They're college football preview magazines–a perfect way to blow seven bucks and dream about the coming season on a hot summer day, laid-out on the couch, cold beverage of your choice in hand, and ESPN Classic on the plasma-screen HDTV.
We all have our favorite, be it Athlon, Lindy's, The Sporting News, Phil Steele, Blue Ribbon…. the list goes on, and all have their merit (I'm a Sporting News/Phil Steele guy myself).
They're fun to read–just as long as you don't take them too seriously.
I was reminded of this recently as I pawed through a pile of old Sports Illustrateds, Sporting News and Rolling Stones in my home office, searching for an article I wanted to read last fall but never found the time for.
Between a Rolling Stone with Jessica Simpson on the cover and a SI Kirby Puckett retrospective, I found comedy gold.
"Surprise!" the Sporting News 2003 college football preview blared at me. "Auburn is No.1–Tigers bound for Sugar Bowl title."
An excerpt, if you will…
"Walk to the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue, the intersection better known as Toomer's Corner, and stick your head into Toomer's Drug Store," the magazine read. "If you listen long enough while sipping your lemonade, you'll hear talk of a national title. No, the lemonade isn't spiked. This is legit."
You know the rest of the story–Auburn stumbled out of the gates, lost to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech and never recovered in a 8-5 season that almost cost Tommy Tuberville his job.
The Sporting News was hardly the only publication to trumpet the Tigers–ESPN The Magazine and the New York Times jumped on the bandwagon, too.
But Auburn's stunning fall, rivaled perhaps only by the time in the late 1980s that SI picked the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series, shows why preview mags should be taken with a grain (or thousand) of salt. Besides, who can forget four years ago, when most of them had Alabama as a top-five lock? We know how that turned out.
Five of TSN's preseason top 10 finished the season in the final Associated Press top 10, but others had a long fall. No.1 Auburn finished unranked. No.9 Washington finished 6-6 after losing coach Rick Neuheisel to a gambling scandal. No.10 Virginia finished 8-5 and unranked, tied for fourth in the mediocre ACC.
TSN's top Heisman contender–Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett–didn't play a single down all season long after filing a false police report and getting embroiled in an academic fraud scandal. The eventual winner–Oklahoma quarterback Jason White–wasn't even on TSN's radar; he was listed several pages away in a group of high-profile quarterbacks that faced serious battles for their jobs.
Understand, now, that I'm not running down preseason magazines. They're like an oasis in what can be a hot, endless summer without football of any kind save the occasional high school all-star game.
They're a sign that the season is on the horizon and the anticipation can begin. What else are fans going to do besides play NCAA College Football 2005, watch the All-Star Game or make meaningless fantasy baseball trades (anyone want Richie Sexson?).
Summer is boring. Preview magazines make it at least a little more bearable.
Most fans can see at least a bit of hope inside the glossy pages full of depth-charts and best bets. Even if the magazine's writer bashes everything from the quarterback to the secondary and the color of the alternate uniforms, a fan can find a little ray of sunshine in the fact that the starting running back is fifth best in the conference.
Besides, those uniforms really aren't that bad, anyway.
Fans shouldn't take that bashing too seriously, anyway. Most magazines employ a armada of correspondents–usually one to two per conference–to preview that league's teams. Those correspondents are typically beat writers who cover one team in that conference, but must rely on other sources to fill out their reports.
For example, one unnamed magazine's correspondent called me this spring to talk about Alabama football, in an attempt to broaden his base of knowledge on the Tide. I'm glad he at least called instead of just culling Internet and newspaper reports for whatever information he could find.
Some teams' fans probably weren't as lucky.
Some fans might be angry at their ugly preview-magazine fates, then forget about them three weeks into the season when their team is 3-0 with two major victories under its belt.
That's the nature of these publications.
You have nothing to lose by buying them and looking at them.
Take them seriously, though, and it's your loss.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald and also writes this column for BamaMag.com