Ole Miss Football Coach Houston Nutt has been on the alumni/fan speaking circuit prior to his trip to the Middle East coming up soon.
Everywhere he goes, Nutt is greeted with talk of championships for 2009.
He's not shying away from that type of fan enthusiasm and anticipation, but, he says, he has to keep it real for many reasons.
"I like high expectations, but I also like them to be balanced with a little reality," smiled the main man recently.
So what is reality, according to Nutt?
"I can't look ahead too far," Houston stated. "Fans can point to one game or another and do the win-loss thing on the schedule, but the people inside the team cannot afford to do that. Our coaches and players cannot afford to look too much at preseason polls. I know we can't run from those things, and we are glad to be mentioned rather than being left out and ignored, but we have to take them with a grain of salt. All we have proven so far is that we can be good, not that we will be.
"All we are pointing out, and preaching, right now is for our guys to have the best summer they have ever had. Be accountable, be leaders, set good examples, establish the senior leadership now, and get in the best condition of your life in the next two months."
Don't take that to mean Houston has many doubts about his upcoming team. He knows they can be good, but he also knows everything is conditional.
"In my opinion, our top 24 can play with anyone, even though we are going to have two inexperienced starters on our offensive line," he continued. "The difference in us and some more established programs at this time is that we cannot afford as many injuries as some of those programs can. I am not saying our depth is bad - it's not - but realistically it is not as good as some of the others in our league yet.
"There are some positions where we cannot just plug another player in and keep operating at as high a level as we could with the starter. That is what we will work on shoring up between now and the season opener. We need some more depth to develop or we need to stay very healthy, which is something you cannot bank on no matter how many precautions you take."
I see both sides of the expectations coin.
On one hand, how do you hold back a fan base hungry for a big season when outside sources are predicting a banner campaign? And why would you want to hold them back?
The answers: you can't and you don't want to. There are no drawbacks to fans thinking about titles. The more excitement the fans have, the more excitement the team will have.
It's a much better scenario for the players to feed off the emotions of the fans rather than fans waiting on the players to create those emotions and excitement. Built-in enthusiasm is more effective than manufactured enthusiasm, in this opinion.
A fan expecting to win is going to be more into a game than a fan hoping and praying to win.
Having said that, and having had a close look in spring training of the bulk of the 2009 team, I get what Nutt is saying as well.
Personally, I am as excited about the 2009 season as I have been about an Ole Miss football team since, well, I can't even remember.
But I also witnessed a team that is not close to being a finished product nor a team that is a shoe-in for any kind of title.
Can they win the West and go to Atlanta and beyond? Absolutely. Should they? I think that's a stretch at this point.
This Rebel team has holes to plug, but they have time to fill them and the candidates, if everything goes smoothly, to fill in the gaps nicely.
Nutt is right.
This football team has all the markings of being a good one, a real good one, but there is summer work - hard, tedious work - to be done and it will take everyone on board and everyone on the same page to get it done.
Nutt has been faced with high expectations before. He knows it's a double-edged sword.
He welcomes the challenge and loves the fans being this fired up this early.
He also recognizes the pitfalls, but he prefers being in the preseason picture heavily to not being mentioned at all.
I like all the anticipation and high expectations as well, but there are times when just a tad of reality wouldn't hurt either.
Giddiness with some perspective is my stance.
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