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Phil Steele Hates Trent Richardson

and other assorted curiosities.

I have nothing against Phil Steele, admire him quite a bit actually. I am sure as hell not going to publish a 328-page college football preview magazine in 3.5 font and cram every possible bit of detail into it, including Les Miles' periodontist (Dr. Richard Stein, BS, Tulane '84, DDS, North Carolina, '89, VHT, #3, prdntl resdnt of yr, dental AA as 1st yr!). Every Father's Day I buy his magazine. Then, along with the rest of you, I slowly and methodically pick it apart.

This season "methodically" didn't quite cover it, as I stared mouth agape at the Oklahoma Sooners occupying the number one slot. Perhaps my agape mouth was an homage to the people of Oklahoma. I do not know.

At any rate, Steele argued his Oklahoma placement fairly well. If bias afflicts him--and I am not particularly conspiratorial on this point, sorry--then his biggest bias is his own past history. Steele alone predicted a dark horse national title run for the Sooners in 2000, and then for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2002. Really, he just predicted that those two teams would be somewhat better than everybody else predicted (Jimmy the Greek became famous because he predicted that the Jets would cover the spread easily against the Colts in Super Bowl III, not win the game). I know this because he mentions it about a dozen times over his 328 pages. If he could only find out who stole the damn strawberries. But I digress.

My favorite feature is his position rankings, listing the best 50 or 60 or so players at every position in college football. Texas fans went apoplectic reading through this, as well. Garrett Gilbert wasn't among the 60 best quarterbacks in college football. Anyone buy that? If so, then perhaps a trade for Austin Arnaud or Nate Costa is in order.

But I was more amazed that Alabama's Trent Richardson wasn't among the best 64 running backs. Gilbert oozes talent, but let's be fair, we have seen him play about a quarter of excellent football. Trent Richardson had a full season and made the most of it, using each Saturday to add some fairly astonishing tape to his NFL draft night highlight reel (and, quite regrettably, including one play in the BCS title game. Ugh.)

Then I read the fine print: Draft Eligible. Huh? I checked back through his past issues (my collection goes back to 1999). You've never had to be draft eligible before to figure into his rankings. All you had to do was to actually play college football, seeing as how this is a COLLEGE FOOTBALL preview magazine. Why for the love of Mel Kiper do I care if a player is draft eligible or not?

My fear, and a theme I will keep an eye on from here on in, is that it is another slight NFL-ization of the world. I don't need this in my life. I figured that out last year at Cowboy Stadium when I realized that finding esoteric information like the score, time remaining and down and distance was torturous on the video crawl separating the upper and lower economic classes, er, decks, but the display proudly provided every fantasy stat imaginable for the game's in progress. All things in life are apparently meaningless if they don't somehow connect to the NFL. All players in college football are meaningless if they are not draft-eligible, including Garrett Gilbert and Trent Richardson. Say it ain't so, Phil.

Nevertheless, Steele does a competent enough job of covering the entire landscape, with a few items of note:

Yes, Texas fans, he believes Curtis Brown is the better cornerback than Aaron Williams, but he thinks both are estimable: Brown 6th nationally, Williams 8th. I think Williams may be seven spots too low. So does Scipio Tex, I would suspect.

Butch Davis shows up in Chapel Hill and, four years later, the Carolina roster is chock full of nasty defensive players. This year will feature a particularly brutal DT/DE combination: Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn.

Does anyone (other than Phil Steele) really think DeMarco Murray is the second-best tailback in the country? Would you take him over Ryan Williams? Over Noel Devine? John Clay? I wouldn't either.

Funny, but Steele seems to me to underrate the big boys when it comes to player rankings. Of course he has no basis for comparison when a previous back-up for the likes of Florida or USC finally sees the field and performs at an all-conference level when the talent was there all the time. He can't be expected to know everything. Then again, some known quantities seem to get the shaft. Is John Brantley the 14th best quarterback in the nation? Or is he more like seventh or eighth? Think Urban Meyer wants to trade him for Ricky Stanzi?

I don't understand the fascination with Jake Locker. Remarkable athlete, yes. Number one quarterback in the nation? Not just no but hell no. Has Steele gone completely in the tank for pro potential? Who meant more for their team in the W/L column last season? Locker (QB #1, according to Steele), Tyrod Taylor (QB #15), or Josh Nesbitt of Georgia Tech (QB #43)? All incredibly skilled, unpredictable, mistake prone...and capable of making game-clinching plays. Two of these quarterbacks played for winning teams. One didn't. Yes, Washington's supporting cast stunk. But still.

Two of the best 44 tight ends in the nation both play for Vanderbilt. I believe an SEC title is clearly in the offing.

Texas's best skill position player--if the rankings are to be believed--is Malcolm Williams, the 42nd best wide receiver in the land (woo hoo!!!). No running backs in the top 64, no other receivers in the top 76. The Aggies' Jeff Fuller would be ranked much higher than Malcolm...but isn't, since he's not draft eligible.

Cody Johnson does get a consolation prize as the nation's 4th best fullback, behind such luminaries as Charles Clay of Tulsa and the great Owen Marecic of Stanford.