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Alabama and the College Football Season Preview Magazines

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The 2012 season preview magazines have arrived and it's time to dig through them and get a look at how they predict things shall fare for the defending national champions. We did this last year and we'll follow the same general format to help with comparison between the two.

Now it seems The Sporting News/Street & Smith's preview magazine is no longer but USA Today has filled the gap with their own publication. So we've just swapped those out alongside the standard June magazines; Athlon, Lindy's and Phil Steele. (Obviously the Sports Illustrated and other pre-season publication come closer to the season itself). So let's get started with the top five teams for next season as picked by each magazine:

Athlon Lindy's USA Today
Phil Steele
No. 1 USC LSU Alabama Fla. State
No. 2 LSU USC USC Oklahoma
No. 3 Alabama Alabama LSU LSU
No. 4 Oklahoma Oklahoma Oregon USC
No. 5 Oregon Oregon Oklahoma Alabama

If this seems familiar, it should. Earlier this month we shared each of these magazines' Top 25. In order to normalize things a little we took the average of each team's ranking in these four magazines. The idea being they all seem to agree what the top six squads are going into next season so what is their cumulative assessment of how those teams measure up to each other?

Rank Team Average Highest
No.1 (tie)
LSU 2.25 1
No.1 (tie)
USC 2.25 1
No. 3 Alabama 3.00 1
No. 4 Oklahoma 3.50 2
No. 5 Oregon 4.75 4
No. 6 Florida State
6.25 1

That arrangement seems a bit more reasonable even given Mr. Steele's glowing prognostication for the Seminoles. Most of the preview magazines bump Alabama down a bit to the loss of key players and bump USC up a bit for the ridiculously easy PAC 12 South slate they face. But the tight arrangement of the top four and then the wider gap between Oklahoma and Oregon (and the even wide gap on to Florida State) is an arguable arrangement.

For comparison's sake, here are the aggregate top six teams from last year's preview magazines (with The Sporting News instead of USA Today).

Rank Team Average Highest
No.1 (tie)
Alabama 1.75 1
No.1 (tie)
Oklahoma 1.75 1
No. 3 Oregon 3.75 3
No. 4 (tie)
Boise State
5.00 3
No. 4 (tie) LSU 5.00 1
No. 6 Florida State
6.50 4

After the jump we've collated how Alabama fared on the magazine's All-American selections and individual unit rankings in these four publications. Join us, won't you?

Now for a little nuts and bolts. It's one thing to make up a power ranking based on generalities and another to break down the details of the team in question. Each of these magazines with the exception of USA Today offers a ranking of individual units (Athlon and Lindy's giving top ten and Steele ranking 40-or-so).

Alabama's Preseason Magazines' Individual Units Rankings
Athlon Lindy's Phil Steele
QB Units
RB Units 5
WR Units

OL Units 1 1
DL Units

LB Units 6 3
DB Units

* Lindy's consolidated QB and RB unit's into a single "Backfield" unit.

And each of the titles except for USA Today offered an All-American list. Athlon and Steele went three teams deep but Lindy's just gave a first team and a second team.

Alabama's 2011 Preview Magazine All-Americans
Athlon Lindy's Phil Steele
1st Team
Barrett Jones
Barrett Jones
Chance Warmack
Barrett Jones
D.J. Fluker
Chance Warmack
2nd Team

Robert Lester
Jesse Williams
3rd Team
Chance Warmack
Nico Johnson
Dee Milliner
Robert Lester

So the one thing all of these prognosticators agree on is that Alabama's offensive line is awesome and Barrett Jones is a badass. Chance Warmack also gets on everyone's All-American list although Athlon puts him on the third team rather than the first. Obviously this would seem to automatically improve the stock of 1) the running back corps 2) the quarterbacking and 3) the offense as a whole but that point seems to be beyond the grasp of these guys.

Now outside of that these guys are completely all over the map. Each and every one gives lip service in their overviews to how Alabama's talent level is off the charts but then they seem unable to translate that into any real detail in a more granular assessment. Phil Steele is only one who puts his money where his mouth is. He says the Tide defense will be good then demonstrates his reasoning by ranking the individual units and naming the players on his All-American list (the only one of the three to do so). We're not begging for anyone's respect here people -- just consistency.

One huge word of warning. If you thought Brent Musberger's fawning adoration of "Honey Badger" was irritating during the BCS National Championship Game you need to get ready for the roman orgy these magazines serve up singing his praises. It's like the writers have forgotten the sight of A.J. McCarron making Café Brûlot Diabolique of the Honey Badger last January. LSU has only two returning starters in the secondary Morris Claiborne ain't one of them. Mathieu benefited from a ton of throws desperately heaved his way to keep the ball away from the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft. He won't have that luxury this season.

Now we've pored through the content of the magazines themselves we can better explain the logic behind these choices. Here's the summary of the Alabama analyses.

Athlon: "Saban stockpiles too much talent for a huge drop-off. Still, the odds are against Alabama [repeating]."

It seems Athlon is regulating Alabama to a just-like-2010 status, forgetting exactly how damn close those LSU and Auburn games were. Basically, the magazine is pushing all the chips on the table on the basis of USC's cream-puff Pac 12 South schedule, arguing the Trojans' offense is powerful enough to rack up points faster than the defense will give them up. They also seem to think LSU has a superior defense than the Tide (more on that below) and Zack Mettenberger possesses some kind of magical powers that will turn all the goofball coaching decisions Les Miles makes into happy fortuity. Athlon quotes Miles saying the Tigers will throw more but don't really explain to whom.

Lindy's: "The Tide will play hearty defense, run the ball, gain field position through special teams, and not tur it over. It will work. Again."

Lindy's loves Alabama next year, except they don't. They seem to believe Jan. 9 was an aberration and LSU will best the Tide in Baton Rouge clearing the way for a straight shot at Miami. The magazine invokes "lack of experience" as Alabama's major weakness but it'll be nothing more than an inconvenience to the Tigers'. Which is interesting since they have the former returning 11 starters and the latter 13. Or, basically, the mag is putting far more stock in the 2012 NFL Draft than the 2012 A-Day game. That said, Alabama feature in the South edition is one of the most thorough breakdowns on next year's team available to this point.

USA Today: "The system [at Alabama] is stable and, entering Saban's seventh year, self-replicating... Questions linger, but if the Crimson Tide reaches their potential, they could be fearsome."

Of all the pre-season magazines, USA Today is highest on the Tide placing Alabama in their No. 1 slot due to the consistency of the program under Saban. Their worst-case scenario is an injury-fueled three-loss season. USC's defensive question marks, particularly the line, drops the Trojans to No. 2 on the USA Today tally. The uncertainty surrounding the revamped LSU offense has the magazine predicting a Bayou Bengal loss on Nov. 3 despite having roughly similar talent as the TIde.

Phil Steele: "Despite heavy losses in the draft this team is a legitimate national title contender despite facing Michigan, Arkansas and LSU all away from home and Saban has a chance of repeating."

Steele's is the only magazine that believes the 2012 schedule will be the bugbear that undoes the Tide's season. In fact, he argues, this is likely reason an SEC team won't be in the 2012 BCS title game. Steele's pick for Jan. 7 are the Seminoles due to a defense he considers on par with the Tide but with a much easier schedule and Oklahoma who have a complete team and no conference title game to surmount. Still, Steele clearly holds Alabama's defense in a much higher regard than his fellow prognosticators as his All-American teams bears out.

So, you ask, which one of these should I shell out my hard-earned money on? That's tough to say because they all cover a lot of the same ground and it ends up being a matter of personal preference. Still, even if you are dismissive of a magazine's take on the Tide, it's helpful to get and idea what to expect from the other 123 FBS teams out there. Sure you don't care a lot right now but when that UTSA vs South Alabama is all you can find to watch on Aug. 30, you'll wish you had one. So here's our comparative ranking of the four preview magazines:

Not overly high on Alabama but providing the best synopses of the individual teams across the sport. Less raw data than other titles but features like the coaching carousel are strong. I have nightmares about the ad featuring the dog with human teeth.
Pluses: Lots of good info, well-written summaries and more recruiting info than any other mag. Negatives: A fetish for bullet point listings, dodgy metrics, Dennis Dodd. They also bitch about how bad the SEC's dominance is then name five conference games as must-watch.
USA Today
While this mag is the only one that ranks the Tide No. 1 it's also the thinnest in terms of content. Also has some egregious errors like a photo of Nick Gentry mislabeled as Barrett Jones. The feature stories aren't bad but not great either.
Phil Steele
Steele makes interesting picks but he usually has a good... well, arguable reason for them. More importantly, he provides the stats to back up his argument. His style is an acquired taste but all that raw data makes this mag a must-have.