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June 13, 2012

Is Man of Steele For Real?

Phil Steele: A Bulldog Soothsayer?
Anxiously waiting for each football season to start, there's little I enjoy reading more during the month of June than the annual copy of Phil Steele's College Football Preview.  I've been a big fan of Phil since the release of his very first preview in 1995.  I remember the momentous occasion like it was yesterday, thumbing through the inaugural edition at Barnett's News Stand in downtown Athens.  Then and there I first witnessed a college football preview like no other; then and there I stopped wasting my money buying any other preseason college football magazine.

As a friend of mine and fellow follower of Phil once stated, Steele's magazine is the only one which will give you a sentence or two about your favorite team's third-string center.  Detailed and thorough, Phil goes way above and beyond in his coverage of each school, writing every word himself, unlike other magazines which may have nearly a dozen contributing writers.

Steele's preview is evidence that the man undoubtedly works hard at following and handicapping football 365 days per year a fact he is proud of.  He is also most certainly proud of his handicapping prowess, and he ain't too shy to tell his readers about it.

For years, I've noticed the same two-page section towards the back of the magazine, where Phil's preseason predictions are compared to the prognostications of more than 10 other magazines.  This year's edition declares, "THE MOST ACCURATE PRESEASON MAGAZINE THE LAST 14 YEARS!"  And, sure enough, according to the STASSEN College Football Information site, no one has been better at predicting FBS conference finishes over the last 14 seasons (1998-2011) than Phil.

Specifically, as far as our Bulldogs go, apparently Steele has their number as well, and again, he doesn't mind telling you so.  According to Phil, his preseason publication of 2005 "was the only one to call for UGA to win the SEC East (most had them 3rd)."  Steele touts, in 2007 "the SEC media picked [UGA] #3 in the East.  I was the only magazine to pick them to win the SEC East..."  A year later in 2008, "Georgia was the AP preseason #1, I had them #9 predicting Florida to win the title which they did."

Therefore, you can imagine my concern when I first laid eyes on Steele's preseason predictions for Georgia this upcoming year: No. 8 in the nation, or a little lower than every other preseason ranking I've seen, 2nd in the SEC East behind the detested Gators, when everyone else is picking us to capture a second consecutive divisional title, and a Capital One Bowl appearance against Michigan.

There go my plans to be at the Georgia Dome in early December, while I better start saving up for a side trip to Disney World after Christmas.

Never in doubt, I still decided to measure the accuracy of Phil regarding the Bulldogs' annual finishes in the SEC East standings and Associated Press national rankings.  Similar to the method used at the STASSEN site, I compared the preseason predictions of Steele, Athlon, Lindy's, and the Associated Press for Georgia to the team's actual and final SEC East standings and national rankings over the same 14-year period.

For the Associated Press Poll, I simply based Georgia's preseason SEC East "ranking" on its positioning in the poll compared to the other teams in the division.  For example, the Bulldogs' 19th preseason ranking in the 2011 AP Poll compared to South Carolina's 12th and Florida's 22nd, while the remaining three teams were not ranked in the top 25, projected Georgia as No. 2 in the East according to the Associated Press.

If Georgia was not preseason ranked in any of the four forecasters' top-25 rankings OR the AP Poll's final top 25 circumstances which occurred in just 8 of the possible 70 national rankings the Bulldogs, like applicable teams at the STASSEN site, were assigned a ranking of 26th.

Tie-breakers within final conference standings were determined by which team reached the SEC title game (for ties for 1st place), followed by head-to-head result, then the best overall record, and lastly, if need be, the teams' final AP national ranking.

Calculated was the difference between each predictor's preseason ranking and the final standing/ranking for Georgia.  For example, if one predicted the Bulldogs to finish 23rd in the nation, like Steele forecasted in 2002, but they wound up ranked 3rd, the predictor was penalized 20 points, or 20 position slots.  The total number of penalized points was divided by 14 for an annual projected vs. final ranking difference over the period of 1998 through 2011.  The lower the difference, the better:

SEC EAST Standings
0.82- Phil Steele
0.86- Associated Press
0.93- Athlon
0.93- Lindy's

NATIONAL (AP) Rankings
6.00- Associated Press
7.07- Lindy's
7.21- Athlon
8.50- Phil Steele

As determined, Steele is indeed the best of the four when predicting Georgia's finish in the SEC East, but barely.  In fact, there's little difference between the top prognosticator and the bottom.  Such close proximity is to be expected when the forecasted and actual standings for most of the 14 seasons were normally comprised of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in the top three and Vanderbilt at the very bottom.

However, when it comes to ranking the Bulldogs on the national scene, comparatively speaking, Phil has had his troubles.  His preseason national ranking for Georgia has averaged 8½ spots removed from where the Bulldogs have actually finished.

In closing, if it wasn't already obvious from the beginning of this post, I respect and appreciate Phil Steele's work, especially his college football preview.  I am a long time follower of his, once was even quoted in his preview, and even blogged for PhilSteele.com a couple of years ago.  Nevertheless, when it comes to Phil and his prognostications for the Bulldogs, it appears the Man of Steele is actually very human.

And good thing...  I don't think I could get accustomed to again finishing second fiddle to Florida in the East, while facing another Big-10 foe in a non-BCS bowl.


Anonymous said...

Technically in 07 we didn't win the east. Otherwise we would have most likely won the National Championship that year.

Heathbar09 said...

Technically, we did win the east. We were co-champions with Tennessee, which is considered "winning" the east. But for obvious reasons, UT had the tiebreaker and went to the SEC Champtionship.

Unknown said...

Agreed, Vocal Alchemy... I could (and have) listened to her voice over and over again...

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