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Monday, May 23, 2005

The Problem With Season Previews

They all basically say the same thing. X is gone, Y impressed in the spring, check out A, B, and C to step up. Y, A, B, and C generally change from preview to preview as various writers throw darts at the team's roster.

Unfortunately, I've found that I can't avoid that formula. There's not much to write about if I don't. And, like basically everyone else, I haven't watched Indiana's practices or gone over Iowa's games from last year or put the time in to really understand what Wisconsin is trying to do and how likely they are to be successful. So this is something of an exercise in futility.

What I've tried to do to reduce the futility is something like what I did with the top 50 hockey recruits list... listen to the wisdom of crowds. I take input from the school's media guides, CFN and USA Today previews, and, importantly, I actually ask fans of the team for input and listen carefully to it--after nudging their expectations down a notch or two to dampen homerism. Why do I do this? Because I know damn well that every time a Michigan preview gets posted anywhere it immediately gets its errors torn to shreds by Michigan fans. A fan collective on any message board knows far more about its particular focus than any sportswriter does. The problem is separating out the over-optimistic rah-rah poofery from the legitimate information.

Another thing I've tried to do is not fall into the traps I commonly see others do. To wit:

  • I won't focus on who's gone. Braylon Edwards won't be catching bombs from Chad Henne any more but what's more important is that Michigan returns Steve Breaston and Jason Avant. They'll hardly miss a beat.
  • I'll try to provide a range of expectations and point out the things I believe a team has to do to reach the upper end of the range.
  • I will revise. After each preview is posted I'll post it on the appropriate team's board and let the rip-fest begin. Anything of value I'll incorporate.
I rank each team's units (QB, RBs/FBs, WRs/TEs, OL, DL, LB, DB, Ret, K) on a five point scale like so:
1 - A unit with no experience at all or one that has been proven to be awful. Will probably be one of the worst in the conference. A glaring weakness.
2 - A unit that was shaky last year and doesn't look to improve much, or a lightly experienced group that could hold up if given a lot of support.
3 - Basically average.
4 - A good group of experienced players or a mix of experience and excellent potential, or a great group that's dangerously thin.
5 - Should be a top two unit in the conference. This unit returns a number of players who have proven themselves to be quality Big Ten players and has the depth to withstand an injury or two without a large dropoff in the quality of play.