If you've ever watched rival political campaigns in the run-up to a presidential debate, the strategy is often clear: Dial down your own expectations and ratchet up the opponent's. Your candidate has never debated before, and has been terrible in the practice sessions. The other guy is a master of political theater, and would have thrived in the old Roman Senate.
There was a touch of that going on when Hugh Freeze stepped to the microphone on Tuesday afternoon as part of SEC Media Days. Linebackers and to an extent wide receivers were the only portions of the depth chart that Freeze seemed to indicate he wasn't concerned about. The entire team, it appears, underwent major surgery at some point in the last few months. The schedule makers did no favors to beleaguered Ole Miss.
Oh, and did I mention that Mississippi was a surprising 7-6 last season and that expectations could be on the rise for the Rebels. Not in Hugh Freeze's world.
We were very fortunate in year one. I would not be quite truthful to stand here and tell you we didn't have some fortune go our way. ...
The expectations that are coming now with our program, I'm very careful. I told every group that I went to this spring, I tell our team quite often, that unrealistic expectations, they always produce frustration.
What might unrealistic expectations be this year? Freeze didn't really say, which is probably part of the point. By staying somewhat vague, he can always say that he cautioned fans against expecting more and urged them to be patient with the rebuilding underway in Oxford.
Which is not to say that some of Freeze's concerns aren't really. Depth is always going to be a concern for any team not named Alabama, LSU or potentially Texas A&M in the SEC West. The Rebels do travel outside the state for four of their first five games. ("Certainly I wish it wasn't that way," Freeze allowed. "I don't think it's ideal.") Ole Miss could be a very good team and see very few additions to the win column.
Real or not, Freeze's concerns about raising expectations seem to have reached his team. Bo Wallace, the quarterback who was one of the hundreds of Ole Miss players who went under the knife this offseason, was quick to shrug off what people might think about the team and whether that should set a standard by which 2013 could be judged.
"I just think as a team we're not going to talk about the expectations," Wallace said. "We know that we have a chance to win some games int his conference and it's up to us to work for them."
Then again, as linebacker Mike Marry said, there are worse things than facing high expectations. The Rebels spent last season "trying to get respect," and now they appear to have it.
"That's what we want," he said. "We don't want to beat a team because they overlooked you or they think about playing Alabama the next week. You want to beat a team because they knew you were good, and they gave their all and you gave your all, and you just came out with a win."