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On Expectations

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What should we really look for in 2018?

NCAA Football: SEC Football Media Day Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We are the luckiest people on the planet.

Not by any sort of achievement of our own or even a mysterious divine ordination. We are lucky because germinating inside of everything right now under the endless and oppressive brassy August sun is something completely overwhelming and absurd that will overtake us for the final third of the calendar year again and leave us breathless and spent, sputtering our way into the next 365. We are lucky because we have the luxury of blurring the lines between distraction and purpose — to forget everything else mundane and treat the diversion with the gravitas of something actually consequential.

We have college football, and it’s going to begin soon.

This is not a pursuit for the inattentive or the unconcerned. This is something you jump into feet-first without thought or risk mitigation. College football has grown and lurched and coagulated and morphed over its weird history spanning multiple centuries in a largely haphazard manner. The result is a sport tailored for those with a tendency to binge. There is no portion control here: you load up that cafeteria tray from September through January like you’re not going to eat for the next eight months.

Growing up, college football for me was the Southwest Conference. Listening to Rice-Arkansas on the crackly AM truck radio while dove hunting on the rolling swells of brush country. Watching Texas Tech and Texas play in Austin, where the atmosphere came to life in a way not perceptible on television. Sitting on the benches in front of the high school locker room and thumbing through the A&M media guide (actual pages - not a phone), taking in all the details. An accumulation of awe and the gradual realization of how sprawling and grand the sport was.

As a viewer back then, watching those games in grainy black-and-white on my grandparents’ kitchen counter TV as the loose antenna outside pulsed a faint fringe of static around the edges, expectations were a foreign concept. The novelty and the excitement was larger-than-life. The action was the draw, and whatever result played out over the course of the game was a mystery unraveling. However you cut your teeth on college football, there was at one point that childlike sense of wonder that we often wish we could recapture, all these binges are just an attempt to rediscover that elusive perfect high.

Now we are fed an overwhelming amount of analysis, predictions, tendencies, indicators, et al. And in keeping with the fashion of college football, it is available for us to gorge on non-stop throughout the entire year now, instead of waiting until the game flickered on the ole tube TV. It’s not horrible, and it’s not great. It’s fine. You can comb through hundreds of articles or you can go into a game completely uninformed; it won’t alter the events that unfold on the field one bit.

None of this is to say that we should not set a measure of expectations. There are things now in place to make a certain threshold of winning a definite possibility, if not a probability. Massive chess pieces have been slowly moving on this board for decades, and the Texas A&M program has quietly positioned itself to make a series of impressive moves if chance and fate and the innate skills of the other players do not combine into the exact pattern that would block this outcome. We are in good shape, and the pieces are in good hands.

Jimbo Fisher knows his business. He’s been the last piece left on the board before. He knows it’s possible, and more importantly, he knows just how goddamned hard it is. It’s not a simplistic equation of money plus resources plus recruits plus conference equals my demands. It’s a grueling, drawn-out journey over hot sand and sharp rocks where one tiny misstep could send the fragile pathway crumbling into a precipice of obscurity until the next season resets and you start walking all over again. There is always the chance that you can fail despite doing everything correctly because someone else is just that little bit better. You have to be good and you have to be lucky. And even then it’s a long way from guaranteed.

So to set an expectation as a hard number with binary consequences is a bit of a folly. Winning nine games is great, but not if the three losses are blowouts. Or home blowouts. Or poor efforts, squandered and ruined by sloppy and careless play. Or any number of those brittle seeds that get stuck in our teeth throughout the season and take months or sometimes years to dislodge from our memory teeth.

In the past, we’ve ambled carefree along the edge of that precipice, picking up a nice win or two along the way, until we get just past the halfway point. Then all manner of comical pitfalls befell us. Whole combinations of mishaps caused us to trip and twist and plunge headlong into that void well before we were within sight of the end. The way to tell if this $75 million dollar experiment is going to work lies in one indicator: how relevant is Texas A&M in November? All the rest, the flashy red carpet on the jetway, the recruiting hoopla, the return of gritty football to Aggieland...all that is background noise once the ball gets kicked off on August 30th.

In any competitive endeavor, the expectation is always to get better. There will be tangible and glowing improvements this year. There will also be growing pains. It’s okay to have both as long as the net positives outweigh the setbacks. Transition years can be clunky, a lesson we were afforded the luxury of forgetting completely in 2012. Broken down into a basic shell, the expectations for Texas A&M Football fans should be to win more games than last year, to finish the season strong, and to have a hell of a good time watching the first year of a new era.

But the expectation shouldn’t be to win just because you think everything is in place to do so. Jimbo Fisher doesn’t think that, and if he does, we got the wrong guy. And anyway, all our expectations are moot without a little bit of good old fashioned luck.