I spoke to a magazine on Saturday. I asked the magazine how many wins Nebraska would have in 2017.
The magazine answered and then backed it up with numbers and position breakdowns and other fun analytics.
Phil Steele is that magazine. He’s also a human being. I think.
Steele is your basic 56-year-old football-game watching, news-consuming, analytic-expounding, prediction-making pigskin fanatic from Cleveland.
For 23 years, Steele has produced a college football summer annual. It’s known as the “college football bible.” This year’s good book is 352 pages.
There are no “Honey shots” of cheerleaders in Steele’s book. Decide for yourself if that’s a good thing.
What you’ll find is lots of information about each Division I team. Good information. Stuff you can use. Eat with a spoon. Bring a fork, too.
Steele is a hero for those of us who grew up talking college football year-round, running to the news stand in June like Steve Martin looking for phone books.
Street and Smith’s. Sporting News. Athlon’s. Lindy’s. That was the Mount Rushmore of summer football annuals. My favorite was the old “Big Eight” magazine, with all those great photos and feature stories and “Blue Chip” rankings.
The world changed in a bittersweet way.
Now, we talk and watch college football every day and every month, on the cable networks and through our friend the Internet. And we no longer have to wait for the summer magazine to tell us who might start at quarterback. We go over depth charts and personnel moves as soon as they happen.
That’s more college football for us, but we need less and less of the annuals. In many cases, the info in them is outdated.
That’s where Steele is the anomaly. His magazine is not only surviving, it’s thriving.
“There’s an old axiom in the magazine business and that is be the first magazine on the news stand,” said Steele on Saturday morning.
“Because the first person walking by will buy because there’s a picture of a football on it. Then they’ll buy the second, and the third and then they’re done.
“The difference is, with my magazine, people wait.”
They wait because of the crazy amount of statistics, position rankings and breakdowns, projected depth charts, schedule analysis and other goodies — such as the chart that shows how each team did the last 10 years at home, away, neutral field, favorite, underdog, etc., etc.
Or Steele’s ranking of the “Surprise teams” of 2017. He’s got Oregon as one of his surprise teams.
Why does he do it? It’s not complicated.
Back in the 1980s, Steele was a devoted college football fan who couldn’t get enough from the other summer annuals.
He started keeping his own book, doing research, as a hobby while he managed restaurants in Cleveland.
He finally decided to give the magazine business a whirl, using a philosophy from the food industry. Someone passionate about food should open a restaurant where they would want to eat.
Steele began putting together a football magazine he would want to read.
“One year (1989), Moe Elewonibi from BYU won the Outland Trophy,” Steele said. “I did not have him on my list. So I went back and looked at the other magazines and not a single one mentioned him because he was a juco.
“I’m like, ‘I just can’t handle that. I need to know all the players and I need to know the last five years and all the stats.’ You can’t predict the future without knowing the past.”
Before I describe what Steele does, let me warn you: There’s only one of these jobs in the world. And Steele has it.
» Steele’s office in Cleveland has 12 TV sets. On Saturdays in the fall, there’s a different game on each TV.
The one downside to his passion is that Steele never goes to any games live. I asked him if he was tempted to attend an Ohio State-Michigan game, just because he could drive to it, and he said no.
“If I’m not watching all the teams, I’m not doing my job,” he said.
» He and his staff of 10 to 15 (“It used to be a little bigger but we cut it down”) researches college football every day, reading up on each Division I team throughout the year. Steele takes note of writers’ and coaches’ comments about particular players and how they change during a season.
“I have conference coordinators who come in and keep me on track of things,” Steele says. “You can’t read 130 newspapers in a day and keep on top of this.”
» He writes a pre-spring wrap-up on each team, which is updated after the spring. Steele says, “It helps that almost every spring game is on TV,” and there’s your money quote on Phil Steele.
He can’t get enough, and it comes with a perk: Because his magazine is so thorough and respected, he interviews 50 to 55 coaches after spring practice. Steele sends his team pages to every coach. He’s not asking them about every player on the team, just “do I have the right people on the right spot on the page.”
Even with the magazine out, he’s doing interviews this summer to get started on next season.
» He does eight-to-10 radio shows every day this time of year. Every day.
» He makes predictions and keeps track of the results. “The past few years I won every title,” he said, referring to the other annuals’ predictions. “Last year, I finished middle of the road, there were a couple of teams that threw a wrench in there.”
» Does he ever hear from Las Vegas? You, um, bet. “Long-time casinos will not put out their numbers until they get a magazine. They say, ‘Can you send me one?’ ” For what Steele does, that’s a sign of respect.
» His take on Nebraska? Glad you asked.
Mike Riley has the quarterback “to pilot” the offense he wants. Tanner Lee not overwhelming at Tulane, but didn’t have supporting cast. Couple of solid receivers. Defensively, just five starters back but expect improvement because of new coordinator Bob Diaco.
“Having Diaco is big,” Steele said. “He’s a great defensive mind. I know his teams at Connecticut didn’t fare well, but their defense was always outstanding. Problem was offense couldn’t move the ball.”
His pick: 8-4. Because of the schedule.
“There are four games to look at,” Steele said. “At Oregon, second week. That’s going to be tough. Oregon’s going to be one of the most improved teams in the country. Wisconsin, they’ll be favored in all 12 games. Ohio State and Penn State are a pair of top-10 teams.
“Schedule is huge in picking teams. I have them picking up third in the West. If they were to win the Wisconsin game, then they’re a Western Division contender.”
I’d say that’s blasphemy, but it’s the bible, man.
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No. 1 Tanner Lee: The Tulane transfer has been given the keys to Nebraska’s offense, and much is expected as a result. His ability to make the one or two passes that most quarterbacks can’t should come in handy. You can read more here.
No. 2 Chris Jones: Jones tore the meniscus in his left knee over the summer and will likely miss at least half the season. Could he miss all of it? Possibly — he has a redshirt season left. You can read more here.
No. 3 Nick Gates: He started every game in 2016, but Gates was much more effective before an ankle injury at Indiana. You can read more here.
No. 4 Joshua Kalu: A competent corner for most of his career, Kalu’s smarts and tackling talents should serve him well at safety, where coaches plan to keep him despite the injury to Chris Jones. You can read more here.
No. 5 Stanley Morgan: It’s Morgan’s turn and his time to be NU’s No. 1 receiver. The stats from first two seasons combined — 58 catches, 757 yards, five touchdowns — would be a good year in 2017. You can read more here.
No. 6 Aaron Williams: He has been a jack of all trades the last two seasons, finding the field in nickel and dime packages as well as on special teams. Now the Atlanta native appears to have parlayed that work and experience into a starting spot at safety. You can read more here.
No. 7 De'Mornay Pierson-El: Coach Mike Riley was openly excited about Pierson-El when he took over after the 2014 season, but injuries before and during the 2015 campaign have kept Riley from getting the best of what he envisioned. You can read more here.
No. 8 Carlos Davis: Voted the Huskers’ most improved player after the 2016 season, Davis gets the chance to take a bigger — and more important — step with a starting job at defensive end in the new three-man front. You can read more here.
No. 9 Jerald Foster: It’s not a reach to trace some of last season’s offensive line issues back to last August, when Foster injured a knee midway through fall camp and Nebraska had to scramble. Foster recovered in time to start the last four games, and that experience will be big heading into his junior season. You can read more here.
No. 10 Chris Weber: It’s an important season for Weber. It’s his first stint as a full-time starter and the defense wants a smooth transition for Bob Diaco. You can read more here.
No. 11 Tanner Farmer: The former state champion wrestler from Highland, Illinois, offers a strong and agile blocking presence, and that versatility will be tested along with that of his line mates this fall while protecting a pro-style quarterback for the first time. You can read more here.
No. 12 Tre Bryant: Nebraska still hasn’t settled on a starting running back, but Bryant might be the closest to the do-everything feature back coaches are looking for. He ran for 172 yards and one touchdown on 43 attempts last year and showed his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. You can read more here.
No. 13 Dedrick Young: Young already proved himself to be one of Nebraska’s best tacklers at outside linebacker the past two seasons, when he started 20 games and made 121 stops along with four quarterback hurries. You can read more here.
No. 14 Lamar Jackson: How confident is Nebraska that the sophomore from California can be a standout cornerback? Enough so that coaches tried accomplished senior Joshua Kalu at safety this spring in an effort to get Jackson on the field. You can read more here.
No. 15 Mick Stoltenberg: He showed up for spring practice with nearly 20 additional pounds of muscle in preparation for his new role as the starting nose tackle on Nebraska’s three-man front. And his positive impressions that first day were just the beginning as he settled in and stood out at his new position. You can read more here.
16. Freedom Akinmoladun: Few players expressed more excitement about their potential in the new 3-4 defense than Akinmoladun, whose four sacks were second on the team last year. You can read more here.
No. 17 Drew Brown: Brown connected from 35 and 33 yards in the spring game and was 12 of 14 last fall while hitting all 38 of his PATs. His consistency should give the Huskers a little more flexibility and margin for error as their schedule toughens and tight games abound. You can read more here.
No. 18 Cole Conrad: Nebraska felt strongly enough about Conrad to award the former walk-on from Fremont Bergan a scholarship in January and — in a surprise development — move him into the mix at center this spring to get him on the field. You can read more here.
No. 19 David Knevel: Knevel and Husker coaches were ready to see what he could do over the course of a full slate of games at right tackle last season before an ankle injury against Oregon hampered his play in multiple contests, forcing him to miss three games late in the year. You can read more here.
20. Khalil Davis: The redshirt sophomore might not be a starter as he learns a new position at nose tackle, but he’ll provide valuable depth behind Mick Stoltenberg and be a big body who can clog running lanes and get after the quarterback when necessary. You can read more here.
No. 21 Mikale Wilbon: This spring — kind of a put-up-or-shut-up period for Wilbon — he made strides as a pass blocker and in learning Nebraska’s pro-style playbook. You can read more here.
No. 22 Tyler Hoppes: Lincoln Southwest graduate, Wayne State transfer and Husker walk-on Hoppes picked the perfect time to be a senior tight end at Nebraska: He’s No. 1. You can read more here.
Husker Camp Countdown: No. 20 Khalil Davis
23. Luke Gifford: He has gone from safety in high school to playing close to the line of scrimmage. Between defense and special teams, Gifford is in line for a breakthrough season. You can read more here.
24. Marcus Newby: The fifth-year senior from Maryland has done a little bit of everything in his NU career, and this season he’ll be in a natural outside linebacker role that will generally suit him. You can read more here.
No. 25 Eric Lee: The top-rated prospect from Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class, found his footing — in a big way — this spring under new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams. You can read more here.
No. 26 JD Spielman: He ostensibly will be a slot receiver for the Huskers, but he’s capable of many things. He can be a jet sweep guy. He could even run the ball out of the backfield. You can read more here.
27. Keyan Williams: He’ll be an immediate factor in the slot, where he’s shown the ability to get open and run good routes. He can catch the ball, too. You can read more here.
No. 28 Alex Davis: He has a real shot to be NU’s starting boundary outside linebacker, but that role requires run-stopping and pass-rushing skill sets that Davis hasn’t quite shown yet. You can read more here.
No. 29 Kieron Williams: NU’s No. 3 safety in spring after Joshua Kalu moved from cornerback to be paired with Aaron Williams. You can read more here.
30. Devine Ozigbo: He is a bit of an enigma — a big back with nimble feet who may be No. 3 headed into training camp. You can read more here.
31. Mohamed Barry: He’s now in position to play behind Chris Weber and Dedrick Young at inside linebacker as the Huskers launch their 3-4 scheme under Bob Diaco. You can read more here.
32. Antonio Reed: It appears he will start the season as a backup safety again — with Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu emerging as the No. 1s after spring practice — but Reed offers important value on special teams. You can read more here.
33. Avery Roberts: Nebraska appears to be stockpiling some good youth and talent at linebacker, and Roberts is among those at the forefront. You can read more here.
34. Bryan Reimers: He has proven to the coaches that he can go up and get it, so his size and length are tools that can help the Huskers at receiver. You can read more here.
No. 35 Tyjon Lindsey: Lindsey isn’t very big but comes in with the kind of explosiveness and open-field danger that concerns opposing defensive coordinators. What NU won’t know until August, however, is how the former Ohio State commit handles the grind and demands when fall camp starts. You can read more here.
36. Michael Decker, C: Decker is smart and athletic, and he added needed size through his first two years in the program. It has been awhile since Nebraska has featured a multiyear starter at center. Can the Omaha North graduate with a winning background become that player? You can read more here.
37. Luke McNitt, FB: Nebraska again will utilize McNitt in power sets, and he will continue to be a physical, hard-nosed and versatile force on special teams. You can read more here.
38. DaiShon Neal, DE: Is Neal somebody who benefits from the move to a 3-4 scheme? The next few months will start telling the story. You can read more here.
39. Tyrin Ferguson, LB: He was ultimately believed to be a best fit at outside linebacker. He is considered versatile enough to play either spot, however, and should push for some playing time as the Huskers go forward. You can read more here.
40. Matt Snyder, TE: Opportunity won’t be a problem for Snyder, who now just has to make the most of one. Nebraska lost three four-year lettermen at tight end, and former walk-on Tyler Hoppes is the only returnee with any sure inroads to playing time. You can read more here.
41. Patrick O’Brien, QB: The redshirt freshman competed for the starting quarterback job with junior Tanner Lee all the way through spring practices before coaches named O’Brien the backup. You can read more here.
No. 42 Caleb Lightbourn, P: Lightbourn moved past his infamous punt last November against Minnesota that traveled -2 yards with a strong spring and is tracking to again start as a sophomore. Thrust into duty last season after the death of Sam Foltz, Lightbourn averaged 39.7 yards per punt on 65 kicks, 21 of which settled inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. You can read more here.
No. 43 Peyton Newell: Newell is still looking for his first official college tackle entering his fourth year in the program, but it could be on the horizon. A former top recruit from Hiawatha, Kansas, he has gone from defensive end to tackle and back to end in the Huskers’ new 3-4 defense. You can read more here.
44. Deontre Thomas, DE: If Thomas ends up redshirting his true freshman season, it won’t be for lack of ability. His frame and speed (he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds) are ideally suited for Nebraska’s new 3-4 scheme. You can read more here.
45. Boe Wilson, OG: Nebraska coaches felt good enough about Wilson in fall camp last year that they worked him out at first-team left guard following an injury to starter Jerald Foster. You can read more here.
No. 46 Matt Farniok, OT: Farniok will have his chance to alleviate concerns about the offensive line’s depth in the coming months. The redshirt freshman from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is plenty valuable if he does nothing more than serve as a quality backup to returning starters Nick Gates (left tackle) and David Knevel (right tackle). You can read more here.
47. Wyatt Mazour, RB: Mazour earned a spot on Nebraska’s travel squad to Indiana last year and may have taken off with the opportunity if not for a concussion suffered during practice. But the walk-on, who coach Mike Riley calls “our Danny Woodhead” showcased his skills with a dominant spring game that featured quick bursts and broken tackles. You can read more here.
48. Ben Miles, FB: An Andy Janovich-style breakout would be a lot to ask from the son of former LSU coach Les Miles as he enters his freshman season as a rare scholarship fullback. But it isn’t out of the question, either. Read more here.
49. Jack Stoll, TE: The redshirt freshman hasn’t done anything to take himself out of consideration for the leading role at tight end, and that alone is encouraging for a redshirt freshman competing at one of Nebraska’s most unresolved positions heading into fall camp. Read more here.
50. Collin Miller, LB: The redshirt freshman was named defensive MVP of the scout team last fall while lining up as a defensive end. Coach Mike Riley said Miller had been playing inside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, but then the product of Fishers, Indiana, missed the entire spring with a toe injury. Read more here.
DiCaprio Bootle, honorable mention: A redshirt freshman, Bootle is probably one injury away from playing a lot. He’s the No. 2/No. 3 field corner, he could play some nickel, and he’ll definitely appear on special teams.
Damion Daniels, honorable mention: The precocious, explosive defensive tackle is a trendy pick to be one of Nebraska’s best recruits from its 2017 class. Daniels has great potential; he’s also 17 years old until just days before the season kicks off.
Boaz Joseph, honorable mention: Backup corner and special teams guy for his fifth-year senior season, Joseph should make his share of tackles and play in a few games.
The 4th tight end, honorable mention: Nebraska may very well need four tight ends for their offense, and the No. 4 guy last season – Tyler Hoppes – is likely to be the No. 1 guy this year. That means a whole slew of guys have a shot at playing time. One is senior walk-on Connor Ketter (pictured), who didn’t practice in spring because of an injury but might have been the No. 2 guy heading into spring camp. Others to watch are redshirt freshman David Engelhaupt and true freshmen Austin Allen (pictured) and Kurt Rafdal. Engelhaupt, at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, is more of a H-back type while the taller Ketter, Allen and Rafdal are downfield receiving threats.
Sedrick King, honorable mention: An outside linebacker competing for playing time, King is roughly in the same spot he was last season: Trying to put all the pieces together. He’s at that boundary linebacker spot, which is more of a pass rushing spot, competing against Alex Davis and a few other guys.
Jordan Ober, honorable mention: Nebraska’s starting long snapper for a third straight season, Ober’s job is make clean snaps on field goals, extra points and punts. He’s done a good job in his first two years.
John Raridon, honorable mention: After redshirting last season, Raridon, No. 50, appeared ready to take a shot at the starting center job in the spring. Since NU’s starting guards are Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer, and Boe Wilson is at guard, too, Raridon is perhaps a year away from significant playing time.
Austin Rose, honorable mention: A walk-on running back from Lincoln North Star, Rose flashed some power and some good cuts in spring camp. He looked every bit as spry as scholarship back Devine Ozigbo.
Deiontae Watts, honorable mention: Another 2017 recruit, Watts is on the other end of the age spectrum from Daniels; he’ll turn 20 this year. His academic eligibility is still a bit up in the air; he hasn’t arrived on campus yet.