The central idea for this week's College Football Preview began to take shape last spring when associate editor B.J. Schecter and special contributor John Ed Bradley, LSU's starting center in 1979 and Academic All-SEC that same year, met for lunch in New Orleans. Over po'boys Schecter posited that offensive linemen are the smartest players in the game, and Bradley, no dummy, agreed. In fact, Bradley said he'd like to write about that. Schecter relayed the idea to college football senior editor Mark Mravic, who was already planning a preview that had a strong X's and O's element.
Along with assistant photo editor Don Delliquanti and art director Craig Gartner, Mravic then set about pulling together the elements in this week's 56-page preview package, which includes rankings of the 117 Division I-A teams and scouting reports on the Top 25. To find noteworthy scholar-athletes, Mravic and Schecter examined the Academic All-America list and sought suggestions from sports information directors. Ohio State senior quarterback Craig Krenzel, a molecular genetics major, was a no-brainer. "It helps when you have the smartest player in the country on the defending national champs," says Mravic, who claims he was the third-smartest player on his intramural flag football team at the University of Chicago.
Dispatched to write the Krenzel piece (page 68) was senior writer Tim Layden, back on the college football beat after three years covering a variety of subjects, including horse racing and the Olympics. Layden came away from the interview reeling. "It's rare that I've had an athlete talk down to me about something other than his chosen sport," he says. "But in the genetics lab Craig was trying to explain cell mutations, and he said, 'I'm just going to keep this simple, O.K.?' and I said, 'Fine by me.' "
Writer-reporter Kelley King didn't have to get quite as technical researching her story on Miami senior middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (page 78), but she was equally impressed with the finance major's acumen. " Vilma spoke with as much enthusiasm about his upper-level management courses as he did about his most memorable games," says King.
The final part of the package—the intelligence of offensive linemen (page 84)—comes from Bradley, who drew upon his own experiences as a player and also talked with former Iowa linemen Will Lack and Andrew Lightfoot, both aspiring M.D.'s, says he enjoyed working on this piece, which provided him with what he claims is a novel (perhaps unprecedented) experience for a sportswriter. He says, "This was the first story I've ever worked on in which everybody called me back."