A week or so ago, as I was listening to Phil Steele‘s regular spot on Bill King’s Rivals Radio show, the ultimate college football fanatic revealed that his pick for the No. 1 team this year would a shocker.
Well, “The Animal” made good on his promise today. Word has leaked that the Oklahoma Sooners have claimed the top spot in his annual preseason magazine, which is generally thought to be the bible of college football summer previews.
Yes, we’re talking about the same Sooners that dropped five games last year. The same Sooners that just saw former players drafted first, third, fourth and 21st in this year’s NFL draft. The same Sooners that always seem to find a way to lose on the big stage.
On Twitter, the peanut gallery’s immediate reaction to Steele’s pick ranged from skeptical (ESPN’s Pat Forde: “I don’t see that”) to incredulous (SI.com’s Stewart Mandel: “Phil’s successfully gone out on some limbs before, but …”) to, um, less than complimentary (Orangebloods’ Geoff Ketchum: “That’s insanely stupid”).
To be honest, I had a sneaking suspicion that Steele would tab OU No. 1 after hearing him on the radio. He typically looks for big turnarounds out of teams that suffered a number of close losses the year before. In 2009, four of the Sooners’ five defeats came by an average of three points.
Also, Steele’s projections put a lot of stock in the prospects of teams that suffered large numbers of injuries the year before. Using his methodology, Oklahoma lost 13.6 percent of its starts overall, and the offense lost nearly a quarter of its starts. For comparison’s sake, Alabama lost 9.7 percent of its total starts last season, while Texas lost 3 percent of its starts.
Add in the fact that the Sooners played one of the nation’s toughest schedules last season and it becomes much easier to understand why Steele is expecting big things from OU this year.
Keep in mind Steele’s predictions are all about the numbers. He has his formulas that produce his power rankings. The power rankings project how the season should play out.
He plugs in the data, and that’s that. It doesn’t leave much room to incorporate the eye test. (He even has a system for predicting how the AP pollsters will vote.)
I’d wager that the vast majority of college football fans don’t share Steele’s bullish “opinion” of the Sooners. I know that I don’t really consider OU a championship-caliber squad.
Yet, as Steele so loves to remind us, his mathematical gymnastics have produced a solid track record.
My advice to Sooner Nation after heeding the words of Steele: Hold off on buying those plane tickets for Phoenix. But don’t feel stupid if you find yourself checking out the fares.