College football media days have begun, and the season is only a month away. We thought it would be a perfect time to catch up with analyst Phil Steele. He has been publishing Phil Steele’s College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine breaks down every team in the country. Awful Announcing spoke with Steele about all things college football.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Awful Announcing: Is there any reason not to expect Georgia to threepeat?
Phil Steele: “It’s college football. Last year, if Ohio State makes a field goal, Ohio State is your national champ. Look at the Missouri game. They struggled in that one on the road. But if Georgia plays to its level, I think they are the most talented team in the country and they’ve got a great schedule. They’ll be a double-digit favorite in every game, maybe with the exception of at Tennessee Nov. 18. The last time anybody threepeated was in the 1930s, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. That was quite some time ago.”
Is Alabama really in decline?
“I don’t think they are as dominant as they were but I wouldn’t call it an Alabama slide. This year, I project Alabama to make the playoffs even though they only have five starters back on offense and five back on defense. They don’t know who their quarterback is going to be. When you look at Alabama, they tend not to do well when preseason No.1. They’ve only won the national title once as the preseason No.1. And last year, they were 11-2, finished No.5 in the country, and their losses both came on the last play of the game versus Tennesse and LSU. If that’s your horrible, miserable year, you’re still in pretty good shape.”
Will Texas A&M be better after a disappointing season?
“Last year, they were inexperienced. They were No. 124 in my experience chart. When I went through the team with coach (Jimbo) Fisher (last year), he would say ‘Phil, I think we’re going to have one of the best offensive lines in the country, next year.’ So he was referring a lot to 2023. This year, they jump to No.14 on my experience chart. This is a team with 10 starters back on offense and 10 starters back on defense. And even though they went through a miserable 5-7 season, they beat LSU 38-23 and they were at the Alabama 2-yard line throwing in the end zone with a chance to win the game down by four points on the road. They played with the big boys last year and they can play with them this year. I think Getting Bobby Petrino in as the offensive coordinator will take some of the pressure off Jimbo Fisher. A&M is a legitimate contender in the SEC West.”
Who will be the biggest impact recruit, and the biggest impact transfer?
“UCLA (freshman) quarterback Dante Moore. I think he has a chance to win the starting job in his first year.
“(As a transfer, former Wake Forest quarterback) Sam Hartman. Last year, Notre Dame went through the entire season with a backup quarterback. This year, they have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. They have a tremendous supporting cast. Love the defense. Love the offensive line, and the running backs. The receiving corps has been upgraded. I can see Notre Dame going from 9-4 to perhaps 10 or 11 wins this year.”
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is favored to repeat, but can someone else sneak into the discussion?
“One would be Sam Hartman, especially if they beat Ohio State and USC at home. A head-to-head win over Caleb Williams would get him on the radar. The other one would be Carson Beck of Georgia. And while he’s a first-year starting quarterback, first-year starting quarterbacks have proven to be good. .. His biggest game might be at Tennessee. By that time he’ll have 10 starts under his belt. He has my No.1 offensive line in the country in front of him.”
How do you see the Big Ten race shaping up?
“I think the East comes down to Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State battling it out. But I went with Michigan to win the East. They have the best schedule. Their non-conference schedule is cake. The toughest game they have on the road is at Penn State. They get Ohio State at home. This is probably Jim Harbaugh’s best team.
“(In the West), Wisconsin is an interesting story. Last year, they were very inexperienced, No. 107 on my experience chart. This year, they come in No. 20, so they are vastly more experienced, especially on defense where they go from three returning starters to eight. They bring in (transfer quarterback) Tanner Mordecai from SMU. But coach Luke Fickell is not going to abandon the run. He feels (the passing offense) will open up holes in the running game for Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. They have that big offensive line which should be one of the best in the country. Then factor in their schedule. All five road games are winnable.”
What’s your Saturday game-day setup like?
“There are 12 TVs in front of my desk, so I’m watching games all day long. A lot of Mountain Dew is being ingested just to stay alert. It goes on from noon through that doggone Hawaii game at 3 in the morning. It’s a labor of love.”
What kind of snacks do you have?
“Great question. Whatever is around. Not something messy. I do a lot of writing. I don’t want to have barbecue sauce all over my papers.”