Today is April 7 and it is exactly two months until the final page of the magazine goes to the press.
Just to give you an idea of how the magazine writing process works I thought I would use today’s blog to show you the three different write through’s I do for each team and answer some FAQ. The first write thru process is the post season. The second write thru process begins at the start of March and it is a PRE-spring write thru. The third write thru is the POST spring write. Today I will take through each of the write throughs and what they entail. I am now complete with the First Two and onto the third.
FIRST WRITE THROUGH PROCESS – This process starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year so this season it was November 27th, 2022 as the date that I officially started working on the 2023 magazine. Naturally I write the teams one at a time and there are now 133 teams to go through. The first question I am asked the most often is how do I choose the order? Well, each write thru has a different order. For the first write thru I do all of the present year’s NON-bowl teams first. These are teams whose season is complete and I can begin to break them down. For the month of December, I do not generally know what players have left early for the NFL, and of course which players will be leaving and arriving thru the Transfer Portal. I do know the majority of the players coming and going. I know there will be changes but that is why there is a three-step process.
This FIRST write thru consists of me going thru each team’s season day-by-day. We have a news media service, which sends us articles from all the newspapers that cover each team out there. We capture each story and put it into a file. I get ready to just submerge myself on a particular team for the next 3 to 5 hours. The reading will be anywhere from 75 (Sun Belt team) to 1,500 pages (SEC team) depending on how much media coverage a team had. The pages I am talking about are 8’ x 11 with somewhat small type and can fit 3-5 stories per page. Here is a picture of what one of those stacks of pages looks like.
As I read thru the report, I get a glimpse of the team from every day during the season. I see all the ups and downs at each position and the highs and lows for a team during the year. When I am finished with the reading, I have reminded myself of what I watched and read during the year, but my focus is on just this one team. With 133 teams to follow I cannot keep 100% up to date with each during the year and now I have a complete understanding of what the team went thru at each position. Also, during the months of December, January, February, and March I like to watch all the games I have recorded on my DVR and get even more familiar with the teams I am writing.
During the reading process I have a yellow highlighter and highlight all notes I want made on my Phil’s Notebook pages under each position. These then get typed into my personal (Phil’s) note page. This allows me to drill into each team on an individual position basis at any time with a complete recap of the position, injuries, breakout players, etc during the year. I refer to these often.
After the stack of reading is gone thru and all the notes are made, I write all 8 positions for the magazine. I write the Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Receivers, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Defensive Backs and Special Teams. When I write each position, I look at my computers grade for each team for the past year and give my early grade for the upcoming season based on additions, subtractions, and experience. I then do my up/downs which I grade each position from a -5 to a +5 as to whether it is improved or weaker than last year. When I am done with a team, I have my initial power ratings for each squad. I now have all the base sets for my nine sets of power ratings done and can do a prespring run thru of each teams games for the upcoming season during the month of February. When I am finished with the 133 teams I then write many of the analytics articles for the magazine like Turnovers = Turnaround, Close Wins/Close Losses, The YPP Factor, the Stock Market Indicator, etc.
SECOND WRITE THROUGH PROCESS –
Towards the end of February as teams start to post rosters my staff prep’s my team pages for me. Now we know all the players on the roster and which players have left and which Freshmen were added. Five years ago, that was the majority of the changes but now with the Transfer Portal there are plenty of additions to be factored into each team so I also note all of the incoming transfers.
In the second write thru I now go thru all the reading that has happened since the First Write Thru Process and make all my adjustments. Many times, there is very little change to a position as what I wrote about and thought about a particular unit has not changed at all. Sometimes there are big changes like if a player I (and the coach) were counting on hit the portal. Also, sometimes in the first write through process I was worried about the shape a unit was in but that was now cured by the Portal and I adjust my grades and writing accordingly.
This is a very stressful five-week process where I am working about 80 hours a week to get through all 133 teams. Each team takes about 3 hours (which is less than the first write thru as less reading) and that is 399 hours of work I am trying to complete in a tight five-week window.
Last year I finished the second write through process on April 10 and I am pleased to report that this year I finished on April 4th, so I am almost a week ahead!
I have gone through every power rating for every position and readjusted all my Up Downs so all my nine sets of power ratings are now adjusted and many of my team outlooks have changed since that first write through.
THIRD WRITE THROUGH PROCESS
There are basically two months until I send the magazine to the press on June 7th. There are four main parts to the Third Write Thru Process.
Watch EVERY Spring game that is televised
Now, I do not care how many points a team scores or who wins the Spring Game. I am interested in looking at each position and listening to the game as the announcers have just spent a few days with the team close up and usually give a lot of great tidbits about this year’s squad. Watching the game, I can sometimes clarify who I think will be this year’s starting QB and I have a very good track record of picking the QB’s in the magazine. This also helps me get the team pages in solid order for my conversation with the coach.
Talk to the Head Coach
Last year I talked to approximately 120 of the 131 head coaches. The calls vary in length and can go from roughly 40 minutes to an hour and a half but average out to about an hour in length. I send the coach my team pages with every player on it and they move the players to the correct spots on the three deep and tell me a little something about the players strengths and weaknesses and their overall feel for each position. This is similar to when the announcers come in before a game as they spend time with the coaches. I only do these calls post Spring as I want them to have had their exit interviews with the players. These calls are off the record, and I am not looking for controversies or hot topics, I am just trying to learn about their team. I also get an idea of some players that will emerge this year which really helps me on selecting my Preseason All-Conference teams. Of the six months that I pour into the magazine, this is my favorite part and probably the most valuable when it comes to the accuracy of the magazine.
Capture the Transfer Portal Changes
The transfer portal reopens on May 1st and closes again on May 15th. I am anticipating a lot of movement in this span as teams are done with Spring and now know specific positions that need to be addressed for the upcoming year. Back when I started the magazine in 1995, Joe Del Poplo of the Game Plan magazine took me under his wing and got us published. He had some very sound advice back then which was that you should be the first magazine to hit the newsstands as everyone will buy that one. He said people jumped at the first football they saw and would always buy the first couple of magazines. Back then there were about 20 magazines on the newsstands. The good news is that now my magazine has so much information in it that people will wait for it. We used to send the last pages to the press in early May but now do it in early June. This will allow me to capture 90% of the portal movements as I will know all of the players that hit the portal and 80% of their landing spots. It takes about 3 weeks for a magazine to go to the press to finally hit the newsstands. If you see a magazine out there in late May or early June then it does not have the latest transfer portal changes.
Predicting the Conferences/ Top 40/ All Americans
This is the most important part of the entire magazine process. I now have my nine sets of power ratings finalized and play each one of those into this year’s schedule. Sometimes the nine sets of power ratings agree like a forecast of Georgia to be favored in all 12 games this year. Sometimes like in the Big 12, I get 5 or 6 different forecasts with teams forecast anywhere from 3-9 to 10-2 depending on the set of power ratings. I look at all the ratings and must decide where to rank each team in their conference and overall, in the nation based on where I think they will finish. The accuracy of these forecasts is my prime focus of the magazine process and the most important.
There is the complete process of the magazine and of course having a great staff is vital as I could not do all this without the support. We focus on one sport year round and that is College Football. Just a quick reminders when you sign up for the VIP deal you not only get the 2023 magazine FIRST and before anyone else (we ship it right after it rolls off the press), you also get the Digital Magazine for FREE, the FCS magazine for FREE, get 3 weeks of Inside the Pressbox for FREE and get 4 months of Phil Steele Plus for FREE. Right now when are on 2nd day mailing of the magazine and if you would like to sign up for the VIP deal you can click right here.