I was glad to see Kyle sign on to the "embracing expectations" approach to the 2008 season that I put forth back in January. With a successful spring practice behind us and the major injury bug dodged so far (knocking wood), I see no reason to shy away from title talk.
There are some very key points in Kyle’s reasoning. This is the biggest one as far as I’m concerned:
…do we really want the luxury of languishing in the relative obscurity of lowered expectations if it means taking the chance of turning out like underappreciated Auburn in 2004?
Exactly. If college football were a law school class, the 2004 Auburn season would be one of the landmark cases studied every year. It provides insight into so much about the sport – everything from the technical (the perfect storm of Chizik and Borges) to the personal (the redemption of Jason Campbell) to its national implications. Even this far removed from the 2004 season, we’re still talking through those implications.
There is one line of thought, expressed by Kyle himself last week, that the lesson had to do with the consequences of a weak nonconference schedule. I’ve been more of the opinion that Auburn’s schedule mattered much less than the fact that Southern Cal and Oklahoma were put on a collision course from the moment the 2003 season ended. Yes, the Narrative.
2007 provides another example. Last summer LSU and Southern Cal were the teams of destiny at the top of the preseason polls. Les Miles cemented the Narrative by calling out Southern Cal’s schedule and conference. Though Stanford made sure that the Tiger-Trojan championship game would never take place, I have to think that LSU’s #2 preseason position in the polls made a difference when the pollsters chose them as the first two-loss team to play for the BCS championship. No one was talking about Kansas or Missouri last July. LSU’s presence in the preseason national title discussion certainly didn’t hurt their position even after a typically fatal late-season loss.
Poll position matters in racing and college football. If you want to have the best chance at a title run, start as high as you can. Counting on higher-ranked teams to lose and clear the path works sometimes, but it can get very crowded at the top. It’s a somewhat unusual situation this year in that there really isn’t a clear preseason #1, so getting an early nose ahead of the rest of the field might really matter this season. There’s definitely danger in having the bulls-eye on your back, and Doug’s very right that it can overwhelm a team. The teams that are able to use those expectations as motivation instead of as distraction have become some of our better college football champions. Why not Georgia?