Phil Steele, one of the premier prognosticators in college football, has released his Top 25 preseason rankings, and to him, there’s no denying which conference looks the best on paper in 2016.
“Well, it’s almost the same every year. The SEC comes out the deepest,” Steele said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “You’ve got seven possible ranked teams playing in the West, and even in the East, (you’ve got) teams like Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. So it’s a stacked conference.”
Alabama versus LSU and Clemson versus Florida State will be two of the most highly anticipated – and playoff-impacting – games this season. The Tide will face LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 5, while Clemson will face Florida State in Tallahassee on Oct. 29.
“Each of those probably is a battle of top-five teams,” Steele said.
LSU has been as talented as any team in the country for several years, but poor quarterback play has come back to bite the Tigers against Alabama and the rest of the nation’s elite. Steele believes that could change this season.
“Here’s what I look at when I look at when I look at LSU,” he said. “Defensively last year, they were good, but they weren’t dominating. They gave up 347 yards per game, 24 points per game. Now Dave Aranda comes in from Wisconsin. He’s had the No. 1 defense in college football statistically the last three years. Well, he’s got more talent here at LSU than he ever had to work with at Wisconsin. Arden Key and Kendell Beckwith at linebacker, TreDavious White at cornerback, Davon Godchaux at nose guard – they’re going to have one of the best defenses in the country. In fact, I rate them the No. 2 defense in the country, which is a large step up from where they were last year.
“Offensively, Leonard Fournette was almost handed the Heisman at midseason last year and they also have Derrius Guice, who I think is going to be a nice change of pace for them,” Steele said. “At receiver, they’ve got two NFL-caliber guys in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. The offensive line with (Ethan) Pocic in the center, (William) Clapp at guard and (Maea) Teuhema at tackle – they have my No. 5 rated offensive line. So then it comes down to quarterback.”
That would be Brandon Harris, who completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 2,165 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last year. He also ran for 226 yards and four touchdowns. But he was woeful against Alabama, going 6-of-19 for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 30-16 loss in Tuscaloosa.
“Brandon Harris is 6-3, 222 pounds, he’s got a strong arm, he’s also very mobile and he’s been reading defenses for two years,” Steele said. “He’s just got to improve on that 53.8 completion percentage. But we do see quarterbacks improve as they gain experience. I think he’ll be an improved QB this year, and if you’re a defensive coordinator, you’re worried about stopping Leonard Fournette. That should open up the short passing game for them. I think he’s surrounded by talent. I look for Brandon Harris not to have a great year, but all he has to do is have a good year and that LSU offense will be very potent.”