Published Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:25 pm
Football
McKewon: Preseason guides like Tide; Taylor Martinez makes cover

LINCOLN — The preseason college football magazines have hit the shelves.

The theme this year? All of them love Alabama to three-peat. None of them likes Nebraska to win the Big Ten because of a rebuilding defense that struggled last year with tons of seniors. Most of them like to put quarterback Taylor Martinez on the cover.

After that, each guide — we preview five — comes with its own intrigue and eccentricities. Phil Steele has his massive guide — all 352 pages — and has pushed the price to $10. It's stuffed with its usual medley of data in such small print that it occasionally takes a microscope to read. The other guides — old standbys Lindy's and Athlon among them — stick around $8.

Because of Web football stats guru Chris Stassen tracking predictions, projecting national and conference winners has become more competitive. Though Steele's picks win out in a 10-year period, the gap has narrowed. Guides aren't just for entertainment anymore; there is skin in the game and gloss on the pages.

The World-Herald's Sam McKewon combed the data, charts, rankings and predictions from the most popular college football preseason magazines. Here's the highlights and NU notes.

* * *

PHIL STEELE

The basics: A college sportswriter's good friend and a gambler's companion, Steele's book crams a lot of data into a small space for readers to devour and ponder. You need to pass an eye exam to see it. And the book is more expensive than others. Steele even produces a chart comparing the cost of his first book in the 1990s to now with the jump in gas prices. So he must sense that 10 smackers may be the limit of his bible's value.

Cost: $9.99

Cover: Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez makes the Big Ten cover, along with Michigan's Devin Gardner and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde.

NU rank: 16th (T-1 in Legends Division)

Iowa rank: NR (fifth in the Legends)

National No. 1: Alabama

Risky rankings: Florida State at No. 3, Texas at No. 4, USC at No. 6, Oklahoma State at No. 8.

NU All-Americans: Guard Spencer Long is a second-team All-American.

NU recruiting class rank: No. 22

NU national unit rankings: 14th in quarterbacks, 23rd in running backs, 42nd in receivers, 34th in offensive line, 16th in defensive backs.

NU bowl prediction: Rose Bowl vs. Oregon. Steele predicts Ohio State will win the Big Ten title and play for the national title.

Mistakes: Mike Marrow is listed as the starting fullback when he's likely to be the No. 3 fullback. Neither Adam Taylor nor Terrell Newby is listed on the depth chart.

Special features: The usual Phil Steele special items like special teams charts, experience charts, turnover charts, charts of charts. He ranks everything and is thorough on recruits down to every Husker walk-on. NU is one of Steele's “surprise teams” this year.

Strengths: It's heavy with data and stats. Though Steele has a lot of predictions, there's enough material for you to draw your own conclusions or come up with your own system.

Weaknesses: Steele's predictions often rely a little too much on the strength of schedule and returning starters. And once a team gets lodged in his brain — like Florida State has for several years — he struggles to unlodge it. His predictions for Oklahoma were, for years, much too optimistic.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: Steele is the most accurate in the past 15 years. He's always going to be contending in part because he hedges by creating numerous ties within a division. This is more accurate — teams tie in divisional record all the time — but also less traditional in terms of predictions.

Notable NU quote: “Nebraska has a great shot at getting back to the Big Ten title game.”

* * *

ATHLON

The basics: Labeling itself “America's premier sports publisher,” Athlon brings its usual offering: reasonable depth, reasonable predictions, a few cheerleader shots and a few feature stories. Athlon touts national and conference magazines. The conference version has three pages of info on each team and a full-page picture, too. Its national version is similar to Lindy's.

Cost: $7.99

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Cover: “Magic Man” Martinez is on the bookshelves in Nebraska for the Big Ten preview.

NU rank: 21st (second in Legends)

Iowa rank: 69th (sixth in Legends)

National No. 1: Alabama

Risky rankings: The Big 12, as a whole, is probably rated too low. No team is higher than 16th.

NU All-American: Long is a second-team All-American.

NU recruiting rank: 17th

NU national unit rankings: eighth in quarterbacks, ninth in running backs.

NU bowl prediction: Outback Bowl vs. Florida.

Mistakes: Not many. A few walk-ons listed on the full roster are no longer there.

Special features: A cheerleader section, a recipe section, a roundtable on officiating, a discussion on recruiting and social media, full rosters on the team pages, a feature on Bo Pelini, plus a feature on the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

Strengths: Athlon does a little bit of everything in its guide. The conference-specific piece will tell you just about everything you'd ever like to know about the league teams. The features are different from some of the other magazines. Athlon wisely presents a full MAC preview in its Big Ten version of the magazine, since the MAC meal plan is in full effect for this year's league nonconference schedule.

Weaknesses: In the Big Ten conference guide, Notre Dame is the very first team listed. Why? The magazine lacks the depth of Phil Steele regardless of which version you get.

Stassen accuracy factor: Athlon was the second-most accurate in the past three years and the most accurate last year.

Notable NU quote: “Scoring points won't be a problem in Lincoln, but the defense is an issue.”

* * *

LINDY'S

The basics: A standard, easy-to-read guide that's similar to Athlon. In the national version, each team gets a page and quick rundown. It's less daunting than Steele's book, and less informative, too.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: In area stores, you'll see a picture of Husker wide receiver Kenny Bell.

NU rank: 21st (third in Legends)

Iowa rank: 66th (fifth in Legends)

National No. 1: Alabama

Risky rankings: Stanford at No. 3, Oklahoma State at No. 11, Baylor at No. 19, Michigan State at No. 20.

NU All-American: Long is a second-team All-American.

NU recruiting rank: 17th

NU national unit rankings: ninth in backfields, ninth in offensive line.

NU bowl prediction: None that I could find.

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Mistakes: Urban Meyer is listed as Alabama's coach in the Ohio State preview section. Nebraska wide receiver Jamal Turner is not listed as a returning starter from last year; he started four games. Thomas Brown, now thrown off the Huskers' team, is listed as the strongside linebacker.

Special features: Lindy's loves lists. Lists and lists. Some of them are interesting, too, like “Top Five Unfortunate Spring ACL Injuries” and “Five Best Rivalry Jokes.” The 14-page “scoping the nation” feature is good. A college football fantasy ranking is interesting. Lindy's ranks the top 10 players in each conference in terms of NFL potential; NU's Long checks in at No. 10.

Strengths: If you like quick lists and anecdotal factoids, Lindy's is the spot. Its national preview section at the front of the magazine is probably the most readable, both in terms of text size and text enjoyment.

Weaknesses: The team previews are a little thin. Lindy's delivers a little less data than Athlon and a lot less than Steele's magazine.

Stassen accuracy factor: Lindy's is the most accurate in the past three years, and is fixing for a strong five-year average after a disastrous 2008 falls off the radar.

Notable NU quote: “With so much offense, the Huskers can't do worse than four losses. Well, shouldn't.”

* * *

USA TODAY

The basics: A glossy preview that's front-heavy on long feature stories and relatively short on data inside the team previews. But, oh, does it love Nebraska.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: The regional cover has a small photo of four-year starter Martinez dwarfed by Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell — who has never started a game.

NU rank: ninth (first in Legends)

Iowa rank: NR (fifth in Legends)

National No. 1: Alabama

Risky rankings: Stanford at No. 3, Boise State at No. 6, TCU at No. 16, Tulsa at No. 25.

NU All-Americans: Long is a first-team All-American.

NU recruiting rank: None, but Nebraska's class gets a B-plus.

NU bowl prediction: None.

Mistakes: USA Today seems confident Mauro Bondi will replace Brett Maher; that's a big unknown right now.

Special features: A lot of written features at the front of the magazine, a 2014 NFL first-round mock draft and an explanation of how next year's playoff will work.

Strengths: Quick read. Good features in the front.

Weaknesses: It is light on analysis and data. Paul Myerberg, who predicts the top 25, does an exhaustive preview of every team for the Web. More Myerberg is needed in the magazine.

Stassen accuracy factor: Third among all publications and websites in 2012.

Notable NU quote: “To truly be taken seriously as a BCS contender, the Cornhuskers need to avoid the sort of midseason lull that has come over each of Pelini's five years with the program.”

* * *

SPORTING NEWS

The basics: The Sporting News preview, one of the standards in the 1990s is still a well-written, easy-to-follow overview of the season. It devotes more energy than ever to recruiting. And it must be said: It takes a ton of risks in its Top 25.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: The regional cover features Martinez throwing the ball in the Capital One Bowl alongside a shot of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland.

NU rank: 21st (second in Legends)

Iowa rank: NR (sixth in Legends)

National No. 1: Alabama

Risky rankings: Stanford at No. 2, Florida at No. 4, Oklahoma State at No. 6, Michigan at No. 13, Baylor at No. 17.

NU All-Americans: Long is a third-team All-American.

NU recruiting class rank: No. 22

NU bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl vs. Texas A&M.

Mistakes: The bowl prediction is simply an error. Nebraska's not going back to Orlando for a long time, I suspect. Thomas Brown is listed as the starter at Buck linebacker. The top recruit, defensive end Randy Gregory, isn't listed on the two-deep, so there's not much of a sync between the recruiting list and the depth chart.

Special features: Top five recruits for each program courtesy of 247Sports, an extra page of analysis for teams in the top 25, a “confidence pool” for the 16 new coaches, eight coaches on the hot seat (including Pelini, Kirk Ferentz and Mack Brown), and breakdowns for FCS and Division II (Chadron State is preseason No. 20), Division III and NAIA (Doane's Dillon Carmichael is a preseason All-American).

Strengths: It looks good and information is presented in a way that's easy to digest and follow. It takes some chances in its predictions (like picking Stanford to play for the national title). And it definitely has its share of fun lists.

Weaknesses: Like real tomato ketchup isn't that palatable to the taste buds, a guide that goes through the conferences in alphabetical order — meaning half-page Conference USA blurbs come before the SEC and Pac-12 — is not that useful. The recaps are more rhetoric than analysis. Some of the stats on the team pages — yards lost rushing — are extraneous.

Stassen accuracy factor: It's not accurate. In the past 10 years, TSN is last among the six major previews measured for accuracy.

Notable NU quote: “Fans of traditional stiff-necked Nebraska defense might have to avert their eyes in 2013 — at least for a little while — because the Huskers might have to outscore some people while talent emerges.”

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

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