Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Potential Misery of High Expectations

No one in my generation—or probably my father’s generation, for that matter—has any prior experience with the expectations placed on this year’s University of Missouri football team.

I went to Mizzou from 1986 to 1992, enduring the end of Woody Widenhofer experience and the entirety of the Bob Stull reign. Those were heady days, let me tell you. No one needed to pay for admission to a football game; all you needed to do was walk into the lobby of any on-campus dorm hall, and any number of tickets would be thumbtacked to the bulletin board. Most of them were still there after Mizzou’s latest embarrassing loss.

Compare those dismal days to today’s Tigers. They’re defending a Big 12 North title. The team fully expects to not only return to the Big 12 Championship game but to actually beat Oklahoma (or anyone else there) for the conference title. Chances are if they accomplish that unprecedented feat, they’ll be in a BCS bowl game—maybe even the national championship.

How will this team deal with these expectations? In a few short years, they’ve gone from doormats to underdogs to contenders to favorites, and now they are the targets, the team to beat in the conference.

The pressure to go undefeated will be enormous. With the continuation of the ridiculously stupid BCS system, no team can afford even a single loss, especially early in the season. While MU’s schedule doesn’t look impossible, no team can be overlooked. Just ask Michigan about Appalachian State.

How will head coach Gary Pinkel guide his team through these uncharted waters? How will Chase Daniel respond to the season-long questions about a national championship and a Heisman Trophy? Will skill players such as Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and Derrick Washington keep last year’s high-octane offense running at top speed? Can the defense stop the run and hold down opposing offenses?

These are all questions we’ve never had to ask before because we’ve never been in this place before as Mizzou fans. I’ve always taken it as a given that the Tigers would break my heart. I just never imagined that someday it would actually matter if they did.

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