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - AJ McCarron and Clint Moseley have a combined four state titles to their credit. Now, the sophomore quarterbacks will vie for the one that really matters throughout Alabama.
McCarron has guided No. 2 Alabama into Saturday's Iron Bowl with Auburn in position to contend for a national championship. Moseley is a small-town product who took over the Tigers' starting job in midseason and now gets his first shot in the game that most of the state will be tuned into.
"I never thought I would be here," Moseley said. "I can't really think of many who would've ever guessed that I'd get this opportunity besides my mom and my dad. It's crazy if you think about it.
"It's not going to be as overwhelming as people from Leroy might think. Or anybody else thinking this (Class) 2A quarterback is probably going to be overwhelmed."
Moseley is the clear underdog passer in this game. He led Leroy High School, in a town of some 1,000 residents, to three straight titles in the state's second-smallest classification.
McCarron guided St. Paul's to a championship in the second-biggest class, 5A, beating a team led by onetime Auburn starter Barrett Trotter in the finals.
He has been a steady quarterback for a team that is powered by defense and the running game. Often overlooked given that formula, McCarron is actually the SEC's No. 3 passer with 2,216 yards and 13 touchdowns against five interceptions.
"I think he has done a very good job of managing the offense, providing leadership for the offense," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "He's made a lot of good throws - a lot of good throws. We're pleased with the progress that he has made."
Unlike Moseley, McCarron does have Iron Bowl experience of a sort. He came into the game in the final minute of last year's 28-27 Auburn win after Greg McElroy went down with a concussion.
The result was four straight incompletions but at least a measure of Iron Bowl seasoning.
"In situations like that, you definitely grow as a player," Tide wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. "He was a young guy last year, and he's still a young guy this year, but he's definitely come around through 11 games and gotten a lot better. He's matured into a great player, and he'll mature even more as the seasons come."
Moseley hasn't had 11 starts to grow up, he's had four. That includes two home wins and blowout losses at No. 1 LSU and No. 13 Georgia.
If he had enough attempts, his passing rating would be third in the SEC. However, the Tigers essentially have one consistent wide receiver in Emory Blake and rank 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game (161.7).
Moseley hasn't completed more than 13 passes in a game and has only one touchdown throw outside of his four-TD game against Mississippi.
This might not be a tougher task than his debut start at LSU's Tiger Stadium, but chances are it's the one that will be remembered longest by Auburn fans - as Moseley well knows having been watching the Alabama-Auburn games since he was a little boy.
"If you sit there and think about it like that, coming from Leroy and playing and (ESPN) GameDay is going to come and it matters to so many people throughout the state ..." Moseley said.
"There's a lot to think about, I could out a lot of pressure on myself. I'm not going to let myself do that. I'm going to work hard so I'm ready for the moment. So I'm not scared, so I'm not nervous, so I'm not worried.
"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to be as ready as I can."
That includes emphasizing the power of positive thinking instead of worrying about what can go wrong against one of the nation's best defenses.
"I look at it as an opportunity instead of a huge stage to mess up," Moseley said. "Like trying not to mess up - I try not to look at it like that. What a great stage to make Auburn look good, help win the game. I could go on and on."
Asked how many imaginary touchdowns he's scored against Alabama in his life, he said: "Probably over 1,000."
McCarron has faced some awfully tough environments with games at Penn State and Florida. He didn't put up big numbers, nor did he throw an interception.
McCarron also performed respectably in a showdown with LSU, completing 16 of 28 passes for 199 yards with an interception. "He's played in tough places," Tide center William Vlachos said. "He's been on the road. He's played against good teams. He's done it all and he's done it all with poise. He's done what he's had to do."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.