Phil Steele, college football's most prominent preseason prognosticator, released his predictions on the 2012 season throughout the past month.
In his title game, Steele has Oklahoma playing Florida State. In the Cotton Bowl, he has Oklahoma State against Arkansas. For both state teams, that's an optimistic outlook. On Monday, Steele justified those picks:
Q: You have Oklahoma in the national championship game. How did you come to that conclusion?
A: With Oklahoma, you look at both the talent and the schedule. First of all, you look for a potential bounce back year after being the AP No. 1 team in the country. In 2010, Alabama did the same thing and no one picked them to win it in 2011. I had Alabama last year and they won the title.
Well, Oklahoma disappointed a lot of people last year, losing three games, so maybe they are poised for a bounce back year. I like the combination of the defense, which has seven returning starters coming back. Overall, they have my 17th-rated D-Line, 14th-rated linebackers, 4th-rated D-Backs. I look at them to chop at least 50 yards per game off their defense.
Then offensively, (Dom) Whaley should be around all season, I like the receiving corps despite the suspensions, (Kenny) Stills and (Trey) Metoyer are both quality guys. The offensive line I rate No. 5. And Landry Jones will have a bounce back year.
Then I always base a lot on the schedule. When you look at Oklahoma's schedule this year, they really don't take on a team they can't beat on the road. They play UTEP, Texas Tech and Iowa State on the road. West Virginia was playing in the Big East last year and down the stretch they had to win three very close games in the final three and then win a tiebreaker. All three games they trailed in the second half and barely won. They are dangerous and they could be very good, but I just don't put them up in the Oklahoma territory yet. And it's the same thing with TCU, they have been dominant in the Mountain West Conference, but if you look at who TCU played last year, they were beating teams like ULM, Portland State and New Mexico. Then Oklahoma State loses Weeden and Blackmon and the Texas game last year was 55-17. So I just didn't have a game on the schedule where Oklahoma was an underdog. They are favored in all 12 games and wouldn't have to play in a Big 12 title game, so they would have less obstacles to going undefeated than a team from the SEC or Pac-12, for that matter.
You mentioned the receiving problems, losing three guys expected to get a bulk of the playing time. Did that worry you at all?
Well, Broyles is gone and the other guys as you mentioned, but I like Stills and I like Metoyer. Courtney Gardner has a chance of coming in and you look at some other guys out there, some highly rated guys, some JUCOs, possibly that Fresno State transfer (Jalen Saunders) might be eligible. So I do like the talent they are bringing in and I think they'll be deep enough to replace those guys.
You were high on Landry Jones last year and this season you have him as a second-team preseason All-American. What do you like so much about him?
I think Landry Jones last year, you look at the final four games and the 1:6 (touchdown:interception) ratio and that really had to do with the Belldozer being in there. When you get in the redzone and the Belldozer takes away your touchdown passes, you're not going to throw a lot in there. You're going to have to throw long TDs. But I think Jones will have a bounce back year this season. He lost his top receiver and top running back during the course of the year.