I don't know who Phil Steele is, except that he puts out a dandy preseason football magazine, conveniently named Phil Steele's College Football Preview.

Since the mid-1980s, his gridiron obsession has made him a reputable source, even though he did tell the Cleveland Plain Dealer he's not a great writer.

"No one ever said that it's fine literature," he said. "I write with a purpose."

F. Scott Fitzgerald he's not.

Heck, he's not even Oscar Madison.

He is, however, an unapologetic football geek — which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He reportedly watches every televised college football game (estimated at about 700) before compiling his publication, which is on newsstands now.

And from what he has seen on film, live TV, video, DVD, TiVo, YouTube, paper or in his imagination, he has reached this conclusion: The Mountain West Conference's 2008 championship will depend on the outcome of the Utah-BYU game on Nov. 22.

He had to watch 700 games to decide that?

What's his next prediction, that gas prices will rise?

Nevertheless, you have admit he has a sense of drama. If this season unfolds as he sees it, the Utah-BYU game will feature two undefeated teams. Utah will win, thus becoming, as he puts it, "this year's non-BCS darling."

Adds Steele, "I feel both Utah and BYU have solid shots at going undefeated and getting the MWC back to a BCS Bowl."

His preseason rankings have Utah rated No. 14 and BYU No. 17.

Steele predicts Utah will meet Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl (sorry, no Fiesta this year) and BYU will face UCLA in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Why do I care what Phil Steele thinks? This week I spent $5 in gas money and $32.28 in magazine money, procuring as many preseason publications as possible. That way I could assess what those in faraway places think of the teams right here. After five stops, I had found only four magazines: Steele's, The Sporting News, Lindy's and Athlon.

Aside from Steele's, each publication has BYU rated higher than Utah.

BYU is ranked 19th by The Sporting News, 12th by Lindy's, and 14th by Athlon, while Steele's is the only publication that has Utah in its top 25.

"If the defense is retooled the way the offense was in 2007, BYU should win another MWC title and, this time, find itself in the BCS mix," says Athlon.

Meanwhile, Lindy's goes even further, predicting BYU will meet Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.

"One way or another," writes Lindy's, "there will be at least one BCS opening in a western bowl — and that's the destination BYU is aiming for in Bronco Mendenhall's fourth season."

Lindy's isn't alone in its optimism about the Cougars. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach had BYU ranked 14th after spring drills, noting, "The Cougars look like the best bet from a non-BCS conference to crash the big boys' party this coming season," and adding, "... the Cougars will easily be the class of the Mountain West Conference (and might even finish unbeaten)."

While it's clear Utah's BCS-busting '04 team and BYU's resurgence have given the MWC credibility, nothing important has changed. The conference is rated seventh-best in all four magazines. Though it remains ahead of the WAC, which has been making inroads, it is still the odd man out in the BCS picture.

Speaking of odd, has anyone heard from Utah State since the '70s?

Although Aggie coach Brent Guy is expecting a resurgence — USU won its final two games in '07 — the magazines apparently aren't convinced. USU is rated 118th (of 119 teams) by Lindy's and 117th by Athlon. The Sporting News and Steele's don't rank every team, but do pick USU to finish last in the WAC.

So the national guys have spoken. Everyone thinks Utah and BYU are the best of the MWC. And they unanimously agree USU is headed for another losing season.

It doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict that, either.


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