It is the difference between guarded optimism, expectations and satisfaction; between concern and unanswered questions.
That is the space where the Texas coaching staff was after the Longhorns' 35-13 victory over Rice on Saturday.
It was not without irony that one of the spectators in DeLoss Dodds' athletics director's suite was the noted Houston heart surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley. Cooley, a member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor, was on the Texas basketball team in the 1940s, and he went on to become world renowned as a heart specialist.
There is a story that Dr. Gerald Mann of Riverbend Church in Austin tells about Cooley, when he was learning to be a surgeon working with the tiny vessels that bring life blood to the heart. It is said that Cooley practiced sutures by forcing himself to sew in a match box.
Over and over again, with a man's hands inside something akin to a doll box, he worked.
Cooley was driven, he said, by a quote from the ancients: "Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the ability to do difficult things easily."
College football is unique in that it is the only major athletic venue where there are no preseason games against outside competition. Major league baseball has spring training. The NFL and the NBA have preseason exhibition games. Even college basketball allows a couple of those. But in college football, the only practice you get is against yourself.
There was a time in Texas football history when the non-conference early season games were considered "gimmees." In his 10-year career as Texas' head coach, Fred Akers' teams didn't lose a game in September until his final season of 1986.
But if you'd like to know where we've been in comparison to where we are today, consider that from 1986 through 2000, Texas won its first three games once, and that was in 1994. In the Mack Brown era, the Longhorns now have done it three times in the last four years.
A win over Baylor Saturday would really stretch the envelope of history. Until 2001 and 2002, Texas hadn't won its first four games since 1983.
The point of all of this is that Texas' solid victory over Rice had some wonderful qualities. For the third straight game, the coaches were extremely happy with the effort from the start to the finish. And much like the season opener with North Texas (which seems like a month ago with the Arkansas game and the open date in between), the Longhorns got a lot of players into the mix.
In a way, the Rice victory had the feel of a season opener. Brown and his staff had programmed it so. The way the season broke, the Longhorns looked on the first two games as a season-within-a-season, and the Rice game began the grind of eight straight weeks of football Saturdays.
Brown has always advocated that polls and rankings are unrealistic until the middle of the season. This very young Longhorn team, for example, finds itself ranked No. 5 in the country. It had its scare in Fayetteville, but it has lots of company. Except for No. 2 Oklahoma, the other three teams in the top five, including No. 1 Southern Cal, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Miami, have all dodged pretty serious bullets in their quest to stay unbeaten.
With new philosophies both offensively and defensively, Texas has been successful, and exciting. It has returned power football to the Forty Acres, with a running game that stirs memories of some of the great Texas teams in history. Its defense is playing with fervor, and a team which entered the season with few established stars is rapidly gaining some. Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson are living up to their billing as two of the best players in all of college football.
It is a cliché to say it, but the Rice game wasn't near as close as the final score.
But it was also a coach's dream, because it left opportunities to teach -- those chances to work on easy things to make them perfect.
Brown likes to call this team "a work in progress," and it fits with his oft-stated premise that a team needs to get better each week.
Perhaps, however, the brightest thing about this team is not what it has done, but what it can do. And that said, it has done some pretty cool things. North Texas and Rice appeared overmatched, even by Longhorn reserves who underscored the depth of talent in the Texas pool. Arkansas was a clutch, gut-check win on the road.
All of that leads us to the beginning of Big 12 competition with the arrival of the Baylor Bears on Saturday. It is the first step on a road to a goal of a league championship.
Texas will be a prohibitive favorite, but we have found in college football already this season that such prognostications mean nothing. What we know is, this Texas team has taken an unusual view of its games. It understands the deal. When you are No. 5 in the country, every game is a "national" game.
This staff, which is working as hard as any in UT history, takes successes and challenges equally. The defensive stat "Not Our Standard," pretty well sums up their approach. You are no longer playing an opponent, you are playing to achieve a standard.
That is what Denton Cooley did in the match box.
That is why we can ponder the difference between optimism, expectations and satisfaction.
And it is why there are huge differences between concerns, and unanswered questions. You worry about concerns.
You find answers to questions.