ESPN The Magazine’s annual ‘College Football Confidential’ poll offers ‘curveball questions’ and answers

The 2013 College Football Confidential Poll in the new ESPN The Magazine. (ESPN)
The 2013 College Football Confidential Poll in the new ESPN The Magazine. (ESPN)

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ESPN The Magazine’s 2013 College Football Preview issue hits newsstands Friday. The issue boasts profiles — also published on — of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and possible Heisman successor Jadeveon Clowney.

It also features The Mag’s annual player poll, “College Football Confidential”. Staff members Morty Ain, Ben Arledge, Carl Carchia, Hallie Grossman and Anna Katherine Clemmons interviewed 92 college football players about a broad array of subjects: playing with gay teammates, coping with concussions — even dating the coach’s daughter. Senior Editor Ryan Hockensmith takes Front Row inside the process.

ESPN The Mag's College Football Preview Cover
Johnny Manziel adorns the cover of The CFB Preview Issue

Who is involved in developing the questions?
For questions, I tend to solicit topics from the [Mag’s] sport editors, and that usually results in about 50 question suggestions. That’s obviously way too many – players’ eyes start to glaze over around Question No. 15. Anything more than 15 starts bordering on “Oh, look at the time, please stop asking me all of these weird and annoying questions” territory. So whittling down from 50 to 15-20 can be tough and frustrating — we always leave really good questions on the cutting room floor.

Were players reluctant to answer some questions?
We always have a good number of players who say, “Thank you so much for these questions, I get tired of answering the same stuff every day.” Most of them enjoy having curveball questions coming at them.

The hard part is getting a reporter with an athlete, to begin with. We usually have about a 50-percent success rate on schools that are willing to participate. We spoke with players from 56 schools, and spoke with at least two players from every conference.

But I have to say, college sports information directors are usually tremendous to work with. These surveys always have a lot of tough questions – PEDs, gay teammates, cheating, etc. – and I’ve had a few SIDs say they let their guys participate because it’s an opportunity for a young athlete to deal with very difficult topics with anonymity.

Give us two results that stand out to you.
This year, we had dozens of players say a teammate is on PEDs, and the average answer to the number of potential NCAA violations witnessed was 8.1 per athlete.

Note: On ESPNU’s ESPN The Magazine College Football Preview Special that aired Aug. 6 (see video below), Hockensmith and host Dari Nowkhah talked about the poll.

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