Florida State is bound to win the national championship, according to Phil Steele’s 2012 College Football Preview. (Getty Images)
There was a time, my children, when ink on paper was all we had. If we wanted to play a pretend baseball game, we pulled cards out of a box for a lineup and rolled dice to find out if Hank Aaron hit one out or grounded to short. If we wanted to know who was leading the NBA in rebounding, we waited until the stats showed up in the Sunday paper. And if we wanted to immerse ourselves in the upcoming college football season, we didn’t go to the team message boards or subscribe to email alerts on recruiting news.
We bought magazines.
They still print these magazines, and I am holding one in my hand right now. It is Phil Steele’s 2012 College Football Preview, and it is 344 pages of glory. Open it up and you are assaulted with type — the font, I believe, is New York Subway Rush Hour. Most of it is written in code. Let me quote from a page opened at random. Here’s a description of Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr Jr.:
6-3 205. PS#56, 5 gm, 112(71%) true. RS ’10, 13 st, 3544(63%, 26-9). 2ndTm WAC LY.
If you found that scrap of paper on the street, you’d look around for the guy from “A Beautiful Mind.” But in the Phil Steele world, it all makes sense, once you turn to Page 3 and the glossary of abbreviations.
There are 203 abbreviations.
It turns out PS#56 means Steele ranked Carr as the 56th-best quarterback coming out of high school, and RS ’10 means he was a redshirt in 2010, and 2ndTM WAC LY means he made second-team All-Western Athletic Conference last year.
Also from the glossary:
FPOY = Frosh Player of the Year
HT = Highly Touted Athlete (also Home Team & Halftime)
NOR = Not On Roster
QBH = Quarterback Hurries
2PTNG = 2 Point Conversion No Good
If you read Phil Steele long enough, you start to talk like Phil Steele. DNQ. TFL. MedRS. People will back away from you at parties. This is fine. Division I (also known as the FBS) has 124 teams. Steele does a two-page spread on every single one. You don’t need parties. There is a lot more reading to do.
If you want to find out more about Phil Steele the person, you will have to do that yourself. I have chosen not to know. I don’t want to see a photo of some bald guy in glasses, or find out that “Phil Steele” is a cubicle farm of engineers in Bangalore. I prefer to think of Phil Steele as a superhero. Superman can tear a New York City phone book in half; Phil Steele can cram the entirety of college football into a magazine that sells for $8.95. His girlfriend waits patiently while he revises the Colorado State preview. She wears a cheerleading outfit. His only natural enemy is sleep.
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Let’s agree that, in the Internet age, college football preview magazines are absurd. They’re months out of date by the time they hit the stands. Steele’s magazine can’t tell you about all the players who have been suspended this summer for fighting or smoking pot or not making grades. Steele says this year’s Penn State team will have “a fight just to make it back to the postseason,” when we now know there won’t be postseasons at Penn State for at least the next four years.
If you drill down deep enough online, you can find all the information you need about any team in any sport (plus validation for your opinions about any team in any sport) right up to the latest tweet. The flow of college football news is a mighty river. Steele has dammed up a creek for a fish pond.
But this is the value of print. Sometimes a fish pond is what you want. You turn the pages like dipping a net in the water. Odd things get caught in the mesh.
Quentin Sims of UT-Martin is Steele’s 62nd-rated wide receiver.
Temple has the 14th-rated special-teams unit.
East Carolina is projected to be the 10th-most-improved team this season, just behind Army and just ahead of UCLA.
Akron returned just 11 punts last year, but punted 84 times.
Florida State, Steele says, will win the national championship.
What it comes down to is anticipation.
If you are a Syracuse fan, you can turn to Page 177 and look at the schedule, where USC looms right there on Sept. 8, and you can dream about the huge upset, and the top-10 ranking, and who knows what happens if you have a clean sheet going into November. Syracuse went 5-7 last year. It will probably not run the table. But it COULD, and so could anyone else, here at the beginning of August when practice is just starting up.
Many days, in many ways, the anticipation turns out better than the event. Holding the ticket in your hand ends up being better than the movie. Dressing up for the date turns out better than the spark-less kiss goodnight. What you learn, over time, is to manage disappointment and appreciate the thing for what it is. Ole Miss tends to have lousy football teams. So Ole Miss fans have mastered the tailgate.
Before the season starts, though, there is nothing to be disappointed about. (Penn State exception noted.) The preseason is for dreaming. And so Steele fills 344 pages with dreams. Central Michigan went 3-9 last year, but it brings back the second-most-experienced team in the NCAA. Louisiana-Monroe opens at Arkansas and at Auburn, but running back Jyruss Edwards is projected to make the All-Sun-Belt second team.
From the didie to the shroud, “there is always something,” the character said in “All the King’s Men.” He was talking about scandal. There’s plenty of that in college football, too. But there is also always hope.
You can tote Phil Steele around like a Bible, and like the Bible, you can find enough in there to believe what you want to believe. Turn with me to Page 108 and let’s look at Kansas. They bring back 14 starters, and Charlie Weis is the new coach, and quarterback Dayne Crist has transferred in from Notre Dame. Steele says the Jayhawks “will be a much tougher team which could top LY’s win total by the end of September.”
LY’s win total was two.
But it’s something to build on. WACD. We all can dream.