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PHIL STEELE PREVIEW: BULLISH ON BULLS

Okay, in hot hand we have Phil Steele, and it is the usual beastly trove of data, info, acronyms, and VHT analysis you've come to expect from the guide. As the Cryptonomicon of college football, it has no rival in terms of scope, depth, and ability to cause ligament tears in your corneas with its tiny, tiny, eyescorching print.


It's here to teach you, Dave.

You should go out and buy it, since we can only summarize a fingernail's worth of the info contained inside. But in order to entice you, we'll give a few general bullish Steele trends Phil limns in this year's edition of the magazine we'll have to buy three times since we wear it out before the season even starts.

Phil's bullish on...

Florida State, grande. Citing the misused talent on the offensive side of the ball, the combo offensive coaching upgrade of Jimbo Fisher and Rick Trickett, and the return of Chesty Amato to Tallahassee.

He's a bit vague on FSU's difficult schedule, which includes the oddball road trips to Jacksonville (Alabama) and Boulder (Dan Hawkins' Awesome Zen Warriors Krue) and a trip to the Swamp, but all three are out of conference games sprinkled into a weak to middlin' ACC schedule.

USC. Well, sure. Their awesomeness is bankable now for both experts and five-dollar CFB rubes. And in the same department...

LSU. Less sure on this one, here, pun intended. Three years out from Sabana and two very successful seasons later, you'd figure a pundit of any sort would have more confidence in Les Miles' ability to conduct football operations at the D-1 level. And yet we remain skeptical, dorky white hat and all, especially with the implementation of a whole new offense in year one and burgeoning threats from Arkansas and Alabama. Less shiny happy on this prediction.

Missouri. The classic tease bet for the Big 12 North six years and running. Gary Pinkel's teams, like soggy bargain bin fireworks, only appear volatile before fizzling out in hail of injuries, mid-season losses, and just plain freaky bad luck. And yet you spend the grocery money on them because maybe--just maybe--they'll blow up in a fashion you find satisfying.

(What--you don't spend the grocery money on fireworks? We can't be the only ones.)


Gary Pinkel: large-foreheaded tease.

Again, Chase Daniels plays the Brad Smith role of this year's Pinkel temptress, and everyone who's been disappointed before by Missouri will hop giddily on again thanks to the continuing talent recession of the Big 12 North. Not an atrocious bet, but a bet nonetheless--and most definitely not an investment to bank on by any means.

USF. Suddenly everyone's polishing the IROC, cracking out the fat pants, and dusting off the Dokken tapes: Tampa is the rising hottness in the Big East, a trend Steele's all too happy to second. We credit the '06 WVU victory in Morgantown for this, along with a talented and well-hyped quarterback in Matt Grothe, who despite making a good number of highlights against Pitt's witless run defense can still honestly be called a very good quarterback.

Steele likes him, sure, but also the defense and the relatively favorable slate of games.

The PR shot of a lifetime awaits in week two, when they face Auburn, a team who under Tommy Tuberville has always been good for one early season somnambulation game. Auburn actually has two slots for this in '07: Leavitt's Bulls, and the Kansas State Wildcats.

Michigan. The returning offensive troika means a lot here: Hart, Henne, and Manningham all return for Mike Debord's offense, which hopefully will stick to the "scoring offense" for most of the year this year. So does facing Ohio State with a new qb in Ann Arbor, a favorable Big Ten schedule, and a defense trending upward despite the loss of gravitation-swaying tackle Alan Branch.

Georgia. The Bulldogs have cycled into one of those years where they only have three SEC road games: Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. The rest of the schedule comes to Athens excepting the annual rectal exam in Jacksonville, which this year stands as good a chance of reversal as any in recent memory with Florida losing gouts of defensive talent and starting a relative n00b at quarterback in Tim Tebow. Matthew Stafford, cuddling aside, could be a ferocious qb, and Richt has had amazing success tutoring young quarterbacks into production very quickly. Phil likes 'em.

South Carolina.It's a two-way race for the SEC East between UGA and the 'Cocks, according to Phil. As much as there is to like about the OBC calling your plays, Steele outlines the defensive strengths of Carolina, accenting their depth, surfeit of returning starters, and the number of extremely close losses they had last year. Their road schedule is strictly hard hoeing, though: LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia. Then again, Florida's was last year, too, and they went 3-1 through the worst of it on the way to the national title.

Hawaii. The WAC-ky fun pic of the year. Credit Colt Brennan and a weak WAC schedule for the pick--Hawaii's only real visible, obvious bump in the schedule comes in week 10 when they go to Nevada, where it will be cold, which may or may not be a word familiar to Hawaiians. Retooling Boise goes to Hawaii this year, meaning June Jones (holder of the best freakin' job on the planet) will likely have an undefeated team going into the BCS, barring a complete crack job on one of their conference games. Phil's banking on the schedule, a hold-serve defense, and Colt Brennan's perpetual motion machine of an arm to do the work for them.

As to why you should watch them, we can give it to you in five words...PASS PASS PASS PASS PASS!!!