Spring Blog • April 21, 2015

Magazine third write through process.

The third write through process of the magazine is probably the most time constrictive part but it’s also the most interesting as I actually do the predictions for the teams. First of all, I’ve had a pretty good success rate here with the Phil Steele magazine being the most accurate magazine last year, the most accurate magazine of the last 3 years, the most accurate magazine over the last five years, the most accurate magazine of the last 10 years and of course, the most accurate magazine over the last 17 years. I’ll have more of that in my Most Accurate Magazine article in the magazine but it does show one thing, hard work pays off. I devote the entire year, 365 days to college football. If it’s not football season, generally it’s magazine season, except for my two fun months of radio season in June and July but let’s talk about the third process of the magazine right now.

Since I went through the second process of the magazine (blog here), it was basically a pre-spring look at each of the teams. Now it’s time to at the teams look post spring. I gather as much new information as I can, read the articles that have been written since I did the team the last time and then if the spring game is televised, I watch it. The Pac-12 network, Big 10 network and the SEC network all do great jobs of televising almost all of their spring games, and believe me, I view each and every one. I often get asked what can I get out of a spring game. Beside a look at the players, which is always a plus, watching matchups and seeing how the players perform in front of a crowd, one of the most valuable things I find in watching a spring game is listening to the announcers. Now, there are some announcers of the spring games that do a tremendous job. These guys get in, talk to the coaches, get all the players notes (much like I do during my 1 hour conversation in the summer) and have them on hand and ready to go. When breaking down the game, they analyze positions and go through at least the 2-deep and often more. They talk about strengths and weaknesses of the players, who they think will start, who has been progressing in the spring, who impressed the coaches and you can pick up a lot of great notes. It’s almost like talking to the coach yourself and in those spring games where the announcers have gone in and done their homework, I find it invaluable and you can learn a lot about the team. Sometimes after a spring game, my team pages are covered with hand written notes on them. There are some spring games which have ex-NFL players who ends up talking more about the generalities of spring practice and what you try to accomplish with the O-line and what you try to accomplish with the D-line. These are also some announcers that are more interested in the points for the game and who is scoring and who will win when the outcome is really insignificant. Sometimes after watching a spring game, with those type of announcers, who maybe have not interviewed the coaches I end up with just 4 or 5 notes on my team page and actually get more out of the reading that I do about the team during the spring practices than of the game. For the most part, I think the guys do a great job and you can get a lot out of a spring game from those notes and like I mentioned, watching the action. You also get to watch a little football in April and there is nothing wrong with that!

I also try to read as many articles as I can. By watching or reading the post spring press conferences, many times by reading inside the lines the coaches will tell you exactly what they are thinking on the position. This allows me to put all of my projected lineups into the right order. I take great pride in the fact that the guys I list as projected starters by the middle or end of the season are the starters and are the most productive players at the position. Not always do I put my projected starters as the projected starter on the schools spring 2 deep. As an example: Texas A&M 2 years ago, Jamil Showers was #1 QB out of the spring, with Johnny Manziel in the doghouse and suspended. I still listed Manziel as the starter for the season and he of course went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Remember my goal os to list the starter for the position overall so if a player was injured in spring and may miss the first game or two I would still list him #1.

After the teams have been fine tuned I compare them side by side. I read through each teams position for a 3rd time with the pre-spring knowledge, with the post-spring knowledge and as I go through, I do all the QB positions at once. This allows me to grade the QB’s (1, 2, 3, 4 - all the way down the line to the bottom of the conference). Who is in the best shape, who is in the worst. Then I do the same with the RB’s, receivers, O-line, D-line, LB, DB, ST and coaches. During this process, I’m also updating my power ratings for any changes, as perhaps a player has gotten bigger, stronger and/or faster, I can upgrade his grade in the power ratings that I’ve talked about in the 2nd write through process and I also pick out my All Conference Teams at this points. After that is complete, I know have my final power ratings for each and every team in the conference and I play it into the schedule.

My computer has 9 different sets of power ratings and plays all 9 sets of power ratings against the schedule, which even factors in home field edges. At this point I get 9 different outcomes for a team. Sometimes all 9 sets of power ratings will call for a team to go unbeaten. Other times, the 9 sets of power ratings could vary from a team going 7-1 in conference play all the way down to 2-6 in conference play and it’s for me to decide which one I agree with the most.

I’ve already played the season out in advance. Back in February, I went through every game on the schedule and figured out who would be favored and who I would have a dog. Now there’s a chance that could change at this point as those are done with pre-season power ratings and now I’m looking at the updated post spring power ratings for every game. If there is a specific game that’s going to determine a position in the ratings, I analyze that game a little bit closer. I now do my forecast for that conference on where I think the team’s will finish in conference play for the upcoming year. As mentioned at the top, I have a pretty good track record when it comes to accuracy of the conference play. Now, naturally, nobody’s going to get every single conference 100% right each year (that is impossible) but I am very proud of my accuracy.

This process will start in earnest today, April 21st. Prior to this step I go through the post spring for as many teams as I can because it’s impossible to go through 12-14 teams post spring in a 2 day process and get all of the power ratings update as well as get the conference forecasts done so I’m trying to get as many teams “greened” as possible. What I mean by “greened” it refers to the checklist I use to keep the entire process organized. If a team is shaded in “green” that means the line up is set, I’m comfortable with where they are at and when we proof read a page, those players are locked into their spots. Therefore, by shading a team in “green” we are saying “Go, it’s ready for a proof”. The conference portion of my writeups will last from April 21st all the way through the 2nd week of May. I have then set aside 2 weeks to speak to the coaches so what I’ll do at that point is send them over my team pages, where I have everything projected and they can update me on players strengths and weaknesses and perhaps there are some players that I have in the wrong spots on the team and they’ll get that corrected for me.

Still a bunch of spring games to watch, a lot of reading to do and now we get to the part where I actually start doing my projections so the next three weeks are definitely be interesting. Come May 10th, I’ll have a pretty good idea of where I will have my teams ranked for the upcoming season. By the way, up on the ESPN Insider, you can get my projected AP Top 25 for next year. This is not my Top 25, but who the teams are that I think will be in the Top 25 for the upcoming season and I will post that right here on philsteele.com if you are not already an ESPN Insider member (and why aren’t you?) for free on philsteele.com next week.

I’ll keep you going with some miscellaneous blogs the next couple of weeks and now back to spring football.