In my preparation for attending the SEC Media days I decided to do something I've never before done for football season: prepare. Naturally, my first instinct was to purchase a couple of college football preview magazines - namely, Phil Steele's College Football Preview. Everyone who knows anything about college football also knows that Phil Steele is widely regarded as the best prognosticator in the profession (and I use that term loosely).
This Phil Steele seems like my type of fellow. You see, he's a numbers guy. Apparently he utilizes nine (proprietary) formulas to divine the outcome of the upcoming college football season. As someone who appreciates the game of baseball, I can identify with this mindset. Nothing takes the anxiety out of sports quite like the cool, hard comfort of statistics. It's about time the football world embraced mathematics the way we baseball fans have been for centuries.
And then there's the name - Phil Steele. That's a flawless pseudonym if there ever were one, and I happen to be a connoisseur of pseudonyms. On first glance it's unassuming. Phil Steele. Could be the guy in the cubicle down the hall. But it also insidiously connotes the attributes of steel (duh). It is at once evocative of strength and the inevitability of truth. He didn't go overboard like that chump on the Discovery Channel, Bear Grills. C'mon. Who is producing that show, anyway, Michael Bay? He's not going to bestow upon himself a ridiculous nickname like Hammer'n Hank, either. That's not his style. He's got enough savvy to pick a pen name that leaves the reader musing: "Maybe that is his real name." By the way, it is (or is it?).
He's PHILLIP F'n STEELE. Phil, if you're part of his inner circle - and as subscribers to his Phil-osophy, we are. Which is why I was so disappointed when I actually cracked the cover to his 2011 College Football Preview. The first thing that strikes you is the chaos of it all. Steele's pages read like something hatched from an accountant's Spirograph. It is literally margin-to-margin chock full of stats and text. Of course, this is to be expected from a man who gained notoriety spending hours upon hours compiling data and running it through computer models... for fun.
The real nut-shot, though, came when I realized that the magazine offers very little in the way of substance. Most of the stats one could find in any given school's media guide. For instance, Steele gives us statistical leaders for the 2010 season, game by game results against the betting line for the past 5 seasons, offensive and defensive stats for the last 7 years, bowl results for the last five appearances, a projected starting line-up for 2011, and a quick run-down of the most recent recruiting class. None of these stats are particularly insightful, let alone the fact that they aren't all that difficult to compile individually.
When I picked up a copy of Phil Steele, I was expecting analysis I couldn't get in any other preview magazine. I wanted the kind of hardcore statistics that would make me want to grind down the pages of his text and snort them right into my brain. Instead, what I got was a nose full of Pixie Sticks. Take, for example, Steele's "Quarterback Position Outlook for 2011." The word "outlook" in there might make you think he was going to tick off the reasons why Steven Garcia is or is not going to be successful in 2011. Wrong. Of the 26 lines devoted to this subject, Steele spends 21 of them discussing Garcia's performance in years '08 through '10. He spends the other 5 lines flippantly covering the performances of Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson, Andrew Clifford, and Seth Strickland(!). Forgive me for expecting some actual previewing in a section labeled as "outlook."
The other position "outlooks" are not much better, although I will concede that Steele does note important departures like Ladi Ajiboye and Spencer Lanning. My real beef, though, is with Steel's overall team "Forecast." A magazine that has built it's reputation on being "THE MOST ACCURATE PRESEASON MAGAZINE OF THE LAST 13 YEARS!" would surely deliver in this respect, right? Wrong, again. Of the 37 lines Steele devotes to his "forecast," only four deal with the season immediately ahead. They read: "SC has their most talented team yet under Spurrier and will be in the AP preseason Top 10. A trip between the Hedges on Sept. 10th may determine the SEC East Title and SC has a great shot at their first 10 win season since 1982 (10-2)." Truly visionary stuff. In fact, Steele devotes as much space (and I am dead serious about this) to whether the team will play on natural grass or artificial turf as he does to the 2011 team forecast.
Steele would do well to leave out a few of the references to the Gamecocks' years under Lou Holtz (why is a 2011 preseason even mentioning this?) and give fans a few more reasons why he placed the 'Cocks as a preseason #14 instead of preseason Top 10 like all the other prognosticators. I'm not saying I disagree with position, but I am frustrated that he's not giving me any reasons for his position. The same can be said for every other team's previews. There's just not a lot of substance on the page.
Perhaps the worst offense, though, is the cryptic style in which Steele writes his prose. He abbreviates everything. "Tackles" becomes "tkls." "Last year" becomes "LY." "Efficiency" becomes "eff." And on, and on. Maybe he could cut out some his predictions from five years ago and string together a few coherent sentences that don't look like the side of Octomom's refrigerator.
But that would require cutting out all the past instances in which Phillip J. Steele was right when everyone else was oh-so-wrong. Just skimming through the previews there is nary a page when Phil doesn't mention a time when he picked a team to do such-and-such against the popular opinion and and they did just that. For example, from UGA's preview: "In '05 they had to replace 6 NFL DC's and my publication was the only one to call for UGA to win the SEC East as everyone else had them finishing 3rd." Really? You're still gloating about a prediction from 6 years ago? Gee, funny how Steele doesn't have to abbreviate the word "publication" when he's patting himself on the back. If he weren't so busy telling me about it, I might have forgotten that I was reading the most accurate preseason magazine of the last 13 years.
At this point, you have to be asking yourself, "Why is TFW devoting a lengthy blog post and the better part of his Tuesday night to raking Phil Steele over the coals?" It's a fair question. Is it because I'm just a h8er and super jealouz of Phil Steele's success? Maybe. Honestly, though, I feel a little betrayed. I've been hearing about the cult of Phil Steele for a few years now. Here was a guy who completely nerded out on college football. He likely forsook a girlfriend, sunlight, and sanity for a number of years to pursue an obsession. I respect that. I wish I possessed that kind of steadfastness. Yet, here I am feeling like the nerdly wizard I was promised is nothing more than midget behind a curtain. Phil Steele's publication isn't the worst purchase I've ever made (that honor goes a 120 euro rug I bought in Morocco while traveling abroad), but I don't see how it has become fetishized to the point of having a pseudo-holiday named after it.
At any rate, I guess I should get back to preparing for the Media Days tomorrow so the SB Nation overlords don't regret sending me (at least not after the first day). At the conclusion of each day I'll post my take and recap the pressers right here on GABA. You can also follow my real-time thoughts through twitter (@FeatherdWarrior) if you are so inclined.