Who's No. 1?

At a Big Ten kickoff luncheon a few summers back, Gary Barnett,
then Northwestern's football coach, derided the prognosticators
who annually pepper preseason publications with picks. "You guys
get paid big bucks to make these predictions," Barnett, now the
coach at Colorado, said with a note of sarcasm. "None of you are
held accountable in any way."

Coach Barnett, meet Chris Stassen. Since 1994 Stassen, a Cal
Tech-educated software engineer, has used his Web site,
stassen.com, to publish his annual audit of the accuracy of
college football preview magazines. "I've been collecting those
magazines since the mid-1980s," says Stassen, who will be 38 on
Aug. 16. "I realized that I had the data right in front of me and
that nobody else was doing this on the Web."

A link called "Preseason Prediction Accuracy" ranks seven
publications ("the ones I have complete collections of," Stassen
says) on their accuracy from 1993 through '99. From most to least
accurate, they are Street & Smith's, Lindy's, Game Plan, Jim
Feist's, Football Action, The Sporting News and Athlon. (SI isn't
included because in some seasons the magazine didn't provide
conference-by-conference breakdowns.) "I score the magazines on
the kinds of things I care about," says Stassen, who also writes
a review of each publication. "To me, correctly ranking where
teams finish within their conference is the most important
factor." If, however, correctly predicting the national champion
is what matters most to you, then Jim Feist's, a Las Vegas-based
publication, is your mag, according to Stassen. Since '93 Feist's
has nailed No. 1 three times, more than any other preview.

Whereas Stassen scrutinizes the pollers, inside99.net pools the
pollers. This site's "National Champs System Preseason Poll" is
actually a composite of 14 preseason polls (e.g., Street &
Smith's and CNN/SI's but not the AP's, which hadn't been released
in time to make the list). If, for example, Alabama is ranked No.
3 by Street & Smith's, the Tide is given 3 points. Alabama's sum
of points amassed from the 14 polls is then divided by 14. The
winner is the team with the lowest point total. This year
Nebraska (1.57) finished No. 1, ahead of Florida State (1.71).

Inside99.net also provides previews for its preseason Division
I-A Top 20 and seven other prominent schools, plus schedules for
major conference teams and independents. If a visitor clicks on
any school listed on the home page, he can view a diagram of its
stadium, including a detailed seating plan. No fan looking to buy
tickets should leave home without first perusing--and printing
out--one of these pages. --J.W.

Eric Dickerson was thrown for a loss in his MNF debut

"Ironically," Dennis Miller noted in his July 31 Monday Night
Football debut on the telecast of the annual Hall of Fame Game,
"you can't get any good Cantonese food in [Canton]." Just as
ironically, MNF colleague Eric Dickerson, who has a bust in
Canton, was a bust in Canton.

We don't want to get off on an overwrought parody of a witty
comedian's trademark conceit, but during his debut as a sideline
reporter, Dickerson self-immolated faster than a Buddhist monk on
a Saigon street. What in the name of Solomon Wilcots was
executive producer Don Ohlmeyer thinking when he invited
Dickerson to join the MNF crew? Dickerson's previous foray into
gridiron commentary was in 1996, when he was a Big 12 analyst for
Fox Sports Net. That experiment ended with Dickerson's being
replaced in midseason by former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis.

Following the first weekend of MNF rehearsals, in July, Ohlmeyer
conceded that "Eric needs some work, and I'm spending extra time
with him." After Dickerson's performance at the Hall of Fame
Game, maybe two-a-days are in order. We can forgive Dickerson for
referring to 49ers wideout Terrell Owens as "Terrell Davis."
However, in interviews with Howie Long, Ronnie Lott and Jerry
Rice, Dickerson appeared nervous and was incapable of asking a
cogent follow-up question. It's too early to cut him, but unless
Dickerson improves, it may be time to, in another Miller phrase,
"start blowdrying Ted Koppel's hair" on his MNF career. --J.W.



How was star Cuban third baseman Andy Morales, under heavy
surveillance after trying to defect from his homeland, able to
make a second, successful attempt? In an SI/Real Sports
collaboration (HBO, Tuesday, 8 p.m.), correspondent Mary Carillo
insinuates that dollars might have helped ease his passage. "I
was under the impression," Carillo says to Gus Dominguez,
Morales's U.S.-based agent, "that a lot of the money used to...
smuggle players out was American money." Says Dominguez,
smiling: "I have never heard of anyone smuggling a Cuban player
out. Never."

Preseason forecasters get a Web ranking. The key factor: how
well they've predicted conference races.