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Expectationswatch: cognitive dissonance

We’ve already done a bit of charting regarding the expectations of 2010 Auburn from the national media … namely, that there may not be a whole lot of expectations. Even if you’re a pundit who believes the Tigers will be the fifth-best team in the SEC and “have a chance to make a run at nine or 10 wins”, you probably are also high on Arkansas and thus believe will finish fourth in their own division.

Rationally speaking, this isn’t exactly crazy talk. As we know: Auburn’s replacing both their quarterback and star tailback, their best player on defense, one tackle on either side of the ball, and our best cover corner. The second unit won’t be the disaster area it was in ’09, but it will still be laden with freshmen, first-year JUCOs, or less-than-reliable vets. Auburn’s division will include the defending national champions, an LSU team that still ranks amongst the most purely talented in the country, and the preseason darling Hogs. Fourth in the SEC West makes a lot of sense from this far out, actually.

Unless you talk to an Auburn fan, of course. Jay Coulter debuted some very-early SEC predictions at Track’Em last week, predictions that have Auburn second in the west:

2.    Auburn – With Chris Todd and Ben Tate graduating, there will be plenty of question marks heading into fall camp. Should transfer quarterback Cam Newton live up to his billing, Auburn has a chance to put up Playstation like numbers on offense. Look for Trooper Taylor’s wide receivers to be much improved with more playmakers than a year ago. Don’t underestimate defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Sure the numbers looked bad on paper defensively last year, but when you look at the talent on the field, you realize he did a pretty solid job.

“OK, but what’s your point?” I hear you ask. “A team’s fans and bloggers are always going to be ridiculously more optimistic than neutral observers.” Which is true. But what about the team’s beat writers? Like, say, Phillip Marshall? They should be a little more balanced, right?

2. Auburn. If Cam Newton or someone else comes through at quarterback, the offense could break records. The defense should be much improved. If the Iron Bowl was in Auburn, I might have put the Tigers first.

No, P-Marsh is never going to be mistaken for someone with a total lack of bias where Auburn is concerned. But still: I think it’s fair to say that both Auburn’s fans and the people close to the team are awful bullish on the Tigers’ chances. Your humble Auburn Blogger, I should go ahead and make clear, is no exception; I’m far from being ready to make any kind of official prediction, but between a cushy schedule and the juggernaut of an offense we could see if Newton lives up to the hype, I know I’m not going to have them in fourth.

I think this might represent a bit of a change from years past. For the most part, I don’t think Auburn’s fan/writer expectations have been all that different from the national perception; we expected big things in 2003, 2006, and 2008 that didn’t materialize, but everyone else expected big things from those Auburn teams, too. Save for a few outliers, I’d argue the majority of Auburn fans agreed with the broad expectations of a top-20 finish–but nothing spectacular– in 2004 and 2005. Maybe Auburn fans were a little over enthusiastic about the 2007 squad–yours truly predicted a 10-2 season, like the smart, smart person I am–but I still don’t think there was anyone predicting a divisional title, and it’s not like that season was a 2008-esque disaster.

That brings us to 2009, where I think the consensus of Auburn fans–7 or 8 wins–was probably a shade more optimistic than the general consensus. But unlike ’07, it turned out that it was the Auburn people who were right.

So this is something to track, something to keep us busy between now and the start of the season 67 years away: what’s generally expected from Auburn? What’s expected from Auburn fans and writers? Are those expectations good or bad for Auburn? Whose expectations should we treat as more accurate?

Lots of time to get those questions answered. But I think they’re questions worth asking.

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