I’m reminded today of this blog’s mission statement, as first told by a dismissive commenter two or three jobs ago and set down as gospel in my introduction to SI last summer: “Laugh about things, and stop wishing you won state when you were 30 years younger.”
SI.com wraps its preseason college football coverage every year with the Crystal Ball, an annual tradition that involves assorted staffers gathering data, weighing stats and instincts, and making handfuls of grandiose predictions that will all look extremely silly in just a few short weeks. Nowhere is this highlighted more potently than in last year’s edition. Remember that time three of us, including yours truly, tabbed LSU as the flop team of 2011? Wasn’t that neat?
The 2012 Crystal Ball features seven national championship picks shared between Alabama, LSU and USC, lots of preseason love for Utah and West Virginia, growing confidence in Louisiana Tech as a BCS buster and assorted prophecies of doom for Boston College. Putting this thing together is a week-long slog for writers and tech types alike, and it’s going to look at least partly goofy by as early as Saturday night. So why bother?
It passes the time, for one thing, both for you and for us. Not even the oracle Phil Steele is a sure thing when it comes to college football soothsaying — too many moving parts — but predictions get us through the interminable offseason. The sport’s object permanence is strong; just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s disappeared from our consciousness. It gives us year-round jobs where they would otherwise not exist. But more importantly, I think, it sets the stage for the unexpected delights to come.
Because the joy of this game isn’t just found in the perfectly planned play or crisp execution, but in the thrill of the absolute unknown. Without the expectations tethered to a lofty preseason ranking, would that fateful Michigan-Appy State game have been such compelling television? We’re a little better at midseason conjecturing, but not much, and if we were, would the 2007 Fiesta Bowl have meant as much? Somewhere right now there’s a player you’ve never heard of or given any thought to who’s about to become your school’s next legend, your child’s hero. Where’s the fun, really, in seeing him coming a mile away?
So that’s why we’re here all summer, really. To set up storylines only to watch them be yanked right off course, and to make sure as many of you as possible are watching when we think one of those course corrections might take place. We’re like the Stage Manager in Our Town, only the scene we’re setting is one everybody actually wants to watch. And I can’t wait to see all our guesses shot entirely to hell by twists we can’t yet imagine.