MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Phil Steele got into the college football magazine business nearly 30 years ago, the best piece of advice he ever received came from Joe Del Popolo, who published Game Plan Magazine.
What Del Popolo basically told Steele was if your magazine is not the first one on newsstands, then you’re last in this industry.
“When I started back in 1995, Joe was running Game Plan Magazine, and he sort of took me under his wing and got me started. He said, ‘Phil, you want to be the first (magazine) on the newsstand because if you They might buy a second one, and then they’ve got their magazines (for the year),'” Steele recalled Tuesday morning.
Back then, to get your magazine out first, that meant having the vast majority of the information compiled by April with a target date of June 1 to have your publication on newsstands.
These days, if a college football magazine is sitting on your coffee table right now, there is likely a whole lot of information that you’re missing out on. The NCAA transfer portal has not only dramatically changed college football, it has also transformed the summer magazine industry as well.
May 1 has now become a key date to circle on your calendar because that’s when immediate transfer activity reaches its peak.
“We used to go to press towards the end of May, and last year we made it June 15. I didn’t see a huge amount of (transfer) activity between the eighth and the 15th so we went to June 8 this year, and I’m going to keep it there because we were able to capture a good portion of what went on,” Steele explained.
“Even though we are hitting newsstands three or four weeks later than everybody else, I get the feeling people may buy those other ones early, but they are definitely going to get mine when it comes out,” he added.
Steele maps out the timeline required to produce his 350-plus-page publication.
“To get out at the start of June, or even at the end of May, you have to close out before spring practice is over – and close out before the transfer portal (activity wanes),” he explained. “It takes three to four weeks to actually get to the newsstand from the time you send the magazine to the press, so if you are coming out before the transfer portal closes, or before spring practices are over, I just don’t understand that at all. But once again, it goes back to the old magazine philosophy of ‘be the first one out and people will buy it.'”
What makes Steele’s College Football Preview so valuable, and what sets it apart from the others are really two things, in my opinion.
One, the vast amount of data Steele compiles on each team is unmatched … the charts, graphics, statistics and team comparisons that are compiled on a yearly basis not only provide a good snapshot of what’s happening each year, but also on a historical basis. It’s an absolute must for people who are required to study each team before the start of the season.
Second, Steele makes it a point to try and talk to as many college football coaches as he can before going to press. He said this year he had conversations with upwards of 120 head coaches, including West Virginia’s Neal Brown.
“It’s huge,” he admitted.
(On Monday), he said he received four different text messages from coaches informing him of transfer additions to their teams.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do with it,” he said. “We didn’t capture everybody that signed, although I did talk to close to 120 head coaches this year and most of them were all post-spring and post-exit interviews, so they had a pretty good idea of their rosters, and they were keeping me informed of transfers coming in or out, which I really appreciated.”
The one popular feature Steele is considering tweaking in the future is his experience chart, which is a nationwide comparison of returning and departing players on each team. For instance, last year West Virginia ranked near the bottom of his experience chart at No. 103, six spots ahead of Texas.
Not surprisingly, both teams finished toward the middle of the pack in the Big 12 standings in 2021. This year, with transfers becoming so prominent, how does Steele tweak his experience chart to reflect this?
He admits he’s still wrestling with it.
“In year’s past, it was basically based on who did you lose and who do you have coming back? Now, how do you factor in the transfers?” he said. “Do you factor in every transfer that comes to the team, because not every transfer has an impact, or the ones that are definitely starting? I may have a different experience chart coming out once I figure out how I am going to do this. “
Steele used the example of former Nevada coach Jay Norvell, who is now coaching at Colorado State. Norvell brought a couple of Nevada wide receivers and offensive linemen with him to Fort Collins – players very familiar with his system.
“They are going to fit in well; they’re starters. I can easily include them on the experience chart because they probably know the system better than the players he is inheriting,” Steele explained. “But, there are some transfers going in that aren’t going to have that impact so you really shouldn’t include them on the experience chart, especially if they are not going to start.”
Transfers will likely play a big role in this year’s Backyard Brawl on Thursday, Sept. 1 in Pittsburgh. Both starting quarterbacks could potentially be transfers – Pitt’s Kedon Slovis and West Virginia’s JT Daniels.
Which team gets the experience nod there?
Slovis hasn’t taken a snap in game-like conditions with his Panther teammates yet, but he did have the benefit of going through 15 spring football practices. Daniels, who won all seven games he started at Georgia last year, arrived in Morgantown after the conclusion of spring football drills and is playing catch-up right now.
“Neither one factor into the experience chart right now, but I’ve got to figure that out,” Steele said. “First of all, you’ve got to make sure the guys are definitely starting, and in this case, there are two different things to consider.
“You look at Slovis, he was there at Pitt for the spring, played in the spring, practiced with the team in the spring and was able to incorporate everything. JT Daniels arrived after spring was over. When I watched the West Virginia spring game , JT Daniels wasn’t even mentioned. That tells you how far away he was from being there, so how do you factor that in?”
That’s a great question, for sure.
Speaking of transfers, Steele indicated FCS transfers seem to be highly coveted right now, based on the conversations he’s had with Power 5 coaches this spring.
“(FCS transfers are) like gold because they have a lot of experience, they step right in and they’ve done well. Meanwhile, not all Power 5 transfers transferring down work out – they sometimes come in maybe with a P-5 attitude on their shoulders,” Steele noted. “There were a couple of teams that brought in eight (Power 5) transfers, and they combined for like two starts.
“You are thinking, ‘How do I reflect this in the experience chart?’ This is where it’s had a major impact, and it also made it different than in year’s past when you had a team with six returning starters. Take USC, for example – a team with very few returning starters, and you’d say, ‘ Well, okay, they’re going to be down’ but look at what Lincoln Riley has brought in there, and you have to factor all of that in.”
As for West Virginia, you can count Phil Steele in the pro Neal Brown camp. Steele said he sees a lot of talent up front on both sides of football this year.
“I like what he’s doing,” Steele said. “I like him picking up JT Daniels. That’s a nice plus there. I like the offensive line this year. I think that’s going to be a much-improved unit. Defensively, despite losing Akheem Mesidorwhich I think is a big loss up front, they still are very talented with (Dante) Stills and (Taijh) Alston coming back, so I think they are going to have a very good defensive line,” he said.
“The key with West Virginia, if you really watch them… they’ve struggled throwing the football recently, and I think that’s going to be definitely upgraded this year. The defense, despite just four starters back, is going to be strong, and “I’m looking forward to watching them this year. Getting out of the gate with some early wins is big. They’ve got two big road tests early at Pitt and Virginia Tech, but I think they’re going to have a good year.” this year,” he concluded.
Steele indicated he will be in Denver this Saturday promoting the release of this year’s magazine. It will be in newsstands throughout the rest of the country toward the end of June.