TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Whatever chance Alabama had to inject any real joy into this forgettable season went out the window with a loss to Auburn.
Now, the Crimson Tide (4-8) needs a win Saturday night at Hawaii (7-4) just to create momentum entering the offseason, make recruiting a little easier and most importantly avoid a dubious milestone.
Alabama has lost more than eight games in a season only once, dropping 10 in 1955.
Coach Mike Shula has another message for his players. A year from now, the games might be more meaningful once the NCAA's two-year bowl ban runs out.
"Let's get used to winning games this time of year," Shula said Tuesday. "Next time this year, these games are going to be worth a lot more than they are now. We're going to have a lot more to play for obviously when we become bowl eligible."
The Tide has adopted something of a wait-til-next-year theme this week, trying to build something positive heading into the offseason. Alabama has lost four of its last five games, including the 28-23 Iron Bowl defeat.
The Tide is finishing off only the program's fourth losing season since 1957 but the third in the last seven years. Shula heads into the stretch run of a key recruiting year upon his return next week.
Former coach Dennis Franchione helped set up the games with Hawaii as a reward for an Alabama team ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions. Now, it's taken on other meanings for a team tired of losing.
"We most definitely need to win this game, to finish this season strong and have some momentum going into next season," cornerback Anthony Madison said.
"That loss to Auburn really hurt. We all really wanted to win that game. I don't think anything could take the place of that, but going to Hawaii wouldn't hurt."
Alabama is a four-point favorite for the game
Now, the Tide faces its 12th bowl-eligible team of the season. Only Mississippi State doesn't have a winning record among the Tide's opponents, and Hawaii already has received a berth in the Aloha Bowl.
"We just really want to get some momentum going into the offseason and we want to send the seniors out with a win," Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "Mostly for us younger guys it's more about momentum and trying to get things going in the right direction now as opposed to waiting until next year."
Shula also knows a strong closing performance gives the coaches another selling point for recruits, a sign of progress and perhaps an indication of better things to come.
"You want to feel good about the last time you were on the field, coaching and playing," he said.
Shula wants the players to enjoy the trip, too - without losing sight of the primary objective.
"Let's get focused on winning a football game against a good football team and end the season on a high note with everyone of us playing our best game (and) coaching our best game," Shula said. "Then worry about having a good time after the game."
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