Phil Steele, who has published Phil Steele's College Football Preview since 1995, raised eyebrows this summer, when his magazine revealed he's predicting Oklahoma to win the national championship.
Steele, who also runs PhilSteele.com, spoke with The Oklahoman to give more details about why he's picking the Sooners to win it all:
What is it about OU you like this year?
"A lot of reasons. First, I have picked the Big 12 South winner seven straight years. OU didn't have a lot (go) right last year. They lost a returning Heisman Trophy winner in Sam Bradford. But they outgained almost every team they played. That is not a statistic of an 8-5 team. Landry Jones ended up having to play. He was going to hold a clipboard. He ended up starting 10 games, threw for over 3,000 yards and had a 26-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"In one of their losses to BYU, Bradford went out in the second quarter, they miss a field goal in the second half, they lose by one. The Miami game, a young quarterback's first road start, which is usually his worst performance. They were taking on a very athletic Miami defense on the road, only loss by one, and led a good portion of the game. Could have won that. The Texas game, got to admit, was wearing a Longhorn hat, I picked Texas to play in the national title game. Bradford goes out on the second series, I think this is going to be easy. But wow. I always count the plays in my head, good plays and bad plays. I had OU about 55 percent good plays, Texas at 45 percent. I thought Oklahoma outplayed them, outgained them by 50 yards. I felt fortunate Texas won that game, 16-13. Then the Nebraska game, they had a 23-7 first down edge, but came up short, thanks to minus four in the turnover ratio. You're looking at four games they could have won last year. If they had won 11 games last year, my prediction wouldn't have seemed so surprising for picking them No. 1.
"One of the reasons I picked Texas to win the Big 12 South last year was the offensive line. The offensive line of Oklahoma had only one returning starter, then had injuries poor play, had 10 different starting lineups, and yet they still put up 31 points per game, which wasn't bad. This year, the offensive line looks much stronger. It's a much more experienced group. Their quarterback has been taking reps with the first string. The offense has players like DeMarco Murray, who when I talk to NFL scouts say, 'Boy, if this guy can stay healthy, he's either No. 1 or 2 in next year's NFL Draft for running backs.' Then Ryan Broyles, the receiver. Defensively, they're solid in all areas, despite the draft losses.
"All eight units rank in my Top 16. They're the only team in the country that can say that.
"Then look at the schedule. I do not consider the schedule that daunting. Teams like Florida State and Texas A&M, yes they have potent offenses, but their defenses are really lacking, and I think Oklahoma's offense is comparable to both teams, and they have a large edge on defense.
"The biggest question in the Texas game, they go back to the running game, relying on the running backs with the young quarterback. But they haven't had a feature running back the last few years. So think Oklahoma wins that game.
"That's why I think Oklahoma can run the table this year."
Alabama won the national title last year, and brings back several key players like Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Why do you have OU ranked ahead of them?
"I think one, clearly the schedule. That's a big difference. Two, I think OU has a slight edge on defense. Then the edge on special teams. Now, if I'm an AP voter, I'm going to put Alabama No. 1. But looking at Alabama's schedule, it's just brutal. They have to play the best pass offense in the country on the road (Arkansas), Florida, a legitimate top-five team, loaded in talent. Then, if they have anything left in the tank, they play Steve Spurrier's best team yet, and South Carolina will be coming off a bye. And speaking of byes, all six opponents that play Alabama the second half of the year have a bye before playing Alabama. Then, if they survive all that, they'll have to play the SEC title game. So when I look at Alabama's schedule, I can't pick the game they'll lose, but I think they lose at least one along the way."
Perhaps the most surprising part of your unit rankings is how high you are on the Sooners' offensive line. Why do you think that unit will be a strength this year, when it struggled so much last year?
"I'll go back to 2008 and use Florida's secondary. In 2007, their defense allowed 259 yards per game passing, and Florida lost four games. But in 2008 I picked Florida No. 1, even though Georgia was No. 1 in the AP poll. Most folks said, 'Phil, are you out of your mind? I watched Florida's secondary last year and they were horrible.' And I said, 'Last year's secondary was extremely young, inexperienced and injury plagued. They're going to be a much improved secondary.' And Florida went on to win the national title. They went from allowing 25 points per game to 12 points per game, and at the end of the year, no one talked about a weakness at secondary.
"Bob Stoops has done an incredible job developing offensive linemen. Last year, they went through 10 different starting lineups, had a myriad of injuries, and naturally didn't play well, and I didn't expect them to play well last year. This year, while they lose two starters, they're in much better shape. A more cohesive unit. Last year's injuries gave players more experience playing. This is going to be an Oklahoma team that puts points on the board, and much like Florida's secondary in 2008, we're not going to be talking about OU's offensive line as a weakness, but rather a strength."
Other than Texas, which game scares you the most for the Sooners?
"The game I'm most concerned about is at Texas A&M. College Station is a very difficult place to play. Texas A&M is loaded on offense. One of the reasons I liked OU to win that game is the defense. Texas A&M will have an improved defense, top 50. But OU will be top 5. Offensively they'll be close. Defensively they'll have a large edge, but that would be the one game that would concern me."
You have Landry Jones as your fourth favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Please expound.
"I think his completion percentage will be at the 65 range. Getting work all spring and August with the first team is going to have a big help in that. I see his touchdown-to-interception ratio being like 31-9 this year. The coaches are going to be more confident in his abilities, he'll be more confident in his abilities. I think they've got an improved receiving corps. Landry Jones has got size, arm strength, decent mobility. I think you're going to see him have a very good year this year."
Last question: your prediction won't come through if this happens ...
"Landry Jones goes down with injury, or they have an injury-plagued season like last year. I feel very confident. It lines up in about eight different factors, like in 2008 with Florida, which caught a lot of flack. It just had everything lined up for them that year, just like Oklahoma this year. The Sooners were much better than their final record, had the stars lost to injury, they have the schedule set up for a perfect season."