The preseason expectation game

South Carolina, LSU, and Florida are feeling the heat this summer and it's not from the sun.

My, how a year can change things. Last season at this point, Georgia and Alabama fans were preparing for their respective runs at the SEC and national titles. As it turns out, both struggled at best least season, and as a result now have new head coaches.

Meanwhile in Columbia, expectations were reserved. Wishing, wanting, waiting to win just one game; the Cocks were futile in 1999, and not much better in 1998. Suddenly a turnaround took place. Carolina was one half from winning the SEC East and sending themselves to Atlanta.

Last season Quincy Carter was supposed to be a Heisman candidate. This season he is in the NFL, but the way he got there was not as glorious as the way that it was supposed to happen.

After the worst game of his career against the aforementioned Gamecocks, Carter was no longer supported by many of the Georgia faithful. But now Carter finds himself in a situation similar to the one that he had in Athens a season ago. The main man in charge, Jerry Jones, is in love with his persona or his talent, and has taken considerable personal, or in this case, financial risk to make certain that Carter is the quarterback for his team.

With Carter, Donnan, and Dubose gone, the preseason favorites of last year have given way to South Carolina, Florida, and LSU as this season's fashionable preseason media darlings. The only problem for those teams: now they have to deal with the pressure of expectations.

Neither Carter nor Donnan and for that matter Dubose could deal with high expectations. It is important to take into consideration preseason hype. It does take a toll on players and teams.

Florida State was able to deal with the expectation level in 1999. The Noles went the whole season with no losses. They whipped a good Florida team and outscored Michael Vick and Virginia Tech. But what happened to FSU in 1999 is rare.

Knowing that you have a chance to win the conference or national title is a different feeling than actually being expected to do it. Just ask Tennessee. The season after the Vols were expected to win the SEC and the national title was a mild disappointment, backing into the SEC title thanks to Georgia's win over Florida. It was only the year after Peyton Manning's departure that the Vols struck gold. The Vols still knew that they were winners, but did not have to deal with the preseason hype that normally comes with it, all because the expectations were lowered due to Manning's departure.

As a perennial loser, South Carolina's turnaround was a great story last season for the national media to focus on. But now the Cocks are ranked in the top 25 to start the season. Expectations are already in place to jump into another New Year's bowl. With a tough schedule, and that's putting it mildly, the Cocks are going to have to be everything advertised in order to get to a New Year's Day Bowl.

LSU has been there before. They understand the expectation game. Ranked as high as number six in the country in 1998, it appeared that the Tigers were going to fulfill the expectations of the media. It was not to be. The Tigers slipped into a pathetic drought of awful efforts and bad losses. Fans were unhappy the next year with the results of the season and Gerry DiNardo was fired. In the past LSU has not fulfilled expectations, will they this season?

Florida is ranked number one in most preseason polls. The 2001 team is being described as the best team since the 1996 national championship team. Pressure is mounting in Gainesville. Steve Spurrier is a great coach, but not even he will be able to deal with picky fans if the Gators don't come home with the title.

So take warning Florida, LSU, and South Carolina, being heralded as great is a long way from actually being great. The media pressure and fan pressure is much greater when greatness is expected. I do not envy your position, for my team has been there before.

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