Phil Steele 2010 Preview

The offseason is formerly over. I now  have an actual copy of Phil Steele’s 2010 magazine. I learned a couple of years ago that the nearest Barnes and Noble, which isnt exactly around the corner where I live, drops these on their newstands pretty much the first business day of June, in advance of the actual release date on the author’s website. So naturally I navigated over there yesterday to pick up a copy. My poolside reading for the summer has been found. Its exciting to know that by the time I have this annual fully digested we’ll be kicking off the season. Its that close people. I’ve only had time to skim various sections, but here are a few Steelegasms I had on intital look see.

Even though I heard about this last week, I remain stunned to see Steele’s research somehow lead him to think the Spartans Keith Nichol is worthy of third team all big 10 selection. The converted QB only recently made the switch this spring and there’s really nothing to suggest he’s going to have that big of an impact. If you’re hellbent on picking on a Spartan in that spot, why not tab Keshawn Martin? He’s averaged over 22 yards a catch last season, was very effective running end arounds and reverses when called upon and is one of the better kick returners in the league. He scored seven times. I believe he’s thrown a touchdown pass in each of his first two seasons at MSU as well. All of this as a backup. Now, he’s a starter. He might make my top 12 WRs in the league, but I know Nichol would not. Steele gets credit for making Martin his first team kickoff and punt returner for the league and perhaps that excludes him for a spot on any of the receiver lists. But, Martin is going to have bigger impact catching the ball than Nichol.

We’ll breakdown his All Big 10 teams in a latter post, but before leaving this issue let’s take a look at his QBs. In order, his QBs are Terelle Pryor, Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien. It’s hard to argue with that op four. Still, I feel a couple of candidates are getting the shaft a bit. Notably Indiana’s Ben Chappelle who is the conference’s returning leader in total offense. Not to mention, I think a guy like Tate Forcier may yet deserve to be in the top-4 by seasons’s end. If either of those programs rebound to make a bowl game, those quarterbacks will have a lot to do with it. But what does it say about the Big 10 if the top candidates after those four play for the two teams that went 1-7 in league play year. One, maybe the quality of QBing in the league is a little meh, but also it makes the two last place finishers a year ago dangerous heading into the season.

Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois make his most improved list. It’s 19 strong this year with those three representing the Big 10. What again does this mean? Over the years, more than 84 percent of these teams have had the same or increased their win total. The most intriguing number regarding this list is that nearly two out of every three teams making this list after a losing season have rebounded and improved enough to make it to a bowl game. If I had to pick two of these three teams to manage that feat, I’d go with the Wolverines and Spartans. I just cant buy the Illini at this point.

Regarding the Wolverines, he has them tying with the Spartans for fifth place in the league. Generally speaking, he’s optimistic about their chances and Rodriguez doing enough to keep his job. He doesnt have a whole lot of Michigan players on any of his top-4 All Big 10 teams. But however he manages his predictions, it must like the sum of Michigan’s parts. On his Big 10 page, he mentions that three of his nine ratings call for a 6-2 Big 10 season. More revealing is that on page 22 where he lists Michigan among his top-12 likely surprise teams for the year, he writes a stunning admission: “One of my nine sets of power rating has them going 11-0 before the Ohio State game.”  I want those power ratings. I want to roll them up in joints and smoke them all summer long. More realistically might be 4-4 or 5-3 in the league for the Wolverines, but I’m going to dream about those ratings anyway.

In the War over Northwestern that I’m trying to start with e-friend Mathlete over whether or not Northwestern is good or just lucky, Phil Steele weighs in by projecting the Cats to finish in seventh place in the Big 10, which isnt great, but on his Northwestern page he says that seven of his nine power ratings call for Northwestern to at least match last year’s 8-win mark. That’s a point for me as I think the Cats are headed to their third straight winning season in row. HOWEVA. In the back of his book, he has a whole page devoted to how teams fare the following season after a bunch of close wins or close losses. Northwester was +4 in the close win category, meaning they won four more game than they lost by less than a touchdown. According to Steele, there have been 36 temas the last 8 years who benefitted from +4 or +5 net closes wins. Of those teams, 26–or 77.77-percent–finsihed with a worse record. Thirteen of 16 teams who turned this trick from 2006-2008 had a worse record the following year. That’s a lot of history to buck for my initial Northwestern projection. Not to mention a little fodder for Mathlete to throw my way. Still, the Cats are used to playing and winning in close games. They are 14-6 under Pat Fitzgerald in games decided by a TD or less. That record is 16-6 if include games decided by 8 or less. We’ll be revisiting this Northwestern issue throughout the summer and seasson.

For a national perspective, obviously Steele is taking a lot of heat for projecting Notre Dame to finish 16th in the land. Whatever. He had them as seventh a year ago. He was wrong them and there’s a good chance he could be wrong now. I must say, I’m a little surprised at how much angst this caused among by brethern at MGoBlog. Dont we want Notre Dame to be good? Dont we need this rivalry to somehow morph back to what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s? And, since the underdog always covers and oftens wins straight up in this series, dont we want as much Notre Dame boosterirsm as possible this summer? I say yes on all counts. I dont think Steele is breaking any ground with this pick. And, as he says in his rankings, Brian Kelly’s teams have exceeded his expectations for six years in a row and this year he’s just getting in ahead of the game. I actually can buy some of that logic. Kelly has won games despite his various QB situations at his other spots. The Irish have lost a ton of close games over the years under Weis and Kelly is major coaching upgrade. That might prove the difference in many of those nailbiters.

The only other national thing I want to hit on real quickly is the Oregon Ducks. Last year, he projected them no better than middle of the pack in the Pac 10 and didnt have them in his top-40. He spent much of the summer on his heels getting pushback from Eugeene and other Duck outposts in Oregon. What did the Ducks do? They proved him wrong. Bigtime. They won the Pac 10. Steele isnt missing any Oregon boat this year, however. Despite the year-long suspension of Jeremy Masoli, the QB who made this offense hum a year ago, Steele tabs them as 10th in the nation and picks them to repeat as league champs. Steele might still have the Notre Dame haters on his back this summer, but he’s quelled the discontent in Oregon.

I’ve only skimmed the magazine. We’ll have plenty of Steelegasms in the upcoming weeks as we delve deeper into the publication. Go get your copy now!