Expectations can be both wonderful and crushing at times, and nothing feels better than low expectations being proven wrong. That's what happened to us the Thursday before Labor Day against a top-ten South Carolina team on the road on the brand-new SEC Network. Conversely, there are few things worse than false hope, and that is exactly what those adjusted expectations proved to be.
We live in a bubble. We always expect our team to do well and compete for championships regularly. That is what fans do. And sometimes, those expectations might even be reasonable. But a far better measuring stick for a program exists outside that bubble in the perception of others. And gradually, over the last few years, we have seen shifts in those perceptions. We've gained respectability, and attention, and we're not a punchline as often as we once were. Even during this year's precipitous ride, we managed to flip the script and beat a seemingly untouchable Auburn team on the road.
Success breeds more success, and then success will spoil us. We are about to go to our sixth consecutive bowl game. That has never happened before in our program's history. We are 3-0 in bowl games since Mike Sherman stepped down in December of 2011. That is as many bowl victories as we had in fifteen tries between 1990 and 2010. Think about all the times we were overmatched, or played flat, or relinquished huge leads in those two decades. Then think of the last three years and how they've been different. Not perfect, but better.
When Kevin Sumlin was hired that same December, one of his soundbites became the now-famous "get a dog" quote. That wasn't just bravado. In part it was, sure: he knew what the team was capable of in 2012 and wanted to instill that attitude. But part of it was also a challenge to us. Would we be able to cope with adversity when the team went 7-5 in the toughest division in college football? Mark Snyder's departure was imminent at some point in the month of October. But would we continue clamoring for heads after we've averaged 9 wins per year in our first three seasons in the SEC?
This is not two decades ago; this is now. A down season is still an above-.500 season that ends with a bowl game. We can afford to build a new stadium and fire coordinators. We met the expectations of most and are still disappointed. The entire framework of our expectations has shifted, and that is good. It means we've improved. It doesn't mean that the improvement is even close to complete. We've got a returning quarterback, a new defense on the way, and an extra month of practice. Optimism and complacency are not always the same thing, but I think we'll be fine in the bowl game and in 2015.
And just remember, this is football. It's supposed to be fun.