Phil Steele is one of the most well respected analysts in football. His yearly publications featuring preseason college football predictions from his Phil Steele's College Football Preview have been noted as the most accurate magazine publication available. Steele has recently released his Midseason All-American teams for the midway point of the 2013 college football season and college football programs have happily announced their players as members of Steele's acclaimed teams. I recently interviewed Phil Steele about the important game between Florida State and Clemson, the College Football Playoff in 2014, and his involvement in the Capital One Mascot Challenge.
MH: The biggest matchup in college football this weekend is between Florida State and Clemson. What are a few keys of the game?
Phil Steele: It's a great matchup. For this game, you can make a good case for Clemson being at home in Death Valley. Earlier this year with College GameDay present, they knocked off a very good Georgia team by three at home. For this game between Florida State and Clemson, I give Clemson the edge with experience at quarterback. (Clemson quarterback) Tahj Boyd has been through big games, this is (Florida State quarterback) Jameis Winston's first big game. Both quarterbacks are outstanding but I'm going to give the experience at quarterback edge to Tahj Boyd. It is a very close call between the wide receivers for both schools. (Clemson wide receiver) Sammy Watkins is one of the best in the country and Florida State has some really good wide receivers as well.
Another edge for Clemson will be on the defensive line, the Clemson defense has 24 sacks this year while Florida State has 10 sacks. (Clemson defensive end) Vic Beasley is the main threat on Clemson's defensive line as he is having a monster year so far and that gives Clemson the pass rush edge. The rest of the edges, though, go to Florida State. At running back (Florida State running backs) Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams, and James Wilder Junior, I'll take them over the one running back for Clemson, Roderick McDowell. On the offensive line, I'd take Florida State's offensive line, which has opened holes for about six yards per carry while Clemson averages about four yards a carry. At linebackers and defensive backs, the edge goes to Florida State. On special teams, a factor not many people look at, I have Florida State in the top five in the country while Clemson is about 65 so I am going to give Florida State the edge there. Last year when these two teams played, Florida State led the game 49-30, gave up a late touchdown, and had a 200 yard edge. While the intangibles are there with Clemson being a home underdog, I am going with Florida State to get the win.
MH: Starting next season, there will finally be a college football playoff. How do you think the college football playoff will shape the landscape of college football?
Phil Steele: Since 2000, in my magazine, I have been calling for a four team playoff with number one against number four and number two against number three. I kept calling for it, kept calling for it, and it came into fruition. I think it is the perfect system provided that the committee that they formed pick the right four teams. I'm not going to worry about the number five team got left out of the mix over the number four team if they feel they were a more deserving number four than the one selected, that doesn't matter to me. What I wanted that is accomplished is a team saying they should be playing the national title if there are only two teams playing because a third team has been left out the last couple of years or an undefeated number four team gets in the mix. It's not a perfect system and it won't be a perfect system every year but there is no system that is the perfect system. I think 70 to 75 percent of the time it will be the best system as long as you have anybody with a legitimate claim to being number one or number two in this four team playoff, there is no reason to go to eight or 16 teams.
MH: Can you tell me about your involvement with the Capital One Mascot Challenge?
Phil Steele: I love working with Capital One on this. It has been a lot of fun for me. Every year in the preseason, I analyze a lot of technical things. I go over the enrollment, the attendance, how many followers each mascot has on Twitter, and then I also ask my seven year old daughter who she picks as her favorite mascot and get her rankings. I'll ask my 81 year old mother her favorite mascot and I'll take a poll in the office. It's one of the fun parts of my preseason. There are games every single week between the mascots and they battle it out. It's a lot of fun. You can follow the records of how they compete against each other. Unlike the BCS, which doesn't include margin of victory, my power ratings of the mascots for the Capital One Mascot Challenge at capitalonebowl.com do take into account margin of victory as well. It has been fun looking at the ratings each week. This week, it's like Denver and Jacksonville last week in the NFL, you have the best in the NFL against the worst.
This week, we have South Florida's Rocky the Bull, who is number one in my rankings, against number 16, Cam the Ram of Colorado State, and like Jacksonville last week, Cam the Ram is putting up a good battle. It has been great the first half of the year and I think in the second half of the year we will see a lot of the top mascots battling it out for that number one spot. Keep in mind that last year, Cocky from South Carolina, was the champ from the regular season and got knocked off in the championship game by Raider Red of Texas Tech. You never know what turn these matchups will take. The main thing is for the fans to get out and vote at capitalonebowl.com.
MH: That sounds like a lot of fun to participate in. If fans wanted to learn more about the Capital One Mascot Challenge, where can they get more information?
Phil Steele: Capitalonebowl.com is where you vote and if you want to get my breakdown of each individual mascot and how they stack up for the week, you can go to my website, philsteele.com. It can be seen right on the front, "Phil Steel Capital One Mascot Challenge", click on that and there's a little write up on each mascot including power ratings and more. It is also updated each Tuesday of each week and it is current all the time.
MH: Thank you for the information. It has been great to talk football with a sports analyst of high regard and with a good sense of humor as well.
Phil Steele: I appreciate it, Mark. Good to meet with you.