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Phil Steele's Mountain West predictions

Regarded as one of the best in the business, Phil Steele continues to have some of the most compressive break downs of any preseason publication. This year is no different and as I've done with the other preseason publications, I'm going to take a look at what Steele has in store for the Utes and the Mountain West.

Here are Utah opponents that made Steele's top-25:

Louisville (7)
UCLA (21)
TCU (23)

Most publications have Utah playing 3 or 4 top-25 teams this year. If BYU is as good as some are expecting (2nd in the conference), that could be 4 or 5 top-25 opponents for the Utes.

Steele also lists his All-Mountain West First Team:

Offense:

QB Brian Johnson, Utah
RB Matt Asiata, Utah
RB Rodney Ferguson, UNM
WR Austin Collie, BYU
WR Ryan Wolfe, UNLV
WR Travis Brown, UNM
TE Kory Sperry. CSU
C Blake Schlueter, TCU
OG Matty Lindner, TCU
OG Brandyn Dombrowski, SD State
OT Jason Boone, Utah
OT Dallas Reynolds, BYU
K Sergio Aguayo, UNLV
KR Brice McCain, Utah


Defense:

DL Tommy Blake, TCU
DT Gabe Long, Utah
DT Blake Smith, CSU
DL Chase Ortiz, TCU
LB Robert Henson, TCU
LB Drew Fowler, Air Force
LB Beau Bell, UNLV
CB Mil'Von James, UNLV
CB DeAndre Wright, UNM
SS Brian Bonner, TCU
FS Steve Tate, Utah
P Louis Sakoda, Utah
PR Hoost Marsh, Wyoming

And here's how he sees the Mountain West turning out:

Rank Team
1 TCU
2 BYU
3 Utah
4 New Mexico
5 Colorado State
6-t UNLV
6-t Wyoming
8 San Diego State
9 Air Force

My first thought at this list is how high Steele ranks UNLV. That really surprises me, because I don't think they're going to be good enough to finish 6th in the conference. In fact, anything higher than 8th would be considerably shocking. I can see him putting Utah at 3rd, since BYU and TCU have proved they can get it done, while Utah under Whittingham hasn't. But that UNLV prediction has me scratching my head.

So how good has Steele been at predicating Utah's final conference standings? Well they [the media, bloggers and sports fans] say his conference predictions are some of the best out there, but I'm not so sure.

Year Predicted Finish Actual Finish
1999 5th 1st
2000 1st 4-t
2001 5th 3rd
2002 1st 4-t
2003 6th 1st
2004 1st 1st
2005 1st 4-t
2006 1st 3rd

The trend we're seeing with these predictions is that they're widely off on Utah's actual finish. Which essentially means the Utes just aren't a very consistent team. Earlier this decade Utah followed up winning seasons with a losing one and have only had back-to-back winning conference seasons once ('03 and '04). That will change if Utah finishes above .500 in the conference this season, but if they fail to, that trend will continue.

With all the praise Steele has received over the years, he's struggled -- most like every other publication -- in his prediction for Utah. I think this is more damning toward Utah than it is Steele's methods however.

It's also interesting to note that every time Steele has picked Utah to finish toward the bottom of the conference, they've finished 3rd or better. And only once, 2004, has he actually correctly predicted Utah's finish. The fact he has Utah finishing 3rd this season might actually bode well for them, since the past two times they've been picked to win the conference they've finished 4th and 3rd.

Later this week I'm going to examine these major publications using the entire conference and not just Utah. I'll probably also add other preseason predictions as they're released.