Mike Riley

College football prognosticator Phil Steele projects Mike Riley and the Huskers to go 8-4 in 2017 because of their schedule. But Steele expects an improved defense thanks to the addition of coordinator Bob Diaco, left.

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.

Mostly, he’s an anomaly.

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 In many cases, the info in them is outdated.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.

More Steele:

» 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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