Phil Steele predicts Martinez will start for a team that finishes fourth in Big Ten West
His annual college football preview magazine is affectionately known as the “the bible” by many of his consumers — for good reason.
It’s packed with information — an incredible amount of it, really.
“We spent a good six full months working on it,” Phil Steele said Monday during “Early Break” on 93.7 FM, his first media interview since his magazine’s final page went to press late last month.
“We start working on it the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” he said. “A lot of teams have completed their seasons at that point. Our entire staff gets rolling on getting the stats compiled. We meticulously go through every page, every stat. I think you’ll find the stats are 99.9 percent accurate each and every year.”
Steele conducted interviews with more than 100 FBS head coaches — Nebraska’s Scott Frost wasn’t among them, Steele said — to help get the most accurate depth-chart information possible. Those phone calls take about an hour apiece, he said.
Eight key points from Steele’s radio interview:
1. He picks Nebraska to finish fourth in the Big Ten West Division, one notch higher than last year’s finish.
“A lot of that is a product of the schedule,” he said.
He believes no Big Ten team has a tougher 2018 schedule than Nebraska.
He wasn’t asked for his top three in the West Division, but we know Wisconsin tops the list. More on the Badgers in a second.
2. He thinks true freshman Adrian Martinez will win Nebraska’s starting quarterback job.
“I liked what I saw from him in the spring game,” Steele said.
Steele watches the televised spring games closely from his home base in Cleveland.
“You’re looking at a guy (Martinez) who has great composure for an 18-year-old,” Steele said. “To me, he’s the perfect fit for the offense. He’s a dangerous runner but also throws the ball well.”
3. Many regard the strength of Nebraska’s entire team to be its receiving corps, led by senior Stanley Morgan and sophomore JD Spielman.
Steele ranks the Husker receivers (which includes tight ends) No. 2 in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State.
He feels Morgan and Spielman give the Huskers the best combo in the conference.
Pretty salty stuff.
4. He thinks Nebraska will improve its on-field performance, citing the fundamental change in offensive style.
“It sort of warms my heart to see there’s going to be less passing and a little bit more running this year,” he said. “That’s always good when it comes to Nebraska football.”
Why does more running warm his heart?
“If you look at Nebraska throughout the years, it always had been option football,” he said. “It’s sort of the niche they had — the offensive lines, the running backs, the option quarterbacks. Then you go to the Bill Callahan era, when they’re throwing the football all over the field. It was a disaster. They get back to the option (under Bo Pelini), then come back to the passing game (under Mike Riley). You look at last season, its worst since, what, 1961?
“I just think Nebraska’s niche in college football is the run game.”
5. He clearly respects Wisconsin’s offensive line tradition, saying it’s a defining quality of the program.
There’s also this: He indicated Nebraska needs to develop such enduring qualities in order to return to prominence — i.e., a Big Ten championship-level team.
“Wisconsin’s a team that, basically, if you are one of the best offensive linemen in the country, you think about going to Wisconsin because they produce NFL guys, they produce outstanding offensive lines each and every year,” Steele said. “That’s sort of their niche. They’ve always got that star running back as well, and they play great defense.
“I think if Nebraska gets back to the fundamentals they had during the glory days, they can get there. Now, will they get to the dominance level? I don’t think so. Because, back when Tom Osborne was there, let’s face it, Nebraska probably had the best strength-training program in the entire country. I mean, they blew some other programs away.”
Now, he said, essentially every program has advanced strength-training methods.
6. Steele believes the Big Ten has five potential top-10 teams: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin — not necessarily in that order.
The Buckeyes might actually be better off at quarterback with Dwayne Haskins than they were with J.T. Barrett, Steele said.
He notes that Michigan features nine returning starters on defense.
“That’s one of the best defenses in the entire country,” he said.
Steele said Penn State coach James Franklin feels the Nittany Lions’ offensive line “has gone from a weakness to a strength.”
But Franklin has only three returning starters on defense.
Meanwhile, you can’t discount Michigan State, which returns 19 starters, including quarterback Brian Lewerke.
“He’s really been a revelation,” Steele said.
As for the Badgers, “They do have the best track to be a top-10 team,” Steele said. “They have some guy, Jonathan Taylor, at running back. He’s pretty good.”
Steele was being facetious. He knows darned well Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards last season as a freshman, averaging 6.6 per carry.
7. Steele’s dark-horse team in the Big Ten?
You’re not going to like this, Nebraska fans.
“It might be a team like Iowa,” he said. “We’ve seen the magic it has at Kinnick Stadium the last couple years.”
Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska all must travel to Iowa City.
8. He picked the Big Ten as the nation’s toughest conference last season. What about this season?
“This year I have it tied with the SEC at No. 1,” he said. “You just have to be amazed at those potential top-10 teams the Big Ten has, and it’s getting better depth at the bottom.”