Ah, June. Aside from scorching temperatures across the mid-Atlantic, teenagers crowding the beaches, and presumably another win by that incredibly annoying Spaniard at Roland Garros, it also brings long awaiting college football fans our first round of serious preseason previews. I say "serious" because everyone and his mother seems to be throwing out different rounds of previews throughout the offseason, but only as the spring semester ends and the summer begins can we truly get an accurate beat on just how teams will project at the start of the coming season. This year is no exception, but as we scour our local bookstores and news shacks in search of preview magazines (obligatory BUY THIS ONE remark here) we also have other options made available to us through the glory of the internet. Several prominent sites have begun releasing free previews, looking at everything from conference roundups to a full preseason projection of all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Varying anywhere in length from a few paragraphs to a few pages, navigating your way through the slew of preseason previews can often be daunting task, even for the fan who finds the ten year at-home winning percentage of Florida Atlantic to be truly fascinating (aha, got you, FIU has only been playing football since 2002!) This being the case, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide a necessary rundown of just a few of these previews, letting you know what’s good and what is, well, not as good (It being NBA finals time I consider anything college football to be at least in some way good.) I've taken the liberty to make up a somewhat arbitrary ranking system for the online previews, grading them on a scale of 1-5 in terms of depth of information presented, analysis given, and whether or not I think it's a valid projection (that's the semi-arbitrary part.) Earning a score of 1 would indicate the preview gives only the bare minimum, while a five indicates the preview covers all the bases and is more or less on target in its assessment. Got it? Good, let's do it to it.
First and foremost, we might as well begin with Collegefootballnews.com, seeing as though they're usually the first site to get the previews rolling. CFN, specifically writer Pete Fituak, goes all out in their previews, devoting four pages to every team in the FBS. There is a preview page which gives an overview of the team along with some analysis of the schedule, as well as complimentary offensive and defensive preview which really get in depth with depth, providing thorough explanations of not only who the playmakers are and what they do well, but also who the backups are and what they’ll have to do if the presumed starter goes down. And obviously it wouldn’t be a CFN-sponsored preview without some kind of ranking system, with Mr. Fituak and the gang delivering once again by assigning grades to each position unit on offense and defense. A page outlining the depth chart (something the preview has essentially already done up to this point) rounds out the coverage. Needless to say in terms of content this preview is hard to beat, which is why I assign CFN a grade of 5 in the area. Analysis is also very good, although I can’t help but ask why CFN can’t include the predicted record of the team when they release the preview (after all, what exactly does COMING SOON mean?) Likewise, the tendency to rate players gets a bit excessive, especially when we take a step back and consider football is a team sport. These flaws notwithstanding, I give the CFN previews a 4 for analysis and a 2.5 for projections, mostly because they haven’t actually projected anything. Even vaguer than the final word in a Phil Steele preview, this is still the best available free preview you can find online even if it is filled with “ifs” and “thens” in the projection department. It earns a 3.83/5.
A newcomer (at least as far as my knowledge goes) to the preview game this year is The New York Times sponsored The Quad, which has been churning out a preview every day for a couple of weeks now. The Quad earns a .5 bonus due to its publishing of a preview even on the Weekends; a quality which I really believe is underrated as far as previews go. The Quad has a more “bloggy” feel to it, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re looking for. Random facts about the school, notable alumni, and a usually off-the-wall “tidbit” can leave you scratching your head sometimes, but it’s all in good fun and the paragraphs devoted to the coach’s background, NFL alumni of the school, and where one can go to find more online are indispensable. In terms of content I give the Quad a 3. It’s not overwhelming like CFN’s, but it has a good setup in terms of categorization and really hits the important stuff. For analysis The Quad again gets a 3.5. Once again it’s not “chalk full” of it as they say, but it’s solid work and reflects a good deal of research and even some thought as well. Projection wise the Quad gets a 4, as I like their setup of a “dream” and “nightmare” season scenario to go along with the “realistic” scenario they project. Buffalo coming in at 88 was awesome (as the son of a UB man, I am a big fan of the Turner Gill administration.) I like The Quad’s previews a lot, and I’d defiantly suggest taking a few minutes in the middle of your work day to check it out.It gets a 3.66/5.
Rivals.com has also jumped into the fray, with the usual staff presenting a countdown of all 120 FBS teams beginning with numbers 120-111 in their preseason projections. The esteemed bottom feeders you ask? Look no further than perennial lightweights Florida International, Idaho, and Utah State, as well as a slew of underperforming Sun Belt and MAC teams. The amount devoted to each team is, well, kinda wimpy, but it's so far spot on and does even manage to contain some analysis. As far as projections go you can’t really go wrong with picking the bottom teams in the country, but I do question the choice of Eastern Michigan at 117. I give Rivals a 1.5 for content. Running through all 120 team's is never easy, but other free online services (like CFN) devout pages to it, so you've got to expect a little more. Saying the Top 50 teams get more coverage (which apparently is the plan) is something I think fans have shown a dislike for in the past, ala more people buying Phil Steele magazine and less people buying a Lindy’s or a Sporting News. People want to see their team represented, and they want print previews to give them more than just what they could hear in a TV or radio preview of the big boys. Analysis is, so far at least, a less than stellar 2, again mostly because content and the lack of it. Projection is a 2.5 because the EMU pick didn't agree with me, but everything else seemed more or less in place. All in all, Rivals.com gets a 2/5, which is still more than enough to keep me checking back in every day.
This morning they released numbers 101-110, so why not head over and check it out? Well, that's it from me for today. Remember to keep checking back on those sites for continued previews, and be sure to make time to stop by ITB in the coming months as Brian and I cook up some ways to throw even more massive amounts college football information at your faces. So fear not friends, preview season is well underway, and it ain’t ending anytime soon.