Interview: Phil Steele Talks Michigan, Big Ten Conference and College Football Playoff

His Story

Phil Steele is one of the most well respected sportswriters and analysts in the world of college football. He is a member of 16 voting committees, including the Heisman Trophy.

His story starts back in the early 1990’s when he would buy all the preseason magazines available to create his own newsletter. What he found is they never had enough information. In 1994, Phil was asked to create his first black and white football magazine version of his material that had about 198 pages. Seven years later, he created his first color version of the magazine gaining popularity and subscription orders each year. Today, he has well over 100,000 subscribers who cannot wait to get their hands on the latest edition. The casual college football fan may be a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information that is packed into each team page.

Phil watches college football on Saturday’s with 12 televisions at his office during the day, then catches night games at home on eight televisions. He has a picture of them in the front of his college football magazine.

The Interview

His 2016 preview magazine was released last week and here is what he posted on Twitter about his crazy interview schedule this week. I had the opportunity to talk with him and preview Michigan, the Big Ten Conference and College Football Playoff.

Michigan’s Defense

Phil is very impressed with this group saying, “I have them as the fifth best in the country and overall top defense in the Big Ten Conference.” He mentioned his prediction for such a solid defense is because of guys like Hurst, Charlton, Wormley, Glasgow and a great second string with the addition to Peppers at linebacker. He also said, “Secondary is one of the top 10 groups in the country with Lewis and Clark at cornerback. Safety with Hill and Thomas.”

He thinks Don Brown will not change this defense style much coming in with the best defense in the country last year. “I’m a big Don Brown fan.”

How Much Playing Time for Rashan Gary?

I asked about playing time for Rashan Gary, a true freshman and the overall No. 1 ranked high school player in the 2016 class. Phil said, “I think he will be on the field probably 30% to 50% of the time. You have to rotate players on defense with at least two units, many like three, to keep them fresh. You get a player like Gary you want to get him in the lineup. The easiest spot is to put him in defensive end to begin with and say go get the quarterback that the easiest spot for coaches to coach as a pass rushing defensive end. But at 293 pounds, this guy can play inside or outside I think he’s going to be a compete difference maker. You’re going to see the percentage time on the field grow as the season goes on. It wouldn’t surprise me by at the end of the year he’s taking someone’s spot.”

Michigan’s Offense

I asked about the breakout players and who to watch out for this fall. Phil said, “Smith and Chesson will be the two breakout players on offense to watch. Both had a great second half of last season.” He added by saying, “Offensive line looks solid and I have them as sixth line in th county.”

Quarterback Battle

He likes O’Korn based on his playing experience and what he did while at Houston. The NFL guys he talked with though like Speight as well, so it will be really interesting to see who gets that job.

2016 Overall Performance Predicton 

My Twitter poll last week with 2,728 votes had Peppers at 59%.

Phil agreed with the results by saying, “Peppers is going to be an outstanding linebacker and safety. He will also get the ball in his hands on offense, he’s also going to return some kicks. A potential Big Ten Conference player of the year.”

I also asked how Peppers would rate compared to others as a Heisman contender to get votes. He said, “The key is touchdowns, some big game potential, and if he steps up in the big games, especially at the end of the year. Heisman voters are swayed at the end of the year. He’s got three big away games after mid season with Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State. If he’s out there scoring a couple touchdowns, snagging a couple interceptions, making some big tackles, Heisman voters are going to be watching those games, Heisman voters are going to notice. It’s what you see last that influences you the most. It’s how he does in those three big games that will determine if he gets invited to New York.”

Preview of Michigan’s Season

Phil said, “Michigan fans will be very excited on October 28th at 7-0 and one of top three teams in the country.”

Iowa may be undefeated when they meet a top 20 defense and has a top five draft quarterback with Beathard.

Phil predicts Michigan coming in second for the division, but a very interesting race between the three at the top between Michigan, Michigan St. and Ohio State.

College Football Playoff Picture and Path

Phil started saying, “The clearest path is Oklahoma with the biggest gap between the other teams in the conference.”

Looking at the ACC, he said, “The ACC champ will get in with the winner of Florida State hosting Clemson.”

The SEC will also have a huge game to decide the conference. Phil said, “The winner of SEC will be between LSU and Alabama in that game.”

The PAC 12 winner may have two or three losses and Big Ten may have a team with two losses that gets in the playoff.

Phil ended saying, “Michigan will be potentially undefeated in late October with a chance at being ranked in the top five. Many factors will come into play throughout the season with who improves the most and what other teams do in the conference. Based on their schedule and loaded talent, it will mainly come down to the three tough away games that will control their chances to the Big Ten Conference Championship game and trip to the College Football Playoff.”

You can find out more about Phil’s magazine and story on www.philsteele.com. He also is interviewed weekly on many radio and television outlets to provide game matchup previews.

Go Blue!

David Noe