Before we get too excited about Phil Steele’s predictions for TCU in 2014, let’s remember how wrong he was about TCU in 2013. (Phil Steele wasn’t the only one who was roundly wrong about TCU last season; but today’s post is about Phil Steele, so spotlight’s on the man with the mustache.)
Phil Steele called TCU’s quarterbacks "a deep group and one of the best in the country." He thought TCU’s receiving corps was "one of the top" in the Big 12. He expected the Frogs’ o-line to put up improved numbers, because it returned more career starts than the 2012 unit. He expected the d-line to keep opposing teams’ rushing numbers below 2.9 per carry, and thought the linebackers (led by Kenny Cain) and secondary to be terrific. Add it all up, and Phil Steele thought the Frogs would get 9 or 10 wins and finish fourth in the conference, and legitimately contend for the conference championship.
Of those eight predictions, only one (maybe two) were correct. The Frogs’ secondary was terrific; their linebackers weren’t bad, either. But quarterback play? O-line play? Receiving? Yards-per-carry allowed? How many wins? The Frogs contended, all right, but not for the conference championship. Most of the season they were in the running for worst team in the conference.
So Phil Steele could hardly have gotten TCU more wrong, looking ahead to the 2013 season. He wasn’t alone. (Phil Steele’s relentless self-promotion as an accurate predictor doesn’t hold up very well to a little scrutiny. His stock line "most accurate preseason magazine the last 16 years" is plastered over a chart showing Phil Steele to be the most accurate preseason magazine exactly six of the last 16 years. But who are we to argue? We also thought TCU was going to contend for the Big12 crown…)
That all said, now it’s time to congratulate Phil Steele for what he does do—he compiles and publishes the most unique preseason magazine on the market, and does assemble the most encyclopedic compendium of information about every team in D-1A. It’s a tremendously valuable work, and it does lend itself to prediction with a moderate degree of reliability.
And this humble blogger devours the magazine every July and August, while waiting with decreasing patience, for the actual games to be played.
And what does Mr. Steele think about TCU in 2014?
He again tabs the Frogs to finish fourth in the conference; he again thinks TCU has the best defensive line on the conference, but one of the worst offensive lines; he again thinks TCU’s linebackers and secondary will be very good.
But he backs off predicting a win total and calls TCU a "surprise team of the Big 12" but doesn’t mention anywhere contention for a title.
Let’s examine these predictions.
Defensive line? You bet it’s going to be among the conference’s best. Devonte Fields will get a lot of attention, but Gary Patterson is directing eyes to the other end, junior Terrell Lathan. Patterson said this off-season that he’s not sure if Lathan isn’t the best end on the team, including Devonte Fields. That ought to cause a few offensive coordinators’ hearts to skip a beat. Fields was simply beastly in 2012; imagine another player like that playing opposite him? Good grief! Add a couple tackles who merit double-teams themselves, and suddenly TCU looks like it can control the line of scrimmage and really disrupt the backfield.
Which is a very good thing because TCU’s offensive line (tied for eighth-best, or second-to-last in the conference, in Phil Steele’s estimation) isn’t going to be controlling the line of scrimmage very much. Last season the hogmollies improved a little late in the season; maybe that improvement continues into 2014; Phil Steele expects them to "greatly improve upon [last year’s] poor numbers."
They’d darn well better, because whoever’s taking snaps (which is a whole new argument) isn’t going to want to be running for his life as much as Pachall and Boykin did last season.
Otherwise, Phil Steele’s enthusiasm for TCU is tempered. He predicts the quarterback play will be no worse than last year’s. Considering last year’s worst-in-a-decade totals, it’s hard to see that prediction failing. Linebackers and secondary OK? Sure; special teams? Probably they’ll be OK, which is about what Steele predicts.
Fourth in the Big 12?
Here’s where we tip a hat to Phil Steele. He doesn’t smish-smash and give ranges; he orders teams and makes specific predictions about who’s finishing where.
The sad truth is TCU fans (myself included) probably would sleep well with a fourth place finish in the Big 12, while this team has potential to be so much better than that. The defense is going to keep the Frogs in every game this season (barring a frightful spate of injuries), and the offense doesn’t need to be spectacular to put up Ws. I think this season turns on what improvement the o-line can show for the runningbacks. If TCU can give them room to churn, the defense will do the rest. Whatever magic the quarterback and receivers can concoct will be icing on the cake.
But the difference between 2-6 in conference, and 6-2 will be in the cloud of dust up front. Next we’ll look at what Bill Connelly at SBNation has to say about TCU in 2014.