When I got out of college, I worked for a national publication that put out preseason previews. It was a wonderful experience being able to surround myself with sports on a daily basis and I learned a lot about all that goes into these publications. Using my experience, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts as you start to pick up your previews and prepare for another season of football handicapping.
While the some of the information provided in preseason annuals can be of great use (see: returning starters, coaching changes, switches in offensive philosophy) there are certain things you should be aware of.
1. Bettors rarely look at rankings but heading into a season, the betting market can be influenced by a particular team receiving abnormally high or low praise. That being said, from a publication standpoint, little to no thought goes into the rankings and conference predictions. I remember sitting in on the meeting that we determined the top 25 and literally seeing an actual coin being used to decide where two teams should be ranked among one another. Now that isn’t a knock on what they were trying to accomplish because remember, a majority of each school’s analysis is outsourced to various beat writers throughout the country. If they receive a write-up saying Oklahoma is going to struggle, then there would be an obvious confliction if the magazine put the Sooners No. 1. Simply put, there needs to be continuity between write-up and ranking. Also note that while the group that I worked with actually knew a ton about college football, the rankings are of big interest to the purchaser, not the production staff. There are many more important aspects that go into the putting these things together thus no one thing is less or more important that the other. Like anything, it is a business.
2. Just like there are different classes of football there are different classes of contributing writers. A majority of power conference schools receive write-ups from local beat writers which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they are around the team a good deal of time and simply have more information at their disposal. This can be especially beneficial if said beat writer is a true professional and not a fan thus the reader receives a truly non-biased opinion. But unfortunately that isn’t always that case. Schools do in fact care about the preseason rankings and accolades because they can use them as promotion. They can also easily figure out (typically on the masthead) who badmouthed them and thus make things more difficult during the season in terms of media access. Not saying that is a common occurrence, but I know it happens. Next issue is the local beat writer from Ypsilanti, Michigan who is 23 years old and hasn’t played organized sports since junior high and knows nothing about football. Said writer is likely the only source of Eastern Michigan football and may indeed be a talented writer but his or her analysis may very well be based on last year which makes their analysis irrelevant for bettors. You can usually spot those types within the first few sentences. I know a guy who contributed write-ups for a major conference school but wasn’t even the team’s football beat writer. Luckily he knew a ton about football. Lastly, and I can’t speak to the accuracy of this, but I wouldn’t be shocked that Bob Q. Smith, longtime beat writer for State University, contributed to multiple preseason magazines – virtually the same write-up – which again, waters down the information even more.
3. Look for big differences among magazines as a source for projection. If Oklahoma is picked to win the Big XII South in nine different publications but one has the Sooners fifth, that is likely the one that contains useful information. The others of course mailed it in like they do every year and wrote about how awesome Bobby Stoops is.
4. I don’t need to tell you that these annual comes out way too early which makes the information even less reliable. Keep in mind that if it hits newsstands on June 13th, it doesn’t mean that everything up until that date is current. I remember fact-checking write-ups as early as March so unless something catastrophic occurs, i.e. coach fired or QB suspended, the information is even more dated that you originally thought.
5. Take returning starters with a grain of salt. Each magazine has its own philosophy on who is considered a returning starter. For example, I remember marking down players who had started six or more games the previous year as a returning starter. If a player started as a sophomore, sat out the next year due to injury, but was slated to return, he was considered a returning starter. I think there were some exceptions like if a player was a two-year starter but missed a majority of a season, the following year he was graded as a returning starter. Every magazine does it different and the best course of action is to use a school’s website for the previous year’s game-by-game start chart.
Overall, I highly recommend picking a couple up of previews to compare and contrast the info. If you use them properly, they can be a great source of info to prepare you for the season. Typically around mid-July I push the preseason magazines aside and dig into the local media outlets as my source of information. You’d be surprised what you can find in a Sun Belt school’s student newspaper.