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The Expectations Game

Last year, LSU won 9 games, finished third in the SEC, made the Cap One Bowl (arguably the best non-BCS bowl), and was the only SEC team other than Alabama or Florida to post a winning record in conference.  By any reasonable measure, LSU had a successful season last year. 

Certainly not a great season, as LSU was also well behind the top two in the pecking order, but hardly a catastrophe.  The team improved its SEC record by two wins, and it saw its defense go from one of the worst units in the country to one of the most effective units at doing what a defense is supposed to do: preventing points. 

However, the accepted storyline of last season is that it was a horrible disappointment and LSU is now a program which has slipped.  This demonstrates just how powerful media themes really are.  It would be just as easy to portray last year's season as LSU rising back from the depths of a disappointing 2008 season, and is now poised for a big year.  In fact, one of the preseason themes of 2009 was that 2010 was going to be the big year.  But the storyline is one of disappointment, not hope.  And we've eaten it up.

Now, 2010 is here and LSU fans are acting like a beaten puppy, just afraid to get their hopes up.  The ironic thing is, the fans who are probably the most negative headed into this year were the ones who were most optimistic headed into last season.  If you thought LSU was going to go 11-1 last season, well, it was a big disappointment.  I had fairly modest expectations going into 2009 (if thinking 9 wins is modest), and they were met.  So I'm actually excited about this year because I see a team that's improving from the 2008 season, not a team still sliding backwards. 

I am absolutely excited about this season.  To my eyes, the 2010 Tigers look like they are better than the 2009 Tigers, and the 2009 Tigers weren't all that bad.  I'm not going to say it's a good thing we are picked to go fourth in the SEC West, because I'd rather have high expectations and meet them than modest expectations and exceed them.  Last year was a year in which I had tempered expectations, and Bama really looked like juggernaut.  This year, I'm a little more skeptical of Bama (they are still the odds on favorite, but they are replacing almost their whole defense) and I'm more confident in our own team.

Auburn is getting slapped on the back for improving, and they did improve.  The thing is, LSU improved as well, but because of the expectations game, people seem to be jumping on the Auburn bandwagon right now.  People do seem skeptical of going all-in for Arkansas, mainly because they can't play defense.  What seems more likely: Arkansas' continued inability to stop teams from scoring or LSU's continued inability to move the football?  Just asking.

I'm not prepared to say LSU is going to win the national title, or even the SEC title, but I do think it is entirely appropriate to get our hopes up this year.  Fans seem to be waiting for impending disaster, but that's only because 2009 sort of felt like a disaster.  Take a deep breath.  Last year was actually pretty good.  The team improved.  Now, it's time to take the next step.  I can't guarantee we will, but this is the time of the year to get your hopes up, not look around for icebergs. 

It's okay to hope, people.  It's almost football season.  Get excited.