Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Outside expectations can burden a team.
Coaches and players often claim they don't read newspapers or listen the radio or read the Pac-10 blog.
More often than not they're fudging. (Heck, everybody knows everybody reads the Pac-10 blog!)
No locker room isn't fully aware of what the pundits are saying and what the general measure of the team is.
A team that spends the entire off-season reading and hearing about how good it is might start to believe the hype and forget that consistent focus and hard work is required of even the most talented teams.
And when said team falls short of high expectations with one or more early pratfalls, some players might lose their motivation, viewing the hard work to find another type of success not that appealing.
Then there's the opposite situation.
When a team hears about how bad it is and how it's going to finish deep in the conference basement, that might get into players' heads. It might cause them to lose confidence. Or to believe working hard for -- apparently -- nothing isn't worth it.
Washington State coach Paul Wulff is dealing with the latter situation. His Cougars are the consensus pick to finish last in the Pac-10.
I asked him how he was going to deal with the negativity of outside appraisals. Here's how he responded:
"We don't spend a lot of time addressing what other people think because it just doesn't allow us to keep moving forward. They're road blocks. It doesn't matter. If you look at years past, the Cougs have been picked in the lower half and have done extremely well. I've coached teams that weren't predicted to do well and have done well. The thing about it is they are predictions. So many things can happen, from teams improving and staying healthy to good teams that get too many key injuries that [once] were good teams but by the end of the year they're not a very good football team. Those things no one can predict -- coaches can't, media can't -- we can only control what we can control. If we spend a lot of time worrying about anything other than that then we are just slowing ourselves down. It's about us and the work we have to do to take care of every single day and each week. That will remain our focus."
While most Washington State fans have low expectations for their team, they do expect the Cougs to be more competitive a year after coming within 25 points in only one of their 11 losses -- not to mention losing five games by 49 or more points.
Wulff seemed to lose the team at points last year, but the effort also seemed to improve over the final third of the season -- particularly the gutty effort in the Apple Cup victory.
The early returns say the players are fitter. That is a good start and should help immediately.
But the ultimate measure of this season figures to be how well Wulff keeps his players believing they are working together in a positive direction, which includes blocking out the inevitable snide quips from media and fans.