The Best Pre-season Football Mag

In 1996, I was contacted by a man who wanted to send me a copy of his second annual college football magazine in hope of getting a radio interview.

Sure, I said, send it and I’ll take a look. I was a veteran reader of college football magazines and would usually have a copy of Street and Smith’s, Sporting News and sometimes Lindy’s or Athlon.

But then the promised copy of Phil Steele’s College Football Preview arrived and it was a game-changer. While the others would have capsules on the Division I teams, they’d have far more on the major conference teams. They’d serve to whet your football appetite, a sort of tasty pupu.

Steele, meanwhile, was putting out the equivalent of a glorious high-end buffet. There were all-America teams, all-Conference teams, ranked units (quarterback, running backs, receivers, etc.), top players nationally at every position, and lists of the most-improved teams in the country. Every conference was presented with a predicted order of finish, and each team was broken down by unit, with projected two deeps, schedule, results from the last five years, bowl history, recruiting signees and information on coaches, as well as the previous year’s stats. When I need to know what running back signed with Arizona State, I know exactly where to look.

I interviewed Steele that year and have interviewed him every year since. He correctly predicted UH as the nation’s biggest turnaround team in 1999 ( from 0-12 to 9-4) and was the only major analyst to pick UH to go to the Sugar Bowl before the season started in 2007.

The predictions are nice, but what Steele provides like no other is information in a quantity that is almost mind-boggling. The magazine is a must-read for anyone serious about their college football. When it arrived last week, I looked immediately to see where Steele had Hawaii picked (fifth out of six in the Western Division of the Mountain West) and which UH players would figure in his position rankings. Only Art Laurel, at No. 50 among outside linebackers, and Scott Harding, who was rated the No. 19 punt returner, made the national list. On the All-MWC teams, Harding made the first team, Laurel was picked for the second team along with John Hardy-Tuliau at safety, and wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzman and defensive lineman Tavita Woodard were named third team. With 104 players tabbed in the 12-team conference, Hawaii’s five selections were tied for the fewest in the Mountain West. Boise State and Fresno State each had 11 players named to the team. And Steele believes Hawaii will improve, but has a lot of catching up to do. Of the major magazines, nobody has UH with a better conference finish, and most have UH last in their division of the Mountain West.

In terms of national predictions, Steele’s top five are Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Texas and Oregon.