Yesterday finally tracked down a copy of college football's Bible and Poor Richard's Almanac all rolled into one, the Phil Steele 2006 College Football Preview. Many thanks to regular reader Solon for pointing me towards a Waldenbooks store that had a copy. May Barnes & Noble and Books a Million burn in hell for either 1)not carrying it or 2)not releasing it until its scheduled release date today---the jackals.
Anyway, it's here and I can stop fretting about it.
I started reading the Steele magazine a few years ago when I realized the smartest, most hardcore college football fans I knew (and their friends as well) all had copies and religiously retained and referenced them. It was a bit intimidating at first because unlike other preview magazines its not as flashy and glossy and takes a few moments to get used to. As the cover says, it's "Jampacked with Information" and Steele tends to write in his own unique language. Not a page is turned without a reference to VHT's or him saying "simply".
People tend to like his prognostications and give weight to them. I'm not as heavily interested in his crystal-ball skills, but they're not bad. Last year for example he remarkably left Iowa and Tennessee out of his preseason top 10 list. Both were considered locks for top five but Steele abstained, dropping them to 14th and 15th. Smooth move. Thing is, he also was drooling over Purdue and its schedule and slotted the Boilermakers at No. 3 overall. Oops.
Anyway, the big picture is he is good at spotting some trends and completely misses the boat on others. What is valuable is his overall approach to examining the game. He does his best to watch as many teams and games as possible. He creates his own sets of "power rankings" based on various criteria like talent, schedule, returning starters, etc. and you can see those reflected in his opinions and rankings.
He may be wrong sometimes, but at least I know where he went wrong and why he felt that way.
That said, people are unhappy about his prognostications this year. Can't say I blame them. I think the warning signs came when I couldn't find a copy anywhere in town and then HP called me over the weekend to complain something to the effect of "Steele's lost his mind".
Anyway, Steele gets a pass here. The book is too valuable regardless of his prognostications. My older copies are tattered and frayed, hanging on for dear life because they've been opened and closed so many thousands of times as I hunted down data from within the pages. At its heart the Steele guide is an invaluable resource, cutting down the time and mental strain of chasing basic college football facts around the internet. I appreciate everything that's inside, as it's a good way to track betting trends for teams, track the relative recruiting value of their players, have a rough idea of depth charts and past performances for the individual units of the team, and so much more.
Point being, for those of you skeptical of Steele, just buy it. The die-hards I know can't live without it and keep copies from as far back as when they started reading. It's found a home in the offices of some of the best coaches in America (honest) and many a great fan and pundit throughout the land.