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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Thursday, June 15, 2006

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It's Rountable time again, Blog Pollers, this time via Wisconsin fan Bruce Ciskie at the creatively yet appropriately named Ciskie Blog:

1. Which preseason college football magazine is your favorite?
SMQ has been wary to sully his own previews with the analysis of outsiders, but screw all that: shopping for fruit after work today he caught the annual apple of his early summer eye and didn't even check the tag: The Sporting News' 2006 national guide - "The Experts' Choice." So seductive was this treat that he sprung for a second, the Athlon SEC edition (though the latter didn't even give Southern Miss a token pop-in from the corner right on its Mississippi cover this year).

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SMQ's been on the TSN bandwagon since his dad handed him a copy featuring Jamie Howard and Marcus Nash on the cover in the old black-and-white, newsprint days, mostly because the writing is better than the other mags, but also because it consistently produces a ton of information in an orderly, attractive fashion. It became the only must-have of the lot when it expanded to color, gloss and actual depth charts a few years ago, making the other national options pretty much obsolete in SMQ's mind. No other publication in the genre mixes pure information, editorial quality and design aesthetics better than TSN. It also keeps the feature-y, "Scouting the Nation" stuff to a minimum.

The negatives: it gives smaller teams and conferences short shrift (which it never did in the black-and-white days, when it even delved relatively in-depth into I-AA and gave overviews of divisions II and III) and isn't as expansive in its recruiting coverage - if a player's not on his conference's top 25 list, he's almost certainly not mentioned at all. Other magazines do their Top 25 teams and all-America picks better, too. And this year, for some reason, there's the cover headline blaring "TOO TOUGH: Why the SEC can't wn the national title," which not only makes no sense given Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn (yeah, yeah, USC, they were undefeated, too, and that's good enough for this argument) in the past decade, but also is not addressed anywhere inside the magazine.

But for straight-up team pages, which is the huge bulk of the national TSN preview, "The Experts' Choice" is the default yearly buy.

Its SEC edition was probably the best of the lot, too, but it seems repetitive to buy the regional and national version from the same folks, since in SMQ's experience the writing is the same in both previews where teams overlap, anyway. So Athlon got the nod this year as the regional pick over Lindy's - which is usually the first choice mererly for being the first one at the stand in May, calling out like a piece of bacon being waved in front of a famished dog - largely because Lindy'sbrought back its cheesy "futuristic" graphics, which in places appear to be trying to imitate (unsuccessfully) the Jumbotron of Tomorrow. Athlon still does the annoying vertical team name running up the left side of the page, but organizes its information well in terms of stat and info boxes and rosters and "Two Minute Drill" features on each team and generally puts out the most attractive edition, design-wise. It also has a point-counterpart on the status of Charlie Weis as a mortal being this year, which is an interesting idea (a step up for stodgy, uncreative Athlon, though SMQ hasn't read it yet to see if the writing remains as stilted). A review of the 2001 recruiting class - clearly janked as the idea may be - is fine if it becomes a regular annual feature. Both Athlon and TSN go above and beyond with insightful and often brutally honest quick hits from opposing coaches, which quickly prove the most absorbing material in either, probably because those voices are the most trustworthy (note to Brian, who should find interesting the closing thoughts on Michigan from "an opposing Big Ten coach" in TSN: "I like Hart a lot. I think he's a special player...They aren't a real risk-taking bunch on defense. That's just their philosophy").

The Phil Steele mania of the Blog Poll brethren hasn't gone unnoticed, though, and this oft-perused, never-purchased monstrosity is going to get its shot once SMQ lays eyes on a copy. Steele's never previously entered the personal possible purchase perimeter because a) it's first and foremost a gambling annual, and though SMQ has lived, worked and played with gamblers, and enjoyed their tales (when comprehensible), he has no interest in wagering, and Steele's quintessential lounge lizard aura make just picking his publication up seem reason enough for a very hot shower, and b) call him OCD, but SMQ likes his information in a somewhat digestible, readable form. Neatly categorized, right? Information in these magazines should be easily accessible to the casual scanner. A Steele page is a mass of mush, design-wise, all dog legs and zero tracking. Ads for bookies right in the middle of the freakin' column! The atrocious aesthetics overwhelm whatever other virtues it has so immediately, it's hard to take any insight seriously. But again, by popular demand, Steele will have his dog-eared day by SMQ's side soon enough.

As for it supposed accuracy, that plays no role in the decision, actual predictions being the most useless feature of the prediction genre. They're all right and all wrong about generally the same teams.

2. What team is being supremely overrated in the preseason rankings?
SMQ has questioned the long-term stability of the West Virginia bandwagon before - TSN ranks the Mountaineers fifth, Athlon ranks them sixth, and they've received at least one early number one vote. SMQ's not making any predictions yet, but his gut - and the history he recounted in the link above - tells him Rich Rodriguez's tenure at WVU peaked at the end of last season. Louisville still looks the like Big East's best program for now. Then again, we're still talking about gut feelings at this point. When it comes a-pickin' time on this space in August, we'll see where the Mountaineers and Cardinals actually fall.

3. Turn the tables. Who is underrated?
Boston College. The Eagles have slowly, consistently improved under Tom O'Brien, and you could argue they were the best team in the up-for-grabs ACC Atlantic last year; they had the best record in the end. They return 13 starters, a solid quarterback, two good running backs, three offensive linemen and three, maye four all-league-caliber defensive players. SMQ came away from his early preview of BC a couple weeks ago thinking it could even go into the season as the division favorite - it doesn't really have to be any better than last year to do this, with a break or two - yet Tom Dienhart says "The Eagles' second go-round in the ACC will be more difficult" in TSN's analysis, which ranks the Eagles third in the division, and Athlon says there are four "sure" losses on the schedule, and a couple "swing" games. Who? At least three of the "losses" probably belong in the "swing" category. TSN calls the Clemson game, in Week Two, BC's "best chance to pull an upset." It ranks Clemson four spots ahead of BC, a team that beat the Tigers and finished a game up in the standings - how would this be remotely an upset? What about this go-round is going to be more difficult? Not explained, and certainly not apparent. Again, this is the gut talking off the record, but just you watch. After seven straight bowl games, this isn't a group that should still be surprising people.

4. Which conference will be the best in 2006?
No way is SMQ touching this one. Requires fair analysis and chart sophistication and stuff for any proper answer, and will still be argued down for months in the offseason. It's not important.

5. Which "non-BCS" conference will be the best in 2006?
Conference USA, of course! Everybody knows that.

OK - C-USA has very good parity, but a lack of any strong-looking breakout teams. Same with the MAC, which has probably at least pulled equal with and maybe slightly eclipsed C-USA overall. Given that these leagues were won by Tulsa and Akron last year, neither has much to boast about now.

The Mountain West doesn't much either, despite two run away, top 15-finishing champions the last two years in Utah and TCU. Neither one played anybody, though, except TCU over Oklahoma in last year's opener, and the Frogs immediately lost to SMU the next week. The rest of the MWC is not very good, though; nobody else has looked even close to worthy of competing for the top spot.

The WAC has two good teams at the top (Boise State and Fresno State) and a couple other decent ones in the middle, but has to deal with the Sun Belt-worthy Sorry States (Utah, New Mexico and San Jose) and Idaho at the bottom, four automatic wins (for now) to inflate the standing of the teams at the top. Then there's the actual Sun Belt, which is only a quasi-I-A conference to begin with.

So for the sake of homerism, SMQ will go ahead and say C-USA after all, a league that enters the year with about half its dozen members legitimately thinking league title. But there's no conviction in that. The state of mid-majordom is going down - SMQ has a theory why, which might be worth a later post, should it ever become coherent and/or demonstrable.

6. Which non-BCS conference team will have the best season?
Either Boise or Fresno. TCU is always good, Utah apparently is going to be OK again, the MAC will probably have somebody popping out of there (Northern Illinois? Good God, Garrett Wolfe is still there). But Boise and Fresno have a stranglehold on the WAC, have some quality early games (especially FSU, which plays Oregon, Washington, Colorado State and LSU; BSU plays Oregon State and Utah) and, between them, the only player gone of major consequence is Fresno QB Paul Pinegar. SMQ would take Boise at this - early! Off the record! - stage; neither team will approach "BCS Buster" status, though.

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Mr. Wolfe tells the crowd where he's going to celebrate receiving a rare eighth year of eligibility from the NCAA

7. Let's get your first read on this one...who will win the H*i*m*n? Oh, by the way, players whose last names begin with the letter "Q" are ineligible.
The wha-? Oh, oh, why didn't you say so? Who cares in June? Who cares in December, for that matter?

But SMQ isn't feeling curmudgeonly and this is no official list, so he'll oblige here. First, realistic candidates who won't win: Troy Smith, Drew Stanton, Drew Tate, Chris Leak, Kenny Irons, Dwayne Jarrett, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn.

That leaves us, with Brady Quinn and Kurt Quarterman ineligible: Adrian Peterson.

So there you go. Looks like a weak year for the award, a la 2001 and 2003. Not that there isn't plenty of time to change that perception.

Good roundtable, Bruce.
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11:14 PM

1) Mike Hart IS awesome.
2) We're vaguely hoping that new, non-Herrmann defensive coordinator Ron English might change the last bit but fear the looming Carr.
Forced to buy Athlon/TSN strictly for gossipy bits by anonymice coaches. Damn you, SMQ; had you not reminded us, we'd be fifteen dollars less in debt.
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