AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Nick Saban and his Alabama players were already looking to the future. The present was far more painful to ponder.
All the Crimson Tide could do after the final and most painful defeat of a disheartening season was wait and hope a bowl bid will be forthcoming. It's anything but a sure thing following Saturday night's 17-10 loss at No. 23 Auburn that completed a four-game swoon to end the regular season.
Some Tide players were far more optimistic about the distant future and the prospects for Saban's rebuilding job than about the chances of landing a bowl invitation after their sixth consecutive Iron Bowl loss.
``The way it's looking right now, I don't think we will,'' senior defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.
Saban wasn't wildly optimistic either. He is holding out hope, though.
``I don't know anything about the bowl situation,'' he said. ``I would love for our players to have the opportunity to go to a bowl game.
``Most of the circumstances that occurred this weekend probably would not be beneficial to our situation.''
The Tide's best hope now might be the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. Alabama (4-4 SEC) and South Carolina (3-5) are both bowl-eligible at 6-6 while eight other SEC teams have better records.
Even if the SEC matched last season's nine bowl bids, either Alabama or South Carolina would likely be left out. The league has never sent 10 teams to the postseason.
``I think we deserve to go to a bowl game, but that is not my decision,'' senior wide receiver DJ Hall said. ``We have worked hard all year and hopefully we will get the chance to play one more game.''
It seemed an unlikely concern for the Tide a few weeks ago after beating Tennessee and taking No. 5 LSU down to the wire. Alabama was still contending for a league title before the LSU loss.
``We were 6-2 at one point and we felt like things were going pretty well, but then it just seemed like things stopped working,'' quarterback John Parker Wilson said. ``It is something that we are all going to have to work on for next year. We are going to have to get better in every aspect of the game.''
Especially offensively. The Tide converted just 19-of-64 third-down tries (30 percent) in the last four games. The numbers were even worse in the fourth quarter of the last three games at a combined 1-for-13.
Alabama's offense produced just three touchdowns in the last three games.
The latest poor offensive performance against Auburn came despite the return of two offensive linemen and tailback Glen Coffee from suspension. Leading rusher Terry Grant was held out with a hip problem.
``We lost some players for various reasons and got some guys beat up and nicked up and we didn't overcome it,'' Saban said. ``Therefore we did not finish the way we would like to finish. We are looking forward to the future here, developing the players that we have and doing the best we can to recruit the best players that we can that represent the University of Alabama. We are looking forward to the challenges of the future.''
And, he promised, ``We're going to get it right.''

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