Soaring expectations can be a blessing or a curse in college football.
The folks who sell the tickets love them because fans love to be in the stadium to cheer victories.
Coaches wince at them. High expectations followed by a disappointing season make fans unhappy and sometimes makes coaches unemployed.
Among Auburn fans, expectations for the 2005 season are high, which is natural coming off a 13-0 season. Expectations are not so high among those who make preseason predictions for college football. The Tigers were ranked No. 15 in the coaches' preseason poll.
A look at recent history is in order. LSU won the SEC championship in 2001 with an upset victory over Tennessee in Atlanta. In 2002, the Bayou Bengals went 8-5. Even in 2001 they lost three games and were blown out at home by Florida. pr> In 2002, Georgia won the SEC championship with a 12-1 record. A year later, the Bulldogs lost to LSU in the championship game and finished 10-3.
Alabama won the championship in 1999, finishing 10-3, and sagged to 3-8 in 2000.
LSU won the SEC championship and national championship in 2003 with a 12-1 record and went 9-3 last season. Nick Saban, as we have pointed out here before, lost fewer than three games just once in his five LSU seasons.
So what are reasonable expectations for this Auburn football team?
Expecting an undefeated season for any SEC team is never reasonable. Expecting an SEC championship is seldom reasonable. For a program that has reached the maturity level of Auburn, reasonable expectations are that the Tigers will be good enough to have a chance to win any game they play.
There are those who say Auburn must get back to the SEC Championship Game or it will be a disappointing season. If the Tigers had lost to LSU and won the rest last season, they would have been 11-1 and would not have played in Atlanta. I wouldn't call that disappointing.
In the SEC, where six different teams have won the championship in the past seven years, success often can't be measured in winning it all or even getting to Atlanta. Phillip Fulmer has won just two SEC championships at Tennessee, but I don't think anyone would deny that he has been successful.
Success comes from having a team good enough to beat anybody. If you have that kind of program, the year might come when you beat everybody. It came for Auburn last season. But a team talented enough and committed enough to go 11-0 can also go 8-3, or even worse if the wrong people get hurt, because other teams are also talented enough and committed enough to go 11-0.
And that's where Auburn's program is today.
Travis Williams is expected to be one of the key players for the 2005 Tigers. The senior linebacker is shown making a tackle.
I may be proved wrong and Urban Meyer might really be the reincarnation of Knute Rockne, but I see a lot of similarities between the Gators of 2005 and Auburn of 2003.
Florida has some athletes that demand attention, guys like quarterback Chris Leak, receiver Chad Jackson and linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler. But the Gators have some question marks, too, and plenty of them.
The Auburn team of 2003 had guys like Carnell Williams, Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas, but it also had question marks. It turned out the Tigers, ranked No. 6 in the preseason after going 9-4 in 2002, were drastically overrated.
Meyer inherits a team that has been 8-5, 8-5 and 7-5 the past three seasons, yet the Gators are ranked No. 3 in the coaches' poll. Maybe all the losses were just because Ron Zook couldn't coach, but somehow I doubt that.
We shall see...
Some observations from a week and a half of standing in the sun and sometimes rain and watching Auburn practice:
Travis Williams is as good as any linebacker I've seen at Auburn, and that includes a whole lot of great ones.
Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu has taken his game to another level.
Tight end Cooper Wallace might be the most underrated player on Auburn's football team, at least on offense.
David Irons is incredibly gifted in one-on-one coverage.
Tommy Jackson and Josh Thompson are powerful forces at nose guard, but improvement is needed at defensive tackle.
The defense, for all its speed and talent, needs to figure out why it has been somewhat susceptible to big plays.
Jake Slaughter's ferocious blocking might mean the Tigers run more plays with a pure fullback this season.
Auburn has more defensive backs with speed and athleticism than I have ever seen on one team.
Tommy Tuberville is right when he says that, top to bottom, this is his most talented team.
Until next time...