1. I strongly recommend Phil Steele. Unlike most other previews, he gets outside of the usual cliches and actually analyzes stats and schedules critically. His predictions are routinely more accurate than those of the other magazines, which tend to echo one another. Fiutak's criticism of most previews as out-of-date by the time the games roll around is misplaced. If the only purpose of a pre-season preview was to provide a depth chart, then he would have a point. However, Phil Steele provides a ton of information, such as stats on programs for the past five years and consensus recruiting rankings for players on the three-deep. That kid of stuff is useful throughout the season. Maybe this is the Moneyball fan in me peeking through, but I have a whole lot more respect for someone who has data to support his predictions than someone who just says "Tennessee looked great in their bowl game, so pencil them in for the top five," which is essentially what most previews do. Speaking of whichÂ
2. I strongly disagree with ranking Tennessee in the top five defenses for 2005. They return nine starters from a defense that finished 9th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense, 7th in total defense, and 7th in scoring defense. Forget the 72 points they allowed in two games against Auburn or the 30 first downs they allowed against South Carolina. How does a good defense allow Vandy and Kentucky to go over 30 points? I'd take Auburn, LSU, or Georgia over Tennessee defensively. Tennessee still has an image of being a fast, effective defense, just like Michigan has an image of being a dominant running team, but both programs have shed those positive attributes over the past several years.
3. Is it a coincidence that Penn State and Alabama both had great defenses "despite" having terrible offenses last year? Is it possible that opposing offenses played very close to the vest, knowing that they didn't need to score more than 17 points to win? I'm not sure about the answer, but I think there's evidence that the "good defense/bad offense" phenomenon cuts both ways. I'd be interested in taking a look at other teams that finished in the top ten in total defense with bad offenses and how those defenses did the next year. I'd bet that their defenses tended to regress.