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Setting Expectations Has Everything To Do With Success - So What Do You Expect This Season?

A couple of recent articles by other Husker writers have me thinking about expectation management this week. It's something I'm struggling with lately as I prepare to do an email migration for one of my clients. I've done a lot of project management over my years as a network and communication consultant. What I've learned is that setting the wrong expectations leads to project failure as often as whatever it is you're actually trying to accomplish.

In other words, if you go around telling people the next big thing is the next big thing, and it's good, but not great, you're probably screwed. Conversely, if you go around underselling what you're doing, and it becomes the next big thing, your client is going to end up a lot happier and more likely to bring you back for another project. This is the difference between being in sales and doing project management. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of consultants confuse the two and keep on selling when they really should be managing the project. 

So, what's all this have to do with Husker football?

Well, let's take a look at the two articles I have in mind. Sam McKewon at Nebraska State Paper gives us a nice bit - "The Cupboard Isn't Bare" - about how the Huskers have enough talent to get to (potentially) win the Big 12 and get to a BCS bowl this season.

Then you've got Tad Stryker over at Huskerpedia doing a bit about how the Huskers still have to prove they can beat anyone of substance because they haven't done in a while. Compare the two and tell me who's going to win the popularity contest amongst Husker fans. I doubt it's going to be Tad. There's simply a lot more rah-rah in McKewon's article, while Stryker's article has more to do with fact. Rah-rah gives you that instant gratification and tastes a lot better than fact, kind of like a twinkie relative to meat and potatoes. 

Anyway, McKewon makes the comment that "NU has plenty - read: loads - of talent." - and it honestly makes me bristle. First of all, it's not true relative to the team we really want to be - Oklahoma - and secondly, if I read it enough times I'll start to believe it and then start to expect a Big 12 Championship and BCS bowl out of this team. McKewon deals with my bristling by playing the role of psychiatrist, ending his article with "It's OK to have expectations, y'know. It's how Nebraska football got anywhere in the first place."

Arrrrghhh! Not only is McKewon selling, he's pure evil. Ask Tom Osborne about expectations in 1978, and again in the late '80s and early '90s. Regardless of how in love you are with Bo Pelini as we move into 2009, expecting this team to beat Oklahoma at home, win the Big 12 championship and get to a BCS bowl is nothing more than setting Pelini up for failure. Failure gets you fired these days. Coaches don't survive the way Osborne did when he didn't "win the big one".

Despite my natural need to downplay my own expectations, it's hard to not pick Nebraska to win the Big 12 North despite the fact that we're starting over with a new quarterback. Given the strengths and weaknesses for each team, it's clear the division is up for grabs.

But here's the thing - I'd rather not pick Nebraska to win it. I'd rather pick Kansas. Or Colorado, or Missouri for that matter. That probably rubs some fans the wrong way - as if I'm not being "pro-Nebraska" enough for their liking. Fact is, I'd rather the target and the pressure were on some other team - let them disappoint their fans when they don't win the North and don't get a shot at the Big 12 Championship. Let them put their coach on the hot seat and ultimately de-stabilize their program with all the belly-aching.

It's part of the "promise low, deliver high" philosophy I've tried to live with in my professional life, and that doesn't change just because I'm writing about football. It doesn't change in my personal life - I don't expect a birthday cake but if one happens to show up on June 6th - well, that makes it all the more exciting, then doesn't it? The same correlation holds true for the Huskers - if I expect us to win the Big 12 North, and we happen to beat Oklahoma at home, somehow win the Big 12 and get a BCS bowl berth, well, that's one damned big birthday cake, isn't it? Isn't that more conducive to success?

So I'm wondering - are you one of those fans who expects to win every game, and is then disappointed with the losses? Or do you purposefully set your expectations lower so that you're pleasantly surprised with the outcome?