AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville senses a difference in his players once the Iron Bowl comes around.
Most notably, more of them are smiling in practice. The Tigers (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) are hoping to restore a little joy to a disappointing season entering Saturday's visit to No. 1 Alabama.
"We look at this season as one that didn't go our way," Tuberville said Monday. "It's not near what we would have wanted to be when we started out, but when you get to the last game of the year you really forget about everything else that's happened. For the first time in a while, I've seen smiles on guys' faces in practice out running around.
"It's good to see them starting to relax a little bit."
The Tigers still have plenty riding on the game, even if it's nowhere near as grandiose as the national or SEC title that are within Alabama's grasp.
A potential bowl bid. Extending the Iron Bowl winning streak to seven years. And a chance to play the role of spoiler against the team's biggest rival.
Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers doesn't think the poor season detracts from the excitement swirling around the game. It certainly doesn't for him.
"Actually, I can't even wait to get to Saturday," Powers said. "I'm probably more excited about this one than I was last year's game just because of the situation. 'Bama's got a lot at stake, they got a lot on the table playing against us.
"And we've got a lot on the table, just not as much as they do. It's exciting going in there, being the underdog. I think since I've been here, we were always picked to win. Just going in there being the underdog, and our back against the wall and everybody expecting us to lose, I'm pumped up about it."
The Tide is favored by two touchdowns. Tuberville wants his players to enjoy the experience of what he calls "a rival game like no other."
Auburn has dropped four SEC games by five points or less, including a 17-13 defeat to Georgia two weeks ago in the Tigers' last outing.
"I want them to relax," Tuberville said. "I want them to enjoy this week, no matter what has happened. Most of these guys have been on the other side of it, where a lot of things were riding on it for them.
"For us this year it's pride and we want to go into this game understanding that whatever's happened has happened. The only thing we can control is this game."