Glen Mason was the zen master of playing the expectations game. Lowering expectations every season so the base would be satisfied with a 6-6 team that went 2-6 in the Big Ten. Tim Brewster was the maybe the worst in the history of coaching at this media game. And I don't think Jerry Kill cares one freaking iota about expectations for his teams other than he expects to win whether you expected him to or not. But in the course of 1 week and following a 2-point loss to USC, I fear that expectations are growing unfairly and exponentially. The new perception of the Gophers after a close loss to a very talented team that was poorly coached makes me very, very nervous.
A week ago all of the national and most local pundits were predicting a three or four win season for the Gophers. All were assuming that we would have virtually no shot to win our home conference games (with the Illinois game the possible exception), we would get creamed by USC and our winable conference games were on the road making them not very winable. The media believed this was going to be another long very year for the Gophers.
Now, there is talk that six wins is very possible, and not just from delusional Gopher rubes. I want to plead with Gopher fans to not raise the bar too high, too quickly. Yes, I predicted a six win season (before the USC game) and there were a number of encouraging signs in the two-point loss to USC. My problem isn't having higher expectations to start the season. But for those of us who did have six win expectations, those should not change after week one. For every positive sign on Saturday there was often a corresponding negative. Jerry Kill made some outstanding half-time adjustments, Lane Kiffin's team made a ton of mistakes and played uninspired. USC stunk in the second half causing Lane Kiffin to look like someone had just kicked his puppy as he walked off the field. This is not a knock on the Gophers in any way, but neither is it an indication that it took us a half to get things figured out and now this team is destined to play great football for 11 or 12 more games.
This, again, is not to demean what the Gophers accomplished last Saturday. The defensive adjustments from the first half to the second were something we just haven't seen in a very long time. For once I felt like our coaching staff was the superior staff on the field. We learned plenty about MarQueis Gray as he played with quite a bit of confidence and poise, particularly in the second half. This team didn't quit when it was down 19-3 at halftime and on top of that they outscored USC 14-0 in the final two quarters. Last year we gave up 216 yards rushing to USC, this year was two different teams but holding them to 67 yards on the ground (which includes -34 on the fumble recovery) is a dramatic improvement. There is a lot to be encouraged about the loss on Saturday.
I am greatly looking forward to the next 11 games. The USC game is behind us and we learned a lot from it. But it was a loss and it has no bearing on the outcome of the next 11 games. I still believe we will see that first half Gopher team from time to time. We can still be excited about the season and maybe the national (and even local) pundits can see that the rumors of our demise had been greatly exaggerated. But for those of us who believed all along that this team would be better than a 3 or 4 win team, shouldn't be upping our expectations. Everyone else is just catching up to us.