Phil Steele took a lot of heat for picking Kansas University to finish fourth in the Big 12 North last season in his college football preseason magazine.
In a year that saw the Jayhawks reloading at the skill positions with guys like Todd Reesing, Jake Sharp, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, a slew of fans told Steele he simply didn’t know what the heck he was doing.
“You don’t know what the heck you’re doing would be a nice e-mail,” Steele said recently by phone. “They were calling me an idiot, that I didn’t know football for anything. They were saying, ‘How can you write a magazine when you have them ranked there?’ They were questioning my sanity, my football intellect. But that’s the thing about college football. The fans are so fervent.”
The Jayhawks, after a promising 5-0 start, lost their final seven games and finished last in the North. The tailspin was widely unexpected, considering KU was beginning to establish itself as a consistent team atop the North. Heading into 2009, the Jayhawks were fresh off two straight seasons of bowl game triumphs (8-5, Insight Bowl in 2008 season; 12-1, Orange Bowl in 2007).
So what did Steele see that most of the other preseason magazines failed to recognize?
“The schedule,” Steele said. “Drawing Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Only three Big 12 games were at home last year, and two were against Oklahoma and Nebraska. I was looking at it saying, ‘This schedule is ridiculous.’ They had the toughest schedule of any of the Big 12 teams last year.”
Steele, in his magazine that hits newsstands Tuesday, picked the Jayhawks to finish fourth again in the North in 2010.
Lindy’s also picked KU fourth in the North, while Athlon chose KU third. The Sporting News had the Jayhawks finishing second in the North to consensus-winner Nebraska.
“I think talent-wise, they’re not quite up to last year’s edition,” Steele said. “But when you factor in everything else, no Oklahoma, no Texas, no Texas Tech. Kansas will be facing an Oklahoma State team that’s rebuilding. They’ll take on a Baylor team that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1994. And they’ll face Texas A&M. I’d rather be facing those three.”
Steele said reaching a bowl game in coach Turner Gill’s first year in Lawrence wasn’t out of the question.
“I think Gill is a quality coach,” Steele said. “I liked what he did at Buffalo (Mid-American Conference champs in 2008). He steps into a better schedule. They have a better shot at improving on last year’s record despite not being as talented.”