Waiting in my mailbox today after a week at the SEC spring meetings was my first preseason football magazine – Phil Steele’s College Football Preview.
Can August two-a-days be far away?
Predictably, Steele has South Carolina picked to finish fourth in the SEC East – the Gamecocks’ customary lane assignment. Steele had a couple of interesting observations and/or tidbits about the Gamecocks.
First off, he believes Steve Spurrier’s squad has the nation’s toughest schedule in 2009, pointing out the Gamecocks’ opponents had a winning percentage of 62.8 percent (98-58) in ’08.
Next, Steele puts USC among 17 teams he believes are “Going Up” as far as turnovers are concerned – that is, schools that will improve on their turnover margins and improve their overall fortunes.
The Gamecocks threw more interceptions (27) than any team in the country in ’08 and wound up at minus-11 in turnover margin. If I understand Steele’s logic, I think his premise is that odds are against USC quarterbacks throwing that many picks again.
That’s the good news. The bad: Steele ranks the Gamecocks among the three most inexperienced teams in the country based on a formula he devised.
According to Steele, USC, Navy and Mississippi State are the only schools with 60.5 percent or less of their lettermen returning, 11 or fewer returning starters and an inexperienced quarterback expected to start. As such, Steele says his research shows those teams have only about a 10 percent chance of improving their record.
I guess the only part of that I would question is labeling Stephen Garcia as inexperienced. True, the right-hander from Tampa started only three games in ’08 (going 1-2 vs. LSU, Tennessee and Iowa).
But he played in five other games, coming off the bench to lead the Gamecocks to a win at Kentucky and alternating with Chris Smelley nearly every snap in a home victory vs. Arkansas and in a blowout loss to Florida before 90,000-plus at The Swamp.
Garcia was often ineffective and made a number of poor decisions throwing the ball into traffic, but I think getting that game experience last year was instrumental in his development.
Phil Steele’s College Football Preview will be available at newsstands for $8.95 beginning June 9.