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BISHER: I gave up early predictions long ago

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

Well, let's see. A long time ago I gave up rating football teams before the first punt had been sent aloft. And I was once pretty good at it, so I was told -- until I started inviting the customers to join in my game.

We put on this picking contest, and readers who decided to challenge me -- and there were usually 6-to-7,000 each week -- and who put me to shame won a T-shirt with the inscription "I Beat Bisher" on it. And to make it even more embarrassing, the shirt had a picture of me on it.

Matter of fact, there are some winning contestants -- elder citizens by now -- still like to rub it in even now. They'll send me a picture of the shirt they won, with my red face on the front. It's OK with me. It's just heart-warming to know somebody remembers me.

That's over and done, and has been for years. But I'll tell you this, picking football winners is a form of self-torture -- and it was a lot easier then than it is now. There were a lot fewer players spending time in the courtroom, swapping tickets for tattoos, boozing it up in downtown parlors of sin, or driving Bentleys they didn't own. Or even Volkswagens.

So, when I get my copy of the magazines full of preseason intelligence this day and time, my heart pounds with grief for the poor guys who deal in such projections. And I don't care to embarrass anybody, and more than I cared to be embarrassed in my days of picking 'em, but it has become a tough racket. Let me show you:

The season is still in diapers, one week old, and among the Preseason Top 40 Teams lying here before me, four of the first 11 have already been beaten -- Oregon, Notre Dame, TCU and closer to the heart, Georgia. This is the tightrope that a man named Phil Steele has chosen to walk -- and he has quite a reputation in this field of projection. Been at it a long time, doesn't mind proclaiming his work "The Most Accurate Preseason Magazine of the Last 13 Years."

If nobody else is going to brag about you, do it yourself.

It has its hazards. I heard Phil on an interview the other day, and the radio guy doing the interview cut him off just as he was beginning to explain his strategy.

After all, he does have a chance at regaining ground. Remember, last year Virginia Tech lost its first two games, including one to James Madison, then beat Florida State for the ACC championship.

If you are a Georgia Bulldog, take heart. The team that lost to Boise State in Atlanta has a chance to recuperate against South Carolina on their own ground -- and if the Bulldogs don't, their season lies in ruins. Also with Phil Steele's. Ah, I shouldn't say that. Ol' Phil has a chance for a comeback. This year he picks Virginia Tech to win the ACC. He plays it safe in the SEC. Alabama is a cinch.

(Oops, I shouldn't have said that.)

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post