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Preview magazines and the journalism-guessing that makes them

To the surprise of no one, most college football preview magazines rank teams according to whatever feels right. This very much includes Athlon:

A group of nine guys entered a room at Athlon 's offices in Nashville in April, gathered around a big white board with the names of teams and conferences written on it and zeroed in on the ACC. Then the debating began.

It didn't finish until more than nine pizzas and eight hours of discussion later, when all 11 conferences, as well as the top teams, in the country were ranked.

A whole eight hours? Good thing those Athlon writers are salaried.

The good folks at the Salt Lake Tribune (motto: "Where the Sugar Bowl lives on") got the behind-the-scenes look at the pizza party that is Athlon's most important meeting of the year, and safe to say, the shine is off the preview magazines' Oz-like aura. You mean they're just a bunch of middle-aged men who have to be home to see Adam Lambert on American Idol? Very disappointing.

Fortunately, Phil Steele does it differently.

Not all preview magazines are made the same (especially not US Weekly's "OMG! Football!" preview). And thank goodness. There are only so many eight-hour days until the season starts.

Phil Steele, everyone's resident preview magazine expert, has a decidedly more rational method than simply sitting around and shooting the breeze.

Scheduling, and less obvious reasons such as turnover margins, returning starters on the lines and the health of a team are reasons why Steele has BYU at No. 15 and Utah at No. 44.

It sure beats this:

A gathering of would-be know-it-alls sit around, banter about this team and that and use past performances, spring practice reports and their own hunches to decide ultimately the order of the football polls that fans eagerly await.

Steele's method is actually the most sensible formula we've heard so far. While most pundits base their preseason polls on tradition and recent performance and that tingly feeling they get every time Tim Tebow smiles, Steele actually has football-related criteria that affect his decision. Imagine that.

With some of Steele's rationalizations in mind, it's easy to see why he had the Broncos at No. 12 in his preseason mag.

  • Scheduling: Easy to moderately easy
  • Turnover margin: +7

  • Returning starters on O-line: Three (five or more with in-game experience)

  • Returning starters on D-line: Two (six or more with in-game experience)

  • Injuries: None, minor injuries last year (Jarrel Root being the most serious)

Then when you add the subjective recipe from folks like Athlon, the Broncos' case only gets stronger:

  • Past performance: Well, there was that Fiesta Bowl win and then last year when the Broncos didn't lose a regular season game

  • Spring practice report: Nothing catastrophic happened

  • Hunches: Kellen Moore will probably be pretty good this year

For as much interest as football fans pay these preview magazines every spring and summer, it is important to remember just how tenuous these rankings really are. Grown men sitting around, some for up to EIGHT hours, talking about football - throw in some charts and graphs and you have yourself a preview magazine.

Too bad I can't find eight hours in my day or else I'd totally try that.