STILLWATER -- It's hard to think about talking to a man that just finished the last four months totally invested into putting together a 352-page college football enthusiasts treat with his college football preview magazine when the Miami Marlins just set sports on it's butt with 17 of their players and staff testing positive for the COVID-19 and putting a dent in the playing of organized team sports. But, the MLB is marching on and so is Phil Steele toward a college football season that will make his 2020 College Football Preview Magazine essential.
Steele agreed that the Marlins sudden team outbreak is not a good sign for major college football.
"Not a good sign, but I think again, in a couple of weeks after quarantine and then they come back and start playing again then it could be a good sign," Steele answered looking on the positive side. "Nobody really knows what's going to happen. When talking to the head coaches this year for the magazine and going over their teams with them, I didn't know what to expect. They are all of the same mindset, which was, 'I don't care if we didn't have spring football. Next man up and let's put the ball down, line up, and play football.'"
Season or not, Steele is fully invested and so are we. His picks in the Big 12 Conference aren't much different than what the media that covers the league came up with a couple of weeks ago. Steele does have six Oklahoma State Cowboys on his first-team All-Big 12 team including running back Chuba Hubbard, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, safety Kolby Harvell-Peel, and punt returner Dillon Stoner.
Steele techinically picks the Cowboys third, but he told me in a radio interview on Triple Play Sports Radio that he sees it tight between the Cowboys and the Longhorns for a trip to Arlington and the Big 12 Championship Game.
"I have Texas and Oklahoma State at second and third," Steele confirmed. "I think the battle to see who goes to play Oklahoma will come down to their game."
That will be very interesting if the season plays out the way it is scheduled as that game between Oklahoma State and Texas will be played in Boone Pickens Stadium on "Black Friday" the day after Thanksgiving. More than likely it will be played between Texas in their all white road uniforms and the Cowboys wearing some version of their all black they often wear at home.
Steele likes TCU in fourth and really believes that Frogs head coach Gary Patterson can't have another down season. He has Iowa State sitting at fifth in the Big 12.
"TCU whenever they have a losing season under Gary Patterson, they always bounce back big with a double-digit win season," Steele said. "With Iowa State, I would probably have them ranked a little higher, but they have the toughest schedule of the top five teams (in the Big 12)."
This is where the separation in the conference comes in Steele's eyes.
"There is a dividing line for me this season in the Big 12 and for me, that comes at five."
He has West Virginia in sixth and told me he felt that Neal Brown's team did better than he expected last season with five wins.
Steele has a tie this season between three teams for seventh. He pointed out that last season in the Big 12 there were only two teams that finished in slots by themselves. The other eight teams were all tied with at least one other team in the standings.
"There is a reason for picking ties," Steele defended his nuance in his selections. "You go back to last year and there was a tie for first, Oklahoma and Baylor. Then there was a four way tie for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth with those teams at 5-4 (records). Generally, you are going to have your computer come up with teams at the same record and my computer kept coming up with Kansas State, Baylor, and Texas Tech having the same record this season."
He pointed out that Baylor lost so much manpower and experience and has the new coach in Dave Aranda. Texas Tech will be dependent on whether quarterback Alan Bowman can stay healthy. The real tough one for Steele is having Kansas State in that lower division tie.
"It's tough for me to put Kansas State down there and the number kept coming up even as low as ninth," Steele said. "Putting Kansas State down there under Chris Klieman is tough. They had a good year last season and they have their quarterback back in Skylar Thompson. I think they will be better throwing the football. My biggest question with them will be the offensive line. They lose all five starters off the offensive line, but Coach Klieman thinks they will build a good offensive line and that is why they may be there."
Kansas was a definite 10th for Steele and just about everybody as evidenced by the Big 12 Media Poll.