It's hard not to pity Vanderbilt. Even if you're the target of their annual upset, even if said upset knocks the wheels off your entire season, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit sad for the guys with the gold helmets.
Except if you're just apathetic toward them. Which was the general attitude at SEC Media Days. Those not apathetic and not Vandy beat writers seemed to be interested in a question no coach or player can enjoy answering: Do you ever expect to win?
Or, how do you remain optimistic after a series of soul-draining four- and five-win seasons?
"So, you know, we don't worry about what happened in the past, except to try to make ourselves better by learning from our mistakes or learning from what we see from other people," Johnson answered. "But I don't care what happened at Vanderbilt 25 years ago."
You also, apparently, look for whatever signs of progress you can muster. Redshirt senior safety Reshard Langford was asked where Vanderbilt had come from in his time with the Dores and where the program was headed. He went for unit cohesion.
"I think it's come from being an offensive team and being a defensive team to being a team," he said.
Sometimes life provides needed perspective. Redshirt senior receiver George Smith, who might very well have never regained consciousness after contracting a spinal condition called "transverse myelitis," scores a minor victory every time he walks on a football field. But he still wants to win.
"I think a lot of us are getting more hungry," he said.
It's not impossible to see Vanderbilt winning six games in the future. They knocked off Georgia in 2006 and upset a South Carolina team that seemed bowl-bound in 2007. They came close to beating Florida -- in the Swamp, no less -- in 2005.
"We just have to do it week in and week out and not every other week," Smith said.
If they do, the questions at Media Days will be a lot more pleasant. And a few more people will be listening when they're given.