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Phil Steele on the SEC

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By BJ Bennett
Follow us at  Become a fan at the Facebook Page Staff Writer Kevin Thomas talks SEC football with Phil Steele.

By Kevin Thomas Staff Writer Staff Writer Kevin Thomas talks SEC football with Phil Steele.


Phil Steele understands and appreciates the SEC.

“The SEC year in and year out is the best conference in college football and certainly it is this season,” he said.

With Georgia, who Steele refers to as the likely AP pre-season number one, Florida and defending national champion LSU, the league looks as strong as ever. Steele has seven teams in his pre-season top 26, but his predictions are not identical to many of the other publications.

Steele has the Florida Gators, not their archrival Georgia, winning the SEC. He has actually picked Florida to win the national championship over Ohio State. Steele saw what was a young Gator team show flashes in 2007.

“Florida really impressed me in one game last year and it was a game they lost. It was at LSU. A veteran LSU team in Death Valley, an inexperienced Florida team, and yet the Gators led that one by two scores in the fourth quarter,” he recalled. “As it turned out LSU got a last second touchdown pass and pulled out the win.”

The young players from last season are now savvy veterans for the Gators.

“This year Florida, after having just seven returning starters last year and having 48% of their starts come from freshman and sophomores, now has 16 returning starters this year,” Steele stated. “Unlike Georgia, which only has three SEC home games, Florida only has three true SEC road games.”

Combine the returning talent with the schedule and that’s why Steele likes the Gators.

“I’ve got Georgia ranked ninth heading into the season and I’ve got Florida winning the national title this year. If you gave Florida Georgia’s schedule and Georgia Florida’s schedule I’d have them reversed. Georgia’s got the tougher schedule, especially on the road,” he said.

The Georgia schedule, which many have deemed the toughest in college football this season, is what Steele thinks may hold the Bulldogs back some. The talent level is not the problem.

“This year’s Georgia team is even stronger than last year. Last year Georgia only had nine returning starters, this year they have 17 returning starters,” he added.

Steele has picked South Carolina, then Tennessee for the third and fourth spots in the SEC East. Again, schedule rankings played a major role in how the veteran sportswriter made this predictions. The Gamecock defense, combined with a tough slate for the Volunteers, proved to be the difference.

“You have to figure Spurrier will come up with somebody [at quarterback]. The thing about South Carolina is you don’t have to have a quarterback to win football games for you with the defense they have. Another reason I picked them over Tennessee is the schedule,” Steele explained. “I have South Carolina ranked 15th in the power poll and Tennessee ranked 16th. It’s like splitting hairs between the talent of those two teams.”

Over in the SEC West, Steele has Tommy Tubervile and Auburn picked first over the defending national champion LSU Tigers.

“Auburn is a team I think can be a darkhorse national championship team,” he stated.

A bold stance, considering the Tigers are breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators and play a road game at West Virginia out of conference. But Steele expects big things from the spread offense of Tony Franklin, in part because of the progression of the Auburn front line.

“Not only is the new system going to help them, but also experience on the offensive line. They had three freshman starting on the offensive line last year. Those three are now sophomores. The other two starters are seniors. They go from complete inexperience on the offensive line to having five starters back,” Steele explained. “I think the offensive line goes from a definite weakness, which it was last year, to my number 21 ranked offensive line in the country. That’s the key to a much improved Auburn offense this year.” 

Like many fans, Steele is looking ahead to the September 20th Tiger clash in Jordan Hare Stadium.

“The key to the SEC West will be that Auburn gets LSU early in the season. I think Auburn wins that game and I think they have a more manageable schedule,” he added.

A win there could lead to big things for Auburn.

“I think Auburn could be one of the surprise teams. Last year my number four surprise team was Ohio State, they played in the BCS title game,” Steele explained. This year Auburn is my number four surprise team.”

Fret not for the defending champs, however. With elite talent at the line of scrimmage, this is still a team that will contend.

“As far as LSU goes, killer schedule – at Auburn, at Florida, at South Carolina with a very young quarterback, but a very talented team. The thing that makes LSU a threat to win all of their games this year is my number five rated offensive line and number one ranked defensive line. But I think with the young QB and the three very tough road games this year, they’ll drop three games and I’ve got them finishing second in the west,” Steele said.

A team to watch in the SEC might be Ole Miss. Former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt takes over in Oxford and has good talent returning to aide his cause.

“Houston Nutt steps into a great situation. Ed Orgeron was not a tremendous gameday coach but he was a great recruiter. He’s got NFL caliber talent laced throughout the lineup. Nutt comes in and brings a new attitude. If you have early season success, the players will buy into that,” Steele continued. “They have plenty of talent and a more managable schedule. I think they’ll be bowl eligible at the end of the year.”


Phil Steele’s 2008 College Football Preview is on newsstands now. Steele’s publication has been named the most accurate pre-season magazine by Stassen the last nine years in a row.


BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’s founder and publisher. He is the co-host of “Three & Out” with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the “Southern Pigskin Radio Network”. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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