He is America's favorite abbreviating, computating pigskin pundit. College football analyst extraordinaire Phil Steele checks in for "Five Burning Questions" on the upcoming season, including the next Auburn and his most anticipated match-ups of the year.
1. Last year, you were pretty high on Auburn from the jump. If there's another team out there that can make that same kind of unexpected run to a national championship, who is it?
The team that most closely resembles Auburn this year is Virginia Tech. Bud Foster's defense always ranks in the top 11, even in years where he has had just four or five returning starters. Last year he only had three and the defensive front seven was hit hard by injuries, and they dropped to No. 52! This year they have five returning starters and get those injured players back, so I look for them to be in the top 10 again.
While they lose their QB, they add in 6'6" Logan Thomas, who should do well. I had Auburn as a surprise team last year because they figured to be favored in all their road games (prior to Alabama) and had the toughest games at home. None of VT's road games this year are versus teams that had a winning record last year and their toughest road game is Georgia Tech. This is Bud Foster's fourth look at the option, and they have an extra week (bye) to prepare for it. Their toughest three games are all at home and none of their opponents this year even rank in the coaches poll top 25. They could be favored by a TD or more in every game this year, and I expect them to go 12-0 and be in the ACC title game.
2. You've got Boise State ranked No. 3 overall, behind Oklahoma and Alabama. Do you think the pollsters will ever truly give the Broncos consideration for a spot in the national title game? More importantly, do they really deserve it?
The biggest test for the Broncos is their season opener, and that game could just put them into the national title game this year. Boise is very talented, with seven starters back on offense, including QB Kellen Moore, and seven on defense. My power ratings have them No. 8 on offense and No. 12 on defense. They take on a very solid, underrated Georgia in the opener, and it is in the Bulldogs' back yard (Atlanta).
If they win that game, I think they will be a double-digit favorite in all the rest of their games with the toughest ones (Air Force and TCU) being on the blue turf. Should they be dominating in those games, they could get a huge boost from Georgia. I give Georgia a great shot at being 8-0 in the SEC and playing in the SEC title game. To have a win over the SEC East champ basically on the road would be huge to have in their back pocket. Should they be one of two lone unbeaten teams out there, I think they would have the chance to get to the title game.
3. Give us the five games you're most excited to see this season.
LSU at Alabama – This may just be the true SEC title game this year!
Boise St. at Georgia – Both teams are in my top 10, and the SEC team is basically at home and the underdog! Boise won at Virginia Tech in the opener last year. HUGE game for both teams and on the national landscape.
Oklahoma at Florida State – Oklahoma beat Florida St. much worse than their 47-17 final, but the Sooners are just 4-5 on the road the last two years. Florida St. is very excited for this home game versus the No.1 team.
Nebraska at Wisconsin – Will determine which of these Big Ten teams is a national title contender. Great first Big Ten game for the 'Huskers!
Oregon at Stanford – Stanford led in Autzen last year, but lost by 21. Stanford is at home and has Andrew Luck at QB.
4. The unexpected slides of Texas and Florida caught the college football world off guard last year. Do you see any traditional powers out there who could be in for a similar decline in 2011?
Auburn. I think the defending national champs will have a tough time topping six wins during the regular season.
5. Phil, hardcore college football junkies consider your magazine the bible of preseason previews, and now your website has become a valuable resource for fans, too. The depth of coverage is astounding. My question: What drives you to JAM-PACK so much information and analysis into your products? Also, have you ever tried to tear your magazine in half with your bare hands?
I have never tried to tear one in half, but that would tough!
I started writing my college football preview 17 years ago because all the other magazines out there combined did not have the amount of college football information I needed. I do not want to be entertained with human interest stories or flashy graphics and photos that take up space. I wanted a magazine that was like having 100+ media guides at your fingertips and all the information is on the same spot on every page, so you know exactly where to look for quick, easy info. I have been a college football fan since I was five and I do not follow any other sport except for football. This year I have put out a standalone magazine on the FCS, and hopefully FCS fans will show me there is an interest in FCS football out there.