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PHIL'S HERE. HOLD OUR CALLS FOR SIX WEEKS.

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In hand, motherfuckers:


Phil Steele's College Football 2006 Preview, shortly after floating into Orson's hand from on high.

Block in the door. Disconnect the cell phone. We've got hundreds of pages to peruse--quite literally, 328 pages of 4 point font encrypted Phil Steele goodness to wade through. For the uninitiated, we imagine the murky, half-lit lives you lead with a shudder sometimes, wandering through life with only the glossy, insubstantial, and moderately punctuated Athlon and Sporting News guides to get you through the offseason. A demon's life it would be, had we not Phil in hand.

But we do...and ALL the EXAGGERATED writing, poor copy editing, and endless reams of gambling addict data WE could possibly HANDLE!!! Imagine the guy your dad filed his weekly football picks with down at The Corner Pub, and you've got a superb idea of exactly who Phil Steele is, the bookie whose actual nose for stats and compulsive tendencies got seriously out of hand a few decades ago and led him to build a whole business around gambling on sports, beginning with a pamphlet-turned-magazine predicting anything and everything about the upcoming season.

Steele--as we dedicated insiders call him, you know, cause we tight like that--still feels like homespun mania sold out of the trunk of someone's car. He still makes his own sometimes quirky statistical indicators, still stays obsessed enough to track San Jose State's performance against the spread, and still uses teeny font and a plethora of acronyms to save space and pack a plump bratwurst's worth of information into cocktail-weenie-sized columns. And he's still fascinated EVERYTHING college football, the most compelling aspect of the guide. His guide is a democracy of fixation and an ode to multiple divorces in the name of sport, since we can't imagine too many spouses willing to tolerate an empty bed in the name of staying up an extra three hours to run the numbers on, say, Tulane's offensive trend over the past four years.*

We've just barely begun to skim the thing, but Phil's general trends thus far:

--Bullish on Louisville. We know there's numbers to support this, but Louisville thus far in the Petrino era has been mostly sheer potential without the payoff. Their biggest claim to fame in the season was a scare of Miami, which most teams in the old Big East could claim at one point. Their only scalp in a bowl came at the expense of Boise State in a 44-40 riot, and whenever they've faced top-tier competition their defense has crumpled under the pressure. A gambler's dream because they cover spreads nicely, but in reality Louisville's still just dry-weather pretty as a football team. (If you need explanation on this, think about the last really attractive person you saw who looked like crap when their makeup/gel/public cosmetic facade disintegrated when they got wet. That's what we mean, and that's why Phoebe Cates must really be a geniunely attractive person in real life, since she's made her whole career off of one scene of hot wetness. Did we just type that? Yes, we did.)


Louisville: Not the football equivalent of Phoebe Cates yet.

--Down on ol' Florida. Can't blame him, since they were a disappointing team in both the spread option and against the spread, which puts any team in Phil's styrofoam cooler of doom. (You know Phil's a styrofoam cooler man. We can feel it in our white-trash bones.) The s-word keeps coming up with his analysis, just as in everyone else's: schedule. He's got them ranked in the twenties, a misunderestimation sitting just fine with we who fear bloated expectations. (See: Michigan fans every year for a cautionary tale on this.)


You know Phil's got a few of these hanging around the garage.

--Locktight convinced Brady Quinn will throw for a silly amount of yards this year and win the Heisman, a completely plausible scenario in our minds since a.) he did it last year, b.) he's sitting in the most visible, VHT roster spot in all the land, and c.) everyone else is already saying this, too. Because all of Steele's lists go something like 20 deep, he's got a few surprises in there, including Darren McFadden of Arkansas, who we would like to see play one day when they build a camera that can compensate for the red-shift of an object approaching light-speed.

--Still big on Florida State, which means Phil's obviously never watched "Driving Miss Daisy."

-Pulling off on the segue: Steele thinks Arkansas could be much improved this year, not a bad guess since Nutt's finally given up on being an offensive coordinator and given textbook author and erstwhile football coach Gus Malzahn the helm in Fayetteville. Having Reggie Herring at DC for a second year can only help, too. Other than that there's no real surprises, save a brief nod in the Wannstache's direction with a mention of Pitt as a lower case "surprise" team.

--West Coastishly, he's got Arizona as the rising stock in the Pac-10,with USC not falling off dramatically while Cal gets their act together after a stumbly year in 2005. Not crazy-sounding, but very little of this is, right? When Stanford wins the Pac-10 and Mississippi State snags the SEC West, we'll all be weeping into our wine coolers together.

--The feature we love is the "Team Experience Ratings." In the Pac-10, Washington has the most experienced team. Of course, a group of seventy-year old Sudanese refugees has a lot of "experience," too, mostly of the soul-scarring variety. Nobody said it was always a good thing.

--In his conference ratings, Phil rates the SEC tops, followed closely by the ACC and the Big 10. We're sure this is just delusion on his part, and that future revisions will put the Pac-10 right up there where it belongs.

Now if you'll excuse us, we're...off to do something else. Most definitely not watch a soccer game. At the Brewhouse. When we should be at work. On a Monday.

*The fact that some spouses would tolerate this if it was germane to their own team or teams is a testament to patient companionship. We must salute the Conscience of a Nation, who tolerates more than a woman should, including late nights spent arranging lame PowerPoint presentations. Huzzah to all the football widows of the world.