Let's be honest here for a second: There is no surer sign that college football is coming, than seeing Phil Steele's magazine on newsstands and grocery stores in June and July.
And late last week, the legend himself Phil Steele joined the Aaron Torres Podcast discuss the book and the season ahead.
It really was a fascinating conversation - that you can listen to below - and one topic that Phil discussed was College Football Playoff sleepers.
Not surprisingly, he had some thoughts, with three teams that he believes can truly be in the mix come College Football Playoff time.
The first? Well, it's not all that much of a sleeper, as the team ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll, the Texas A&M Aggies:
The first one is Texas A&M. And with Texas A&M last year they were my No. 1 surprise team. They were coming off a five loss season [in 2019].
My No. 1 surprise team is a team that is not in the preseason Top 10 that I think has a shot of making the playoffs. A&M nearly got there, at the end of the year they were watching selection Sunday. Notre Dame or Texas A&M. Notre Dame got in, A&M just missed out. Now they lose four starters on their offensive line, but Coach Jimbo Fisher told me that he felt this year's offensive line is actually more talented than last years. In fact, he told me all five offensive lineman are NFL caliber. The four guys they lost, only one of them got drafted. So it is a more talented offensive line, and if that unit comes together by Week 6 when they host Alabama I give them a shot at winning that game.
And if they win that game, they have an excellent shot at bursting into the playoffs this year so keep your eyes on A&M. They have that College Station home field advantage, and I like Haynes King (their quarterback). I think he's going to have a really good season this year. They have an outstanding defense. They had the best defense in the SEC last year. Look out for A&M.
The next team that Steele liked came out of the Big Ten.
Yes, Ohio State is the favorite. But there's another in the Big Ten West worth keeping your eye on.
And then two long shot teams for ya that really have the talent and the schedule to potentially run the table: the first one is Wisconsin.
Now Wisconsin only averaged 3.9 yards per carry last year. They usually average 5-6 yards per carry. Part of the reason was an inexperienced offensive line, part of the reason was they didn't really have a feature running back. They were replacing a two-time thousand yard rusher. What happened was Jalen Berger started to emerge at the end of the year, but this year they have what I call 4 VHTs including Berger. So I think they're going to have a much improved run game with a more veteran offensive line.
Also, their quarterback Graham Mertz was 20 for 21 in the opener last year, and then had Covid and missed a couple weeks of practice and wasn't really quite the same the rest of the year. I think he will be one of the better quarterbacks in the country this year. The defense is going to be strong as always, and then when you look at the schedule. Their four Big Ten road games are all against teams that had losing records last year. Notre Dame is a game, which is a neutral site. They can very well be favored in all 12 games this year.
If they get to the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, keep in mind in both 2017 and 2019 they gave Ohio State all they wanted so they're a team that could sneak into the national title picture.
And the final one, a surprise out of the Pac-12.
Washington only got in five games last year, under first-year head coach Jimmy Lake.
Despite it, Steele believes they can make some noise in the Pac-12.
What I like about Washington is they have a big offensive line, the average is about 328 lbs. per man. [They have] a deep set of running backs, and they've got two veteran QBs, one of the better tight ends in the country in Cade Otton, and then defensively, Jimmy Lake always produces a great defense. The last two years he's had just two and six returning starters. This year he's got eight returning starters back on defense. They'll have a top notch defense.
Now, as I've mentioned, I think home field is going to be huge this year. Well, schedule wise, they avoid USC and Utah, the top two teams out of the Pac-12 South. Their toughest two games all year are Oregon and Arizona State and they get them both at home.
So I've actually got Washington favored in all 12 games this year. Back in 2016, they were my No. 1 surprise team and they made the playoffs that year! So, watch out, keep your eyes on the Huskies this year.
Clearly in just listening to Phil, you can hear his passion for college football.
To hear everything else, including how the magazine comes together, and some other stories he's looking at across college football this year, you can download the Aaron Torres Podcast or listen below.