Michigan State and the burden of expectations (for fans)
Hopes are high in East Lansing this week, as well they should be. Michigan State is coming off a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory, and in all likelihood would’ve played for the BCS Championship had 1) A few controversial pass interference penalties not been called against Notre Dame and 2) in the same game, had they not called a halfback pass that got picked off and led to Notre Dame scoring the go-ahead touchdown.Those lofty expectations heading into 2014, though, will almost certainly lead to disappointment for the fanbase, writes the Lansing State Journal’s Graham Couch:
Life as an MSU football fan will probably never again be as satisfying as last season, for at least a generation.
That’s the harsh price of fulfilling dreams, for winning big and for joining the elite. There is little joy remaining in the small victories, and little room left to climb.
This stage in the Spartan program, as coach Mark Dantonio reiterated last week, is about “handling success.”
Try selling that T-shirt. Last year’s mantra, “Chase it,” had a far better ring.
MSU caught it. Now what?
I’ll relay my own experience with this: My freshman year at Mizzou was 2007, when the football team reached No. 1 in the country, Chase Daniel was a Heisman Trophy finalist and there were legitimate championship aspirations in Columbia. Mizzou returned Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Sean Weatherspoon and a host of other talented players in 2008 and were a top-five team...before losing Oklahoma State at home. Mizzou went on to go 10-4 that year -- a good season in Mizzou history, but one that felt incredibly disappointing given the preseason expectations.
Aiming low, though, is sort of a cheap defense mechanism. If you expect an 8-4 season and your team goes 10-2, the season feels better...but were you really excited about things in the first place? If your team went into a big game at, say 6-1, and you expect 8-4, you might not feel as crushingly disappointed by the loss as your fellow fans. Those gut-wrenching losses are as much a part of the fan experience as the big wins.
Couch makes some good points in his column and talked to some respected fan psychologists about expectations, and it’s certainly a compelling argument. But for a program like Michigan State, the opportunity to have championship/playoff expectations doesn’t come around very often, so take advantage of it while the opportunity’s there.
Because for all we know, the expectations for Sparty may go back to 9-3 or 8-4 in the near future.