KIDS ARE SHOPPING for school clothes. The days are getting steadily shorter. There's even a hint of fall in the air - which has nothing whatsoever to do with the weather; it has to do with the magazine section at Wal-Mart, which is where I found myself this week.
Normally, the magazine section isn't where I hang out. I do more interesting things, such as going to the auto department and looking at tires. But on this particular day I swung by the magazine section and, to my surprise, discovered the preseason football editions were out in force. Like the changing of the leaves and the slant of the sun, they let us know when we're getting close to autumnal equinox.Being one who can always use information on college football, I bought everything they had on the rack.
Traditionally, football magazines regionalize their editions by carrying a picture of a local player on the cover. For a decade you could count on a picture of a BYU quarterback to lead the way. But with the drop-off in BYU's football fortunes, so came a decline in magazine covers. Now the only magazine cover BYU appears on is its own game program.
This year, I picked out four of the best magazines available. OK, I picked out the only four college football magazines they had. If the experts are right, you will see BYU and Utah battling for the division title in a scrambled-up WAC, which is like trying to win a night battle in a jungle - you don't know exactly who the enemy is. You will see Utah State contending for a title in the Big West, which is like contending for the title of Miss Tabiona - there's not a lot of choices. Weber State, as always, was barely mentioned.
Of the four magazines, Preview Sports had the most problems. Maybe that's because it referred to Utah running back Omar Bacon as Omar Brown. Bacon, Brown, Sharif . . . whatever. It also referred to USU quarterback Riley Jensen as a junior college transfer - which can't be good news to BYU, where he was a quarterback in spring ball, 1997. It went on to say, "(Utah) Basketball coach Rick Majerus has had a solid program in place for years, but the football team had become accustom to also-ran status until Ron McBride took over in 1990."
This is all news to Utah fans, because Majerus had only been at Utah for one season when McBride arrived, and that year he coached only six games due to heart surgery.
The magazine had Utah's stadium capacity at 32,500. Obviously nobody at Preview Sports knew about the stadium expansion. Or maybe they figured that's how many will actually be in attendance.
The magazine picked Utah second and BYU third in the Pacific Division, while USU was picked to finish second in the Big West.
The kindest magazine on Utah schools was The Sporting News, which had Utah picked to win the division and BYU to finish second. It also had Utah ranked No. 24 nationally, BYU No. 29. Utah State, picked to win the Big West, was ranked 62nd - which shows how much clout the Big West has these days. Win the conference and you get to chant, "We're No. 62!" and go to Boise in December for the Humanitarian Bowl.
TSN also rated the I-AA teams, and had Weber ranked No. 22 nationally.
Bob Griese's College Football was surprisingly with-it. Other than the fact that they keep running dorky pictures of Bob on the front each year, it's pretty savvy. It said: "Utah could very well be talented enough to win the WAC Pacific Division, but picking them as the favorite may say more about the level of play in the league this season than it does about Utah."
Well said, Bob.
Actually, Bob didn't say it. Even the introduction, called "Bob Griese's Notes" had this byline: By Bob Griese with Gary Long. That means someone named Gary Long worked his guts out writing it and Bob Griese put his name on it. It's a heck of a deal for Bob and a so-so deal for Gary Long.
Griese's magazine had BYU winning the Pacific Division with Utah ranked No. 2. Unlike Preview Sports, it actually had the right stadium size in the thumbnail sketch, with a 46,500-seat capacity.
Street & Smith's, a venerable publication, had USU No. 2 in the Big West, with BYU and Utah coming in one-two in the Pacific Division. It also went the extra mile by picking the Big Sky race, tabbing Weber at No. 5. As a bonus it contained a nifty full-page picture of BYU's quarterback. Unfortunately, it was the 1983 quarterback. It was Steve Young, not Kevin Feterik, and was a promotion for S&S's NFL edition.
None of the publications had a word about the breakup of the WAC, which makes sense. That's because the deadlines are in the spring, some as early as March. How were they to know the best part of the WAC would go AWOL? Still, it didn't bother me. Nobody said they have to be current. They just have to let us know the seasons are changing.