Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Preseason mags high on Hokies

In theory, it seemed like a cheap and easy summer column: Buy the leading preseason college football magazines, read them all, and sum up the scuttlebutt regarding our local teams.

In practice, this was neither cheap nor easy. The four that I secured -- Lindy's, Athlon, Sporting News and Yahoo! Sports -- each had a cover price of $7.99. That's a fair cost for these info-packed manuals, but that's before you factor in gas.

Trips to multiple grocery stores and book stores (including one national chain that had mags devoted to Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC of the English Premier League but none about college football) weren't as fruitful as I'd envisioned, but with help from a colleague, I finally netted the quartet.

Let's enjoy some summer reading, shall we?

Most original cover: Lindy's. I'm sure the men and women behind this publication didn't think they were being all that original. Putting Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the cover of a magazine geared toward people in this area seems like a logical business move, after all.

Surprisingly, though, they were the only of the four who did. Sporting News and Athlon each went with solo shots of running back Ryan Williams, while Yahoo included Williams in a collage with Penn State's Evan Royster and Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis.

High on the Hokies: None of the magazines ranked Tech lower than 12th in the country (Sporting News). Lindy's was the most bullish on the Hokies (No. 8), followed by Yahoo (No. 9) and Athlon (No. 10).

Harsh on the Hoos: Sporting News and Yahoo picked Virginia to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, ahead of Duke. That was the good news. The other two put the Cavs in the division cellar. Said Athlon, which predicted a 3-9, 0-8 campaign: "The Cavaliers are in for a long season; a single win in conference play might be the limit."

Best contradiction: In general, these magazines raised many of the same points and had teams ranked in a similar ballpark. But when it came to overall offense in the ACC, two were at odds. Citing the loss of several game-breaking players in the league, Yahoo argued: "It's hard to imagine ACC teams lighting up the scoreboard the way they did last season." Said Sporting News, which lauded the conference's experience at quarterback: "Scoring will increase."

Top billing: Lindy's ranked the Sept. 6 Boise State-Tech matchup as the nation's best nonconference game this season.

Bottom billing: Sporting News listed Virginia's "Game to Watch" as the Sept. 4 opener against Richmond. While there's no doubt coach Mike London's UVa debut against his old team is pivotal and intriguing, UVa's schedule includes USC, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami. The fact that Richmond seems likely to be the most compelling matchup is more than a little depressing.

Groh in the know: Sporting News likes the potential impact ex-UVa coach Al Groh will have as Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator, saying, "Although Groh's prickliness sometimes rubbed fans the wrong way at Virginia, no one doubts his intelligence or his ability to coach the 3-4."

Onus on the offense: Ramp up the hype for Stiney's unit. Says Yahoo: "Wipe away all those preconceptions you have about Virginia Tech's stagnant offense."

Lindy's goes a step further: "The best offense in coach Frank Beamer's 24 seasons? Probably not (Michael Vick's teams say hello), but it could be darn close."

Best brain teaser: Athlon. "Quick -- name Virginia's last game-breaking receiver."

Best scheduling point: Lindy's, which predicts the Hokies will lose to Boise State but win the ACC: "Tech's tougher ACC games come late in the season, when the defense might have its adult teeth."

Heisman hype: Yahoo is the only one of the four to put Williams among its Heisman contenders, calling the Tech back "a highlight waiting to happen." All were complimentary of him, though. Said Sporting News: "The Hokies backfield depth is nothing short of incredible."

And finally, the brutal reality check: Sporting News, which -- like the others -- lauded the passion and enthusiasm London has brought to Charlottesville: "It will take more than passion to turn around this team, though."

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