WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

Good news, bad news

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West Virginia’s non-conference football schedule is set. In addition to the season-opening game against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field, which has a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time, we now know the home games against East Carolina on Sept. 9 and Delaware State on Sept. 16 will begin at noon. The opener will be on ABC, the ECU game will be on FS2 (!) and the Delaware State will be on Root Sports.

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This seems quite appropriate

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West Virginia has had to cobble together a pitching staff for much of this season, and just enough parts of the offense have slipped at once from time to time to give the lineup a collective limp. Braden Zarbnisky, the sophomore who ought to have a better explanation than anyone else for irregular performances, has been the team’s most reliable and likely most valuable player … on offense and as a pitcher.

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Headlines forthcoming

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The Big 12 has a round of meetings this week in Dallas, and the league’s executives will have a news conference later this afternoon. There are no seismic issues to deal with, like expansion or membership loyalty, and time will be devoted to minor but important matters like details for football’s championship game and probably scheduling structures. The big news, I am certain, will be the payouts.

The SEC — the Big Bad of college sports — cut checks for about $40 million per school. That’s a big number and a big deal. The Big 12 is going to be right there. The SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 hold the Tier 3 rights of member schools. The Big 12 does not. If the projection is accurate, WVU’s deal with IMG College alone will push its sum to an SEC level.

The Big 12 needs this news. It’s taken a gavel to the head in the court of public opinion for far too long, and it’s almost become stylish to poke fun at the league for how it structures its football conference or how many players are picked in the NFL draft. Despite all the trappings, it can’t be disputed that the league is a financial success and is leaving other conferences in its rear view mirror.

Kicker tape time

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It wasn’t that long ago when scholarships were not set aside for special teams. Kicker, punters, holders and snappers were ordinarily walk-ons, and with rare exceptions the 85 scholarships were sprinkled atop offense and defense only. You still see a kicker wearing No. 97, a punter from a nearby high school, a holder who’s the backup quarterback or a snapper who’s only ever snapped and has made the most of hundreds of thousands of snaps, but you also players who are trained through camps and clinics to gain experience and exposure. If players are becoming specialized, it then makes sense to see football teams do the same and specialize their recruiting.

West Virginia has done this, devoting free rides to people who boot, snap and plant the ball, and it’s beginning to resemble quarterback recruiting in that the more you recruit the more likely you are to find the right player. Mike Molina is the kicker, but he’ll be a senior. The Mountaineers have Jonn Young, but it seems as if he may end up as the punter. WVU’s succession plan includes a kicker in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes.

Earlier this month, West Virginia assistant Mark Scott made a trip to South Carolina with the sole purpose being to see Seneca High School specialist Hunter Pearson. The 6-foot-4, 192-pound prospect is ranked as the No. 3 kicker in the country by Kohl’s Kicking, the top experts in the field. It didn’t take long for Scott to pull the trigger and offer.

“He talked about liking my size and frame, my leg, and personality,” said Pearson. “He said that the current kicker [Mike Molina] will be a senior [this year], so there would be a chance that I could get the job right away if I went out there and performed.”

 The battle for Pearson won’t be an easy one. Virginia has also offered, and numerous other programs have indicated that they, too, could extend a scholarship in the near future.

Even if the Mountaineers were to land Pearson and make him the kicker, and have Young as the punter, the staff would not rest on that combo alone for the future. That’s why they have also offered a 2019 specialist that may be the best in the country — Altoona (Pa.) Bishop Guilfoyle’s Kolton McGhee.

Get hype!

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We are a long, long way from the beginning of the college basketball season, but West Virginia basketball was on our minds last week. Best player returns to school. Top post player picks professional basketball. Blue-blood program added to the home schedule. That was four days.

So, a whole lot changed, right? Yes and no.

After digging in and poring over some stats and some conversations I had with people in and around the program, I came away with this: The Mountaineers are used to this and seemed situated to succeed.

They have pieces in place and a plan to proceed. They’ll need a couple of things to go their way — two new starters, no fewer than four Power 5 non-conference opponents and five first-year players among the variables — but there are expectations once again inside the Coliseum: “I think,” coach Bob Huggins said, “we’re going to perform at a very high level.”

How? With whom? Why? There are questions, and though answers will have to wait, some clues are already available.

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You’ll note the silence at the beginning there. West Virginia baseball manager Randy Mazey was on the cusp of tears Monday when the Mountaineers made program history after setting out to make program history. His eyes welled up again later when Mazey was talking about all the team had to overcome this season, said he doesn’t “do much around here” and instead credited his staff of assistant coaches and staff members.

College baseball may or may not mean a lot to you. That, as you now know, is not the consensus.

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Rejoice!

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WVU v. Maryland at 2 p.m. Friday. Winner and loser moves on to play winner and loser of Wake Forest v. UMBC.

Swing king

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Colin Simpson is a fine baseball player. Oklahoma State’s catcher was honorable mention all-conference and, as of this typing, is batting .291 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. But when Colin Simpson plays West Virginia, he’s a legend.

In four games this season, the sophomore is 8-for-17 with five home runs, 12 runs batted in and six runs scored against the Mountaineers. He homered twice Thursday, striking a momentous blow in the first inning and a decisive one in the sixth, and drove in five runs as the Cowboys pushed WVU into the loser’s bracket of the Big 12 tournament with an 8-4 win.

“When we left Stillwater earlier this year, we gave their catcher the nickname of Homer Simpson. He lived up to the billing today again. He’s like I said yesterday. Some people play really good on a certain field like we do. He just feels so comfortable at the plate against us. That guy’s killed us.

“Our offense, we were clicking tonight. We just left too many guys on base early. Every guy that stood in there had a really good at-bat. We made a lot of hard outs. We got a lot of hits. I think the difference was we walked seven and hit two, and they only walked two. We gave them a lot more free bases, but our offense really grinded that one out. I’m super proud of them.

“Our kids are tired. We’re out there battling as hard as we can against a really good team. We knew coming in that these guys were going to be tough on us. They’d won three in a row playing in front of their home crowd. They’re playing with a lot of confidence, as are we. I just thought that was a really good game. I looked up in the fifth inning and they’re beating us 8-2, but we’re out-hitting them at the time 12-10, I think. That was the difference, the free bases. Some of their hits went and landed on the wrong side of the fence and none of ours did.”

Thanks, Randy Mazey. That about covers it.

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‘This is pretty much his team.’

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The cards West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins holds have been shuffled here lately. His best player returned. His best post player departed. His schedule got a tick trickier. Those last two are important, but the first one trumps them all. Having Jevon Carter on the roster assuages a lot of worries.

For most, I should say. For others, consider this a warning.

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And Kentucky it is

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https://twitter.com/Big12Conference/status/867742624823877632

Big news cycle for the Big 12. College baseball’s best conference opened its conference tournament Wednesday and the Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 8 advanced to the winners bracket. Someone from the No. 1 v. No. 5 game and the No. 2 v. No. 3 games — and thats’ four RPI top 25 teams there — are done after today. We thought something like this might happen.

And we also thought we’d get WVU v. Ketucky in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Today, it was confirmed. The Jan. 27 (2018!) matchups:

Baylor at Florida
Tennessee at Iowa State
Texas A&M at Kansas
Georgia at Kansas State
Oklahoma at Alabama
Oklahoma State at Arkansas
TCU at Vanderbilt
Mississippi at Texas
Texas Tech at South Carolina
Kentucky at West Virginia

The Wildcats haven’t been to Morgantown since 1970 and own a 15-5 lead in the series. WVU’s wins have been separated by 14, 17, two and 51 years.

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