SCOTT HOTARD: Magazines offer fix for football fans

There are plenty of ways to fight the monotony of summer while waiting for football season to arrive.

You can tend to the yard. You can watch ESPN Classic (Thursday’s listings include a replay of Barry Sanders-led Oklahoma State beating Wyoming in the 1988 Holiday Bowl). You can try getting yourself into the Women’s World Cup.

But if you’re like me, you eventually find yourself hunting the magazine aisles at your nearest bookstore.

Preseason college football publications like Athlon, Lindy’s and Phil Steele rank everything imaginable, be it quarterbacks with the strongest arms or coaches riding the hottest seats. But they’re judged, ultimately, by how they rank the teams.

The Sporting News projects LSU to become the Southeastern Conference’s sixth straight national champion. Athlon and Phil Steele like Alabama. USA Today’s preview has the Tide playing Oklahoma in New Orleans for the BCS title.

So you can expect the SEC to be its usually brutal self.

The league is particularly strong in the Western half, so much so that defending national champion Auburn is picked to finish fifth behind Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State in most rankings. Lindy’s lists Oklahoma as its preseason No. 1, but it has eight SEC teams — including five West Division schools — in its top 25.

Lindy’s ranks LSU fourth, Athlon has the Tigers eighth and Phil Steele lists them seventh, combining with TSN’s top ranking to create the most anticipation around Baton Rouge since the 2007 season, the last time New Orleans hosted the BCS title game.

The Tigers return eight offensive starters from the team that blitzed Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and have talent and depth for days on the defensive line and in the secondary.

Even though Jordan Jefferson has generally struggled to lead the offense, LSU has not been in this good a position at quarterback since Matt Flynn finished his college career. Jefferson enters his third year as an SEC starter and has Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger as formidable backups.

By contrast, Alabama will turn to either sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims to lead its offense. The Tide can rely plenty on Heisman Trophy hopeful Trent Richardson running behind a seasoned offensive line, but no team has won a BCS title without a junior or senior as its primary quarterback.

What gets Alabama the nod over LSU in most of the rankings is likely the roads those teams must travel.

LSU has the nation’s fifth-most difficult schedule, according to Phil Steele’s rankings. Alabama travels to Penn State, but has Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern to complete the nonconference slate and gets LSU and Arkansas at home.

If the preseason previews hold true, the LSU-Alabama game Nov. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium could determine more than a West Division title. It’s fun to think about.

Certainly more fun than yard work or Holiday Bowl reruns.