Profile of Phil Steele, professional college football analyst

Family man: Phil Steele spends his precious down time with his family, including 3-year-old daughter Savannah.
Family man: Phil Steele spends his precious down time with his family, including 3-year-old daughter Savannah. (By Greg Ruffing for The Washington Post)
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By Neely Tucker
Friday, November 27, 2009

Phil Steele is settling into his desk at 7:02 a.m., another 14-hour day of college football analysis cranking up, a Penn State tie knotted neatly at the throat, an Ohio State jacket hanging off the doorknob. He pops open the first of his 12 or 14 Diet Mountain Dews of the day and pours it into an ice-filled tumbler shaped like a football. His staff of 33 won't be in for another hour.

He is 48 years old, average height, sandy-haired, the publisher of an eponymous magazine and Web site (http://www.philsteele.com), and, for 28 years, has been perhaps the nation's most obsessive college football fan. He and his staff chart every play of every game and the performance of every player on all 120 major college teams. He wears a different college tie every day.

By dint of a frightening work ethic and the creation of ingenious algorithms that turn obscure statistics into stunningly accurate predictors of a team's success or failure, he has worked his way from sleeping on a cot in the back of a print shop to running a multimillion-dollar business, owning a 14,000-square-foot home (featuring an indoor basketball court), and being regarded as one of the nation's preeminent experts on the sport.

He is enlisted by more than a dozen awards committees to help them decide every major award in the sport. Coaches call him to privately tout their best players, knowing that his opinion, aired on radio shows across the country, carries great weight.

"If I'm going to put in 95 hours a week and work on one sport 365 days a year, what's the point of being second best?" he says, turning from his computer for a moment. He is incredulous when people walk into his office and just . . . chat. "I tell them, 'Do you realize you just cost me [reading] two pages of reports?' "

He says later: "I take it personally. I want to win. I compete."

This holiday weekend, when the regular season will come to a close with its annual three-day feast -- one game Thursday night, 13 Friday and 34 on Saturday -- millions of Americans will plop in front of the television, catching one or two or maybe even three games around family gatherings. Many a fan, perhaps most of them men, might muse that having Steele's job, watching college ball all day long, might be a version of guy heaven.

They might want to think again.

Grades and more grades

Phil Steele is so good he doesn't just pick winners (although he's right about 75.6 percent of the time), he predicts final scores.

Last week, in the Top 10, he predicted No. 1 Florida would beat Florida International 52-3. Actual: 62-3. He said No. 2 Alabama would win 42-0. They won 45-0. He said No. 4 Texas Christian would thump Wyoming, 40-6. Final: 45-10.

He picked unranked Ole Miss to upset No. 10 Louisiana State. Why? LSU, the little boxes of spreadsheet data on his computer say, was a paper tiger. They were actually being outgained by their opponents, 312 yards per game to 310! It was so obvious! He says Ole Miss would pull the upset, perhaps by 10.

Your final: Ole Miss 25, LSU 23.


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