Game Balls: An Ode to Preseason Magazines

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‘Tis the season for preseason magazines.

Digital dissemination of news has largely rendered print publications obsolete. I was somewhat late to make the switch, but in the last few years, ever new book I’ve purchased was through Kindle, and my subscriptions to both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times are digital.

College football preseason magazines, however, are one genre I don’t see myself switching from hard copy anytime soon. I tried last year with Phil Steele’s annual encyclopedia; it just wasn’t the same.

My first preseason magazines of the summer arrived this week: the national and Pac-12 version of the Athlon Sports annuals, which came as part of my work for AthlonSports.com (plug! I spotlighted important Pac-12 stats and broke down Washington’s schedule there this week).

I picked up Sporting News while grabbing some half-&-half at the grocery store. Phil Steele arrives as part of my Football Writers Association of America membership next week — I learned my lesson on opting for the digital version.

I also learned not to take preseason magazines for granted. College basketball previews were an autumn staple around the Kensing household throughout my youth, much like the football publications are in summer.

Over the years, the market for basketball preseason magazines dried up. Street & Smith is no more, and other publications allocated their resources to digital.

Hokey as it may come across, I’ll continue to embrace hard-copy preview magazines. It just wouldn’t be summer without them.

OF SEQUELS AND RETREADS

Just as much a fixture of summer as preseason magazines: blockbuster movies. The top-grossing film at the box office currently is the sequel to a movie released 13 years ago; its top contender in the weekend to come is the followup to a blockbuster released 20 years ago.

Hollywood’s hard-up for original ideas when it’s mining decades-old material for sequel, but college football hasn’t necessarily changed a ton in that time, either.

In the summer of 2003, when Disney released Finding Nemo, a quarterback competition raged on at USC, with eyes on an early-season matchup against an SEC power, while a Nick Saban-coached team was an early favorite to contend for the national championship.

Not much different in 2016.

Max Browne and Sam Darnold are vying for USC’s vacant quarterback job this offseason, with a date looming against Nick Saban and Alabama. The 2003 Trojans and Saban’s LSU Tigers never got the opportunity to play, so maybe the Cowboys Classic functions as a mulligan.

’03 USC did play at Auburn, however, in a game that set Matt Leinart on the path of what is one of the greatest careers in college football history. Trojans would welcome a retread from Browne or Darnold.

When Independence Day hit theaters in 1996, Ohio State had just said farewell to a record-setting running back and first-round NFL draft pick. Ezekiel Elliott contended for some of the marks Eddie George set in his Heisman-winning ’95 campaign en route to a spot with the Dallas Cowboys in April’s draft.

George beat out Tommie Frazier to win that 1995 Heisman, but Frazier’s Nebraska Cornhuskers claimed the bigger prize: the second of two straight national championships.

The mid-1990s marked the apex of Nebraska football. Though the Huskers split another national championship with Michigan in 1997, and played for one more in 2001, the last 20 years brought gradual decline from which the program’s never recovered.

Of the more profound differences in college football now and then, Nebraska dominated those years with an option offense. Though the option flourished around various corners of the game in 2015, no national title contender has employed the scheme since Nebraska.

Given teams like Willie Fritz’s squads at Georgia Southern (prior to his taking the Tulane job) and Ken Niumatalolo’s at Navy have performed well against competition with typically more elite recruits running the option, a Power Five program could seemingly install the option and really flourish with 4-star recruits.

That’s one retread from the past I personally would love to see — certainly more so than any other Independence Day. Blech.

GOOD READS

USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach expertly tells the most compelling story of the offseason, going in-depth on the battle Pitt running back James Conner won over cancer.

Some coaches are keeping busy this summer touring the nation at satellite camps. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is spending his coaching his son’s 12 & Under Little League team, the Orange Crush. Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier details Dabo’s time on the diamond.