As you may have read elsewhere, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Ann Arbor this weekend, a period of time that coincidentally saw the countdown until the 2006 season move within 60 days. Your boy boy spent a lot of time reading through Sporting News's college football preview, Street and Smith's college football preview, and The Wolverine's Michigan football preview.
The process was arduous but rewarding, filled with hackneyed writing, gross generalizations, blood-boiling digs at Michigan (I can say those things, national media can't!), and sickening glorification of Notre Dame and the Columbus University of Not Getting Caught Cheating. Luckily, I emerged edified and ready to start working myself up into the frothy frenzy of another college football season.
That process starts tonight with my crack at the recent BlogPoll roundtable that Bruce Ciskie hosted:
1) Which preseason college football magazine is your favorite?
Writing about college football on a national level seems to make journalists retarded. While sports writers with different national beats acquit themselves nicely--for instance, Sports Illustrated's Peter King knows what's happening in the NFL; ESPN's Marc Stein knows what's happening in the NBA; John Gasaway knows what's happening in college basketball; etc.--the halfwit denizens of college football who make taste, set agendas, and disseminate information usually know which rapper Pete Carroll is conspicuously courting, which golf course Steve Spurrier is playing on, and which Crave Case Charlie Weis and Phil Fulmer are splitting for pre-breakfast on a given morning. That, sadly, is about it.
Attempts by national writers to keep us, the public, up to date are regularly painful to witness, as we're told about can't miss prospects who no longer play football, sure-fire impact players who are already out for the year, and little-known backups destined to break out despite problems like having already graduated or not actually being good. I have no idea what most of these people do all day, but I'd imagine that it includes a lot of things like "sleeping" and "masturbating" and very few of the inconsequential details like "interviewing coaches" or "talking to sources at various schools." I can't blame them for not wanting to get bogged down in the boring bitch work of journalism--Lord knows, having to actually report about something must be tedious--when perhaps-somewhat-close-to-correct conventional wisdom and its cousin, generalization, are readily available and much more convenient.
These circumstances, resultantly, render a preference for a given preseason magazine something like a favorite Lee Corso prediction: it will invariably be wrong and will hopefully just keep you amused for a while. Using this criterion, I have to say that Sporting News is an annual pleasure unlike any other. It reliably rides trends into the ground like few other publications while providing for each team the always entertaining comments from opposing coaches. Actual learning experience while reading is minimal, although it does help a reader identify the storylines and talking points for the coming season.
2) What team is being supremely overrated in the preseason rankings?
Last year at this time, Penn State was coming off consecutive years of 3-9 and 4-7. There was less talent on the roster than at a math team formal, Joe Paterno was getting passed in football acuity by Ron "Illinoise" Zook, and the Big Ten elite was bereft of lions, Nittany or otherwise. But then Derrick Williams signed, and Justin King's stepdaddy forced him to sign; Deon Butler turned out to be good and Paul Posluszny stepped up; the Lions almost ran the table and won a BCS game. Suddenly PSU could recruit again, JoePa was a savvy veteran, and Penn State was a perennial Big Ten powerhouse.
Well guess what: If Penn State wants to front like it's an elite program, it had better show up and justify the mid-teen rankings it's been getting since the winter. Right now, I don't know if that's likely. Before I proceed, let's just get this out of the way: Yes, PSU will probably beat Michigan since the game is in State College and it's at night and Lloyd Carr is nyctophobic and Penn State is due for a win since Michigan owns it and hasn't lost to the Nits in a decade (read that again). OK, you got me. What can I say? That's life with a mediocre coach. But unless UM owns Penn State to the point that a single win over the Wolverines is worth eleven losses, there probably won't be much warranted boasting in Happy Valley.
Four offensive linemen are new; three defensive linemen are new; the entire starting secondary is new; there are trips to Notre Dame and Ohio State; Akron is on the schedule; and perhaps worst of all, Michael Robinson is gone. Not only was Robinson a great athlete and strong, smart leader, but his replacement is the unproven, untrusted, unintelligent Anthony Morelli. You know how Michigan's Chad Henne always has a dumb look on his face and seems as though he struggled to use polysyllabic words when they interview him on TV? Well Morelli is rumored to be an even bigger dope who struggles to read defenses. Dat not good.
So to review: Penn State is working with completely rebuilt lines, only one good recruiting class with any experience, a novice-laden secondary, and a moron quarterback. This is a top-twenty team?
3) Turn the tables. Who is underrated?
First of all, the answer is NOT Michigan. Lloyd Carr is still the coach, so pencil in three losses right there. Add to that a patchwork offensive line (when is Michigan going to actually develop a center who can be counted on for more than one fucking year and where are the offensive tackles?!); a Neanderthal quarterback; an inconsistent WR corps; and mediocre-at-best linebacking play from guys who should be a lot better and you have a lot of questions. And Lloyd Carr is the coach, so you know that he and his staff have already identified the team's potential and are now aiming to arrive somewhere below it when all is said and done.
The answer seems like it might be Clemson. Having written that, I have assured that the Tigers will now go on to be their usual disappointing selves, but they return their entire offensive line, five of their defensive front seven, and 14 starters overall. I like that foundation, even with a new QB (who, it should be noted is a senior, so he's been in the program).
4) Which conference will be the best in 2006?
The SEC. Florida, Georgia, Auburn, and LSU could all be top ten teams; Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina have the talent to be bowl teams; Bruce Feldman is touting Arkansas as a potential surprise; and with The Orgeron at Ole Miss, there is a good chance that the SEC could become the first conference to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Unlike the PAC-10 and Big XII (which again will probably be overrated and mostly mediocre), which seem top heavy; the Big Ten, which seems a little down across the board; the ACC, which again appears to have a bottom 2/3 of little real consequence; and the Big East, which has Dave Wannstedt and is still the Big East, the SEC looks to have the star teams and also the best competitive depth.
5) Which "non-BCS" conference will be the best in 2006?
The Mountain West. TCU, Utah, and BYU headline a conference that has the potential to see a majority of its teams become bowl eligible.
6) Which non-BCS conference team will have the best season?
I want to pick TCU, but that's easy. Instead, I'll go with slightly-less-easy-to-pick Navy. 13 starters return, the QB is a senior, and the schedule looks like it has at least 6 sure victories already.
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.
Is there a less significant ceremony in sports? I don't really care who wins the Heisman, although I don't like it when the recipient comes from a school I hate. So I am putting a pox on Brady Quinn and Ted Ginn. I'll go with a second-tier pick: Miami QB Kyle Wright. Miami's defense should be loaded, and if the offense holds up its end of the deal, Miami could be a national title contender. FSU, Virginia Tech, and Boston College all come to the Orange Bowl, and the only road game that seems ominous is the trip to Louisville.