May 29, 2010

LBU Exclusive: Reviewing Phil Steele's 2010 Preview

There aren't many college football preview magazines that can boast quite like Phil Steele's. The 328-page (no more, no less, every year) annual Bible of the collegiate gridiron may sit on the same shelves as other preview magazines, but no early-summer shopping spree would be complete without forking out the modest $8.95 for the pages upon pages of Phil's patented shorthand, whacky abbreviations, and more fine print than a sub-prime mortgage.

Today you'll get an exclusive sneak peek into Phil Steele's 2010 College Football Preview. Specifically, our review will be 99 percent Penn State, but you'll get a few Big Ten and national highlights, too. So enough with the fluff, let's dive in!

Bowl Prediction

Penn State is slated for a repeat visit to the Capital One Bowl, this time to square off with the Auburn Tigers. The game would be a rematch of the two teams, who faced each other in the 2003 Captial One Bowl. Auburn came into that game ranked No. 22, while the Nittany Lions were favored with a No. 10 ranking. The Tigers upset the Lions, 13-9. Penn State's offense kicked field goals instead of touchdowns, while Auburn's offense rallied from a 6-0 half-time deficit, led by eventual top-10 draft picks Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell.

Penn State is 2-0 against the SEC since that game, while Auburn is 2-1 versus the Big Ten.

Individual Position Rankings

Some of the highest-ranked Nittany Lions are on the offensive side of the ball. Evan Royster is listed as the No. 4 overall running back for 2010, while Stefen Wisniewski is the No. 1 guard in the nation. Derek Moye is the only Nittany Lion receiver to make the top-76 in this year's preview, while Joe Suhey comes in as the No. 15 fullback. Penn State does not have a quarterback, offensive tackle, center, or tight end listed in this year's rankings. But for those of you out there who care, Penn State transfer Pat Devlin, now Delaware's starting quarterback, is ranked No. 21.

On defense, the Nittany Lions don't have a particularly strong showing this year, considering the star-power in previous editions. For the first time in years, Penn State has fewer than four defensive linemen ranked for 2010. Jack Crawford is at a solid No. 23 among defensive ends. Ollie Ogbu and, somewhat surprisingly, Devon Still are ranked No. 19 and No. 59, respectively. No Nittany Lion inside linebackers are ranked this year, but No. 32 Bani Gbaydu and No. 74 Nate Stupar are on the outside linebacker rankings. In the secondary, D'Anton Lynn is listed as the No. 56 cornerback, while Nick Sukay fills in the No. 18 strong safety spot.

Penn State does not have a single special teams player ranked by Phil for 2010.

National Unit Rankings

Stephfon Green is just one of Penn State's dynamic running backs. Phil Steele has the Nittany Lions' ground game as one of the best in the nation going into this season.
As you might expect, Penn State's quarterbacks unit took a big hit with the loss of Daryll Clark--the unit does not make the list of top QB units this year.

The running backs, however, do make the cut. Evan Royster will lead the unit that Phil ranks as the No. 7 overall nationally. Phil likes the return of Royster, along with Stephfon Green, and the successful rehab of Brandon Beachum's ACL. Joe Suhey plays a factor, while the freshmen like Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes aren't mentioned, probably because Redd should redshirt this season and Dukes has three guys ahead of him.

Phil usually picks out about 15 teams per unit ranking, giving a small write-up to each of the top-15. The units outside the top-15 are listed, but not given any sort of explanation. Two Penn State units that fit the latter category are the receivers and offensive line, coming in at No. 25 and No. 20, respectively among 34 teams in each group.

Defensively, Penn State's defensive line comes in at No. 9 mostly due to its ability to completely reload every year, even after heavy losses to the draft and graduation. Phil points out that the unit returns more starts (31) and more sacks (18.5) than it did going into 2009.

When a team replaces all three NFL-bound linebackers, it's going to hurt. But with Penn State, the fall wasn't so far as expected. Linebacker U's namesake unit sits comfortably at No. 27 for 2010.

Like the defensive line ranking, Penn State's secondary got into Phil's top-15--just barely, at No. 15--mostly on merit, and its ability to reload each off-season.

With virtually no stability on special teams (besides Colin Wagner's return), Penn State didn't make the cut for any ranking in this year's preview.

National Top-25, All-Americans, and All-Big Ten

All of this (PSU is No. 18, here's the All-Americans and All-Big Ten teams) has been leaked so far. Some of it has come from the media, while some has come from Phil's site. So I won't waste time on them here.

Penn State's Title Chances

Phil calls the Nittany Lions a "legit Big Ten contender" despite all the losses and a tough schedule. Penn State is projected to tie for second with Iowa (more on the overall Big Ten race in a minute). While Penn State is supposed to technically finish second, Phil probably expects another loss to the Hawkeyes. Penn State is listed below Iowa in the standings.

Penn State, in Brief...

With all the "VHT" (very highly-touted) players on Penn State's roster these days, Phil has a tough time picking on anything but experience. The quarterback position should pose the most problems, while the abysmal special teams from a year ago should improve, according to Phil's forecast.

The schedule is a monster in Phil's analysis. Not only does he harp continuously on Penn State's dates with three BCS Bowl Game winners, but overall Phil jacked up the Lions' strength of schedule by 57 spots (!), from No. 73 in 2009 to No. 16 for 2010. He bases his rankings on strength of the teams for this year, not from last year.

Depth Charting

Phil Steele projects that DeOn'Tae Pannell (50) will move out to left tackle this season. (Photo: Mike Pettigano)
Phil projects the fall depth charts for each team, but even his predictions aren't far off from our very own current depth chart following spring practice. The only big changes (again, because he does the fall depth chart), is that Johnnie Troutman returns to left guard, while DeOn'Tae Pannell moves out to left tackle.

Michael Mauti replaces Chris Colasanti at middle linebacker. This might not happen, since Joe Paterno seems set on giving the senior (Colasanti) a chance over the younger player (Mauti). On special teams, Phil thinks Anthony Fera will emerge from Paterno's dog house, and take over at punter.

Everything else is the same as our depth chart.

Projected Stats for 2010

You might ask how he can predict actual statistics for this season. Don't. Just let it be. It's Phil Steele, and he can do what he pleases. For this season, Phil projects the top-12 leaders in all major categories--rush offense, pass offense, scoring offense, total offense; rush defense, pass defense, scoring defense, total defense.

Penn State is projected to field the No. 2 scoring defense for 2010, while also coming in as the projected No. 7 rush defense, the projected No. 6 pass defense, and the No. 5 total defense (total yardage allowed) in college football.

Phil also projects the "most improved" teams in each of those categories. The Nittany Lions' are projected to have the No. 3 most improved rushing game for 2010. That's not a surprise, considering what the offensive game plan will be this season, and a much more experienced offensive line.


Evan Royster is listed as a contender, which is Phil's second level of players vying for the honor this year. While Royster could be in the running for a few minutes this season, don't count on anything beyond that. It's not a matter of talent or production, but he will be going up against a loaded field, a field that's also playing with a deck stacked against Royster. Still, it's nice to see a Penn Stater on the list at all.

The Big Ten Overall

I won't spend much time on this, as the other fine Big Ten blogs can fend for themselves. But since I have it right in front of me, I can't bare to leave out some of the bigger projections Phil makes for this year's Big Ten Title Race.

The projected final standings are:

1. Ohio State
2(t). Iowa
2(t). Penn State
4. Wisconsin
5(t). Michigan State
5(t). Michigan
7. Northwestern
8. Illinois
9. Purdue
10(t). Indiana
10(t). Minnesota

Overall Impressions

Phil Steele's College Football Preview never disappoints. Even when your team isn't ranked so high, or projected to do so well, there is a sort of solace gained from reading such a grounded and detailed explanation of "why" each football season will play out the way it should. So be sure to go out and get yours this week. The magazine hits the shelves on June 8, and should be available at your local book store, or supermarket magazine aisle. Or, you could just visit to order one directly to your home.

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  1. Good catch. I meant to say that Redd should redshirt, while Dukes is deep on the depth chart.

  2. I'm sure it's been done but, has Phil Steele's analysis from a previous year been compared to what actually happened, which would give his previews some legitimacy? Can you provide it in a future article?

  3. @psualum58 -- Phil covers everything you just mentioned. In fact, he almost does more than enough legitimizing in his magazine. His magazine spends about a dozen pages-worth of examples of his accuracy. You could consider him "obsessed" with proving his legitimacy. Nearly every single prediction is supported by waaayyy more facts than anyone actually needs, as well as full explanations of what happened to his previous seasons predictions.

    I think the biggest reason why I like his magazine to much, is because he spends so much time giving his readers the "why," rather than just the "what." But if you want to see the comparison between Phil's magazine, and the others like it, just head on over to where they keep track of this stuff every year. There is also a link to Stassen on LBU's homepage.

    Thanks for reading!