Week after week, it's been the same for Auburn's football team and probably other struggling teams across the country.
Sunday is a downer of a day as players deal with the disappointment of the day before. By Tuesday, the first big practice day, players are feeling better, looking ahead instead of behind. By the weekend, they have latched on to new goals and are convinced they can win and turn their season around.
Players, you see, aren't like fans and can't be like fans. Win or lose, they must go back to work the next week and get ready to play again.
Most of what goes into playing college football is anything but fun. It's not fun to lift weights until muscles scream silently in protest. It's not fun to run and run and run some more in the heat of the summer. It's not fun to live a lifestyle far more regimented than any of your classmates. The fun comes on 12 Saturdays in the fall. It's not fun when those Saturdays go badly. And five of Auburn's six Saturdays have gone very badly.
Players are subjected now to criticism coming from every direction, speculation about their coaches' futures and other indignities. It seems they are growing tired of it. Maybe I'm wrong, but I sense a different atmosphere this week around the Auburn football complex, something of an "enough is enough" attitude.
On Monday, I would have picked to Vanderbilt to win Saturday in Nashville. Now, I'm not so sure. In the first place, Vanderbilt is certainly no great shakes. The only reason the Commodores have a better record than Auburn is that they played Presbyterian. They can't stop the run. Their stadium is far from intimidating.
Even as fans are speculating about who the next coach will be, Auburn players say they're not giving up. They're not giving up on winning five of the next six games and going to a bowl game. They are, they say, determined to keep on fighting. Their coaches say that's the attitude the players take to the practice field.
So, is Auburn's season really, for all intents and purposes, over? Maybe, but not necessarily.
The best-case scenario:
* Auburn beats Vanderbilt in Nashville.
* Players, invigorated, pull together for a mighty effort against Texas A&M in a night game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Fans, given at least something to feel better about, provide the atmosphere they usually provide and the Tigers pull it off to move to 3-5.
* Auburn beats New Mexico State and goes into the Georgia game at Jordan-Hare Stadium with three straight wins and a chance to get back to .500 on the season. The talk of firing coaches has died down. Anyone who has studied the history of the Auburn-Georgia series will tell you that the team in Auburn's position has often won. Plus, it's not clear just how good Georgia is in the wake of a 35-7 blowout loss at South Carolina.
* Auburn pulls off the upset against Georgia, beats Alabama A&M to get bowl eligible and goes into the Iron Bowl with five straight wins and a load of confidence.
Now, the worst-case scenario:
* Auburn plays like it has most of this season, can't get anything going on offense and loses to Vanderbilt.
* Disappointed players show up at Jordan-Hare Stadium to play Texas A&M before the smallest night-game crowd in years. They give up tons of points and lose to fall to 1-7 on the season. The screams for changes at the top are growing louder by the day. No bowl is possible.
* Dispirited and lacking confidence, the Tigers either lose or barely get by New Mexico State.
* Georgia wins in a blowout.
* Auburn beats Alabama A&M on talent alone and goes into the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa as a five-touchdown underdog.
I'm certainly not predicting either scenario will unfold down the stretch of the season. Something in between is most likely.
But even after the disappointment of the first half of the season, Auburn players insist they can still turn this season around and move the program back toward its proper place in college football. Maybe they can, but almost anyone would say it's a long shot.
If they are going to have any chance to do it, they must start Saturday at Vanderbilt.