Phil Steele: Projecting the Bulldogs

My copy of Phil Steele‘s 2011 College Football Preview magazine arrived earlier this week. It came in a gold-plated heavy-duty envelope, was wrapped in gold leaf, and smelled like Lou Holtz‘s aftershave.

I’ve delved into “the book the experts cannot do without” a little bit and plan to get a few blog posts out of it, like this one. Let’s see what Steele thinks of Mississippi State, which went 9-4, won the Gator Bowl and finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press rankings in 2010.

Steele has two sets of rankings: His preseason top 40 and his power poll top 120. MSU is No. 36 in the former, No. 25 in the latter. Steele explains that the top 40 is where he projects teams will finish the season, while the power poll is a combination of his nine million sets of power ratings (OK, just nine), which takes into account things like strength of schedule.

In his preseason ranking blurb on MSU, Steele notes the Bulldogs’ “brutal schedule” and writes, “(Dan) Mullen is doing wonders here.”

Just how brutal is State’s schedule? Steele ranks it the 15th-toughest in the nation and fifth-toughest in the SEC. (The Bulldogs’ 2010 schedule was rated No. 4 by Steele.) He writes, “This year they have a schedule which will either produce greatness or disappointment.”

He predicts MSU will finish fourth in the loaded Western Division, with Alabama, LSU and Arkansas going 1-2-3. The key to where MSU finishes, Steele says, depends largely on how they fare against what he says are three AP preseason top-10 teams: LSU, South Carolina and Alabama. All of those games are in Starkville. (Don’t know how Steele is able to cite a preseason poll that’s not out yet, but it’s probably safe to say those three teams will be in the AP’s top 10.)

“All 9 sets of my power ratings have MSU in the top 25 talent-wise but I cannot see them topping (last year’s) 9 win total,” Steele writes.

Experience counts for something, though, and MSU ranks second in the SEC (16th nationally) on his experience chart. Of course, Vanderbilt is first in the league (15th nationally), and nobody is expecting much from that team. Anyway, Steele says MSU’s secondary is the most experienced in the country with 98 percent of the starts back from 2010, and that certainly seems to be the strongest part of the defense.

An interesting projection Steele makes is stats for the coming season. He predicts MSU will average 28.6 points per game, 185 rushing yards per game and 235 passing yards per game. MSU’s 2010 averages in those categories: 29.0, 214.8 and 186.5.

The rushing number is a bit curious, considering the return of Chris Relf, Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. Perhaps he expects Relf to pass more this season.

More to come from Steele.