College football fans consume a lot of information ahead of an upcoming season, but almost none of them get much closer to the truth of what’s really going to happen when foot meets pigskin in the fall.
They read blogs written by people who have never played anything more than backyard football (you’re doing this one right now), crave fodder that they can run through the meat grinder in their mind and keep hitting refresh on their browsers searching for new ways to dissect a bunch of teams that haven’t played any games yet. Then they buy the authoritative preview magazines containing slightly different rankings with a side of commentary from the experts.
It’s a cycle that starts way before it should, but it’s been time to get serious about the upcoming season for a few weeks now. The blogs have been written over and over again, rankings are out all over the place, so on and so forth.
And ESPN The Magazine’s college football preview issue just came in the mail.
Here’s the thing – I don’t necessarily want to be a subscriber to ESPN The Magazine. I am by default, because there are few things on the Internet that I hate more than clicking on articles that I can’t read because I’m not a subscriber. So I’m an "ESPN Insider" in an effort to limit the fury that comes when I can’t read something in its entirety. Being an Insider gets you a free subscription to ESPN The Magazine, and that’s how ESPN The Magazine arrived in my mail.
A personal rule of mine with print magazines is that if a preview issue of anything comes into my sight, I’m going to at least flip through it. Everyone loves preview magazines. They contain the one thing all sports fans love: lists. Some lists are objective and use combinations of metrics that make them feel more valid, others are voted on by people who should know what they’re talking about. All of them can be proven wrong by fans in their own minds, which makes them some of the most fun (albeit completely meaningless) things in sports.
Knowing already that Louisville will begin the 2014 season outside the Top 25 in the Coaches’ Poll, I embarked on my annual preview magazine flip-through in search for any trace of the Cardinals. Here’s what I found:
Louisville first appears in a look at the various connections of the 13 members of the college football playoff selection committee by Anthony Olivieri and Ross Marrinson. Before dissecting where each of the committee members’ biases may lie, they caution readers with a fairly sound theory essentially saying that because there are so many potential biases in the group of 13, the group will act without one distinguishable collective bias.
The one mention of Louisville here comes from committee chairman and Arkansas AD Jeff Long. For anyone who needs a quick refresher, he’s considered to have a "family/personal connection" with Louisville since, well, yeah. He’s Bobby Petrino’s former boss. Right, moving along.
After wading through the dizzying (though quite intriguing) chart of biases, I arrived at the crux of all preview magazines: the Top 25. ESPN put together a panel of 13 voters from their army of analysts to establish a list, then put it up against their FPI (Football Power Index) data.
The voters and the FPI agreed that the reigning champion Florida State Seminoles are America’s top team heading into the season, and this is where Louisville made its first and only appearance in the Top 25 discussion. In a breakdown of the FSU schedule, Louisville has the fifth best chance to knock off the Noles (ESPN’s FPI gives Florida State a 93% chance of winning). The teams with a better shot? Miami (86.8% chance of an FSU win), Clemson (88.1%), Florida (91.1%) and Oklahoma State (91.4%).
Brock Huard had this to say about Louisville’s chances against the Seminoles: "A veteran RB, solid O-line and talented WRs will thrive in Bobby Petrino’s high-scoring offense. Play this one 10 times and the Cards win at least once."
So we’ve got that going for us.
Before we move along to a bit of minutiae that’s actually pretty fun to think about, we should cover who on Louisville’s schedule is listed in the top 25 and what ESPN is saying about them. You probably already guessed who these teams are, and you’re right! They are Florida State (1), Notre Dame (15) and Clemson (16).
Here are some anecdotes about the weaknesses of the three teams from Travis Haney (this is the "side of commentary with the unique rankings" part of the preseason magazine game):
Florida State (1st in FPI) – Haney says that Jameis Winston may still have "Johnny Manziel Disease". Nobody knows what it means, but it gets the people goin’.
Notre Dame (29th in FPI) – Haney worries about their 7-7 record against ranked opponents in the Kelly era, which is promising since Louisville could easily be ranked by November. They could easily remain unranked by November, too. But one win against, oh, the team mentioned directly above for instance, and we’re talking about some considerable pressure on the Domers. Big games aren’t always their thing.
Clemson (16th in FPI) – Haney cites the Tigers’ O-line for being a bit of a question mark, quoting a Clemson coach that is more concerned of who his tackles are than replacing Tajh Boyd. Looking at you, Lorenzo Mauldin. You too, Todd Grantham.
We love the term "party crasher" in Louisville, so why not be top four in a SportsNation poll that asks which teams outside of the Top 25 are ready to pull off some upsets? This goes along with Huard’s tidbit earlier in the preview, but Louisville finished as the nation’s third-best bet to make a "surprise run". Voters named Florida, Michigan, Louisville and Texas Tech (in that order) as favorites to make some noise in a run towards this new fangled playoff deal.
Louisville is mentioned two more times in the preview. Once for its place in the ESPN FPI Rankings, which can be found here, and finally in a piece about former head coach/program savior Charlie Strong, which can be found here.
About the FPI rankings, Louisville is slotted at 50th overall with an offensive rank of 37th and a defensive rank of 56. For kicks, Miami is 26th overall and Kentucky is 54th. You can now form your opinions of how accurate this ranking system will be after a couple weeks of football. It's at least fun to chew on.
About the Charlie Strong piece, his value to Louisville is fairly immeasurable, and the article is well done. Personally, it didn’t sting too much to read, but I can’t speak for everyone. Hopefully, Coach Strong will do a phenomenal job in Austin outside of any potential future meetings with Louisville.
Despite not being a Top 25 team preseason, Louisville is mentioned by name in five different sections of ESPN The Mag’s 2014 primer. Not bad for a team that lost three first-round draft picks and has a new (new/old, whatever) coach.
Reading preview magazines is fun and all, but I was way more excited when I learned that I was one of few who finished in the money in the Miami single-game ticket derby this past Friday morning. Football is almost here.