This year, I made some changes to the 2015 magazine and next year, I will be making some bigger changes. First, let’s discuss the 2015 changes and I will go over the 2016 changes in a separate blog.

When writing the individual units of the magazine in the first 10 to 15 years, I wanted to make sure that my readers (particularly first time readers) understood the history of the position on each team. Let’s face it: an SEC fan in 2004 probably knew very little about a team like Utah’s great history of producing defensive linemen. By including that history, however, I was able to illustrate how the Utes would not have much trouble replacing 2 or 3 starters off the defensive front, which affected my forecast. As I have developed many more repeat customers in recent years, I have greatly cut down on the use of history at the positions.

This past summer, I was at ESPN for a few days doing a bunch of radio shows, College Football Live, SportsCenter, work for and meeting with the great guys over at Stats and Info. During my time in Bristol, Tom Luginbill asked me why I don’t include a “2015” line in each unit before I start talking about the current team, which would help people who want a quicker read of the magazine without as much history. Tom’s comment resonated with me, so when I got into writing THIS year’s magazine, I removed all of the history discussions. As such, when you read this year’s position writeups, you will notice that they only cover the three most vital questions that you need to ask when analyzing position group: (1) in what kind of shape was the unit last year (including any injuries), (2) how did the unit perform last year (3) and in what kind of shape is the unit this year?

To illustrate the importance of these questions, it is helpful to use some examples. First, let’s take a look at an offensive line that returns 3 starters. With 60% of the offensive line coming back, you would logically expect that the line would be somewhat stronger. In some circumstances that is true, but the line could actually be MUCH stronger, or even weaker, depending on the 3 factors. For example, let’s say a team had 0 returning starters last year, played a lot of freshmen on the line, struggled with injuries and lineup changes all year and had their worst rushing and sack numbers in the last 10 years. Now assume that the team added in 2 VHT JUCOs to fill the open holes in the offseason. For this season, you are now looking at a team that returns 3 starters, has improved its talent significantly, is more experienced and should enjoy better health, so it makes sense to project GREATLY improved numbers with 3 returning starters.

By contrast, take a team that had 5 starters last year, including two 1st team All Americans at LT and C, and all of the linemen started 13 games, which led to the best rushing numbers and sack totals for that program in over 10 years. Now assume that they lose their LT and C, both of whom were high NFL DC’s, and they also lose their main 3 backup OL’s.  Although 3 starters return from last year, the resulting line for 2015 is less experienced and less talented than the year before, so it is reasonable to predict that they will post weaker stats than the great numbers from 2014. As you can see, the analysis is more detailed than simply counting starters, so all THREE factors are vital.

The only time I brought up additional history on a position was in a case like Ohio State’s offensive line of 2014. Last year, I talked about the OSU offensive line from 2012 because OL Coach Ed Warinner took an inexperienced unit and led them to improve their numbers from 2011 much greater than anyone would have forecast. Based on Warriner’s track record, I predicted that OSU could fare better than expected in 2014 despite just 32 career starts coming back and 1 returning starter.  Sure enough, they were a dominant unit by the end of the year, especially in the playoffs!

In the “Phil’s Forecast” section, I review every game from the previous year because the final score does not always tell the story of a game. Taking Tom’s advice, I put a bold “2014” in front of my review of last year, and placed a bold “2015” in front of my overall analysis of the team for this year. Also, please take the time to read the conference forecast pages. In prior years, I would finish wrapping up the forecast on the team page and then repeat many of those same thoughts on my conference forecast pages. This year, I completed the conference forecasts first, so there are more independent thoughts.

Another change I made this year was talking to the head coaches prior to the completion of the magazine. I have always interviewed the coaches over the summer to discuss every single player on their team. This process usually takes 1 to 1.5 hours, as we talk about strengths and weaknesses for each player and make sure I have them all in the right spots on the depth chart. Now coaches’ schedules are tight and my time is tight as well, so I only get to speak to about 70% of the 128 FBS coaches each year.

I start writing the magazine the Sunday after Thanksgiving and pour 60-90+ hours into each week for 6 months. I never thought I could take any of that time away, but I managed to talk to roughly 40 coaches this year. During May, after spring practice was over and before my magazine came out, I found these conversations enlightening and invaluable as always, so I will continue to do this (and expand on it) in future years. I am on almost every award committee and the notes I get from these interviews are priceless, especially in compiling the preseason watch lists and keeping an eye on players during the year. Although the coaches’ interviews take approximately 50-60 hours out of the magazine process, it is time well spent.

The bottom line is that you will see more player notes this year in the individual units and it will be much easier to find the useful information in the forecasts.  I really like the changes made for the 2015 magazine and my most important goal EACH year is to be the most accurate magazine in the country, so I am pleased to report that the Phil Steele College Football Preview has been the Most Accurate Preseason magazine last year, the last 3 years, last 5 years, last 10 years and last 17 years and should remain that way!