I haven’t received my copy of Jed Drenning’s The Signal Caller magazine yet, but some other college football preview magazines showed up on my desk Thursday morning just in time for the calendar to flip to June.
The 208-page Street & Smith’s 2017 College Football bills itself as the “No. 1 fan choice,” but I’m not sure Mountaineer football fans are going to be too enamored with its fifth-place Big 12 pick for WVU.
The Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff writes that “West Virginia, TCU and Baylor appear to be the Big 12’s middle layer.”
Dana Holgorsen’s decision to give up the play calling duties was one of Street & Smith’s “three trending stories to watch in the Big 12.”
The national outlook for WVU is much brighter, however. Street & Smith national correspondent Pete Williams ranks the Mountaineers No. 22, writing, “Florida transfer QB Will Grier
and new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital should boost what was a modest passing attack. The Mountaineers will still run first, but a balanced attack will make a difference in Morgantown.”
Could the Mountaineers be hiding behind the bushes poised for another ambush season in 2017?
Lindy’s thinks that is a possibility.
“America’s Leading Football Authority,” as Lindy’s calls itself, has the Mountaineers rated No. 22 heading into the fall.
In the good news category, Lindy’s writes that “QB Will Grier
looks like the real deal, which could dial up a great season offensively for West Virginia. Grier - coming off a year’s suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs during his time at Florida - had an outstanding spring.”
In the bad news category, Lindy’s is a little bit leery of WVU’s schedule, writing, “Every schedule presents multiple serious challenges, but this one does more than most. The home opener (sic) against Virginia Tech could start things off on the wrong foot. But the league roadies - at TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma - look more than a little daunting.”
As for Lindy’s call, it writes, “No, the Mountaineers don’t have to win the Big 12 to have the right kind of outcome. They do need to win some league games they should, and maybe one they shouldn’t. They’ve got it in them.”
Regarding West Virginia’s finish in the Big 12, West Virginia gets fourth billing heading into the fall.
And then there is Athlon Sports with our own Justin Crawford
gracing one of this year’s regional covers.
Celebrating 50 years, as Athlon’s touts on its cover, there are “six pages of West Virginia team coverage” plus “Coaching Paranoia”, “SEC Coaching Mediocrity Reigns”, “What’s up with the Fade?”, “The Top 50 Players of the Athlon Era” and “The Top 50 Innovators in College Football” in this year’s edition.
Inside, WVU doesn’t quite make the cut for Athlon’s Top 25, but the magazine does project another bowl bid for Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers, picked to finish fifth in the Big 12.
Perhaps the most interesting section is Athlon’s team scouting reports, which quote anonymous coaches.
Here is a sampling, “I think their defensive coaches do a super job,” said this anonymous coach. “Tony Gibson is the best defensive coordinator in the conference, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Their 3-3 package is flat-out difficult to prepare for. You just don’t see that defense all the time. No one else plays it, really, so it just gives you different angles you’re not used to seeing.”
All three magazines are currently on sale at your local supermarkets, bookstores and newsstands.
The cover of this year's SignalCaller magazine. Submitted photo.
As for Jed’s magazine, he tells me it is shipping on Monday so it should be in your favorite Go-Marts, Little General stores, Par-Mars, Mountaineer Marts as well as Mountaineer World in Bridgeport later next week.
This year’s edition has 136 pages full of content geared specifically toward the Mountaineer football fan, and it is always my No. 1 resource heading into fall camp.
And now, it’s time to clear the bases ahead of West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament meeting against Maryland in Winston-Salem, North Carolina later this afternoon …
* This year has to go down as one of the most impressive in WVU sports history. Women’s soccer got things rolling by finishing second at the Women’s College Cup in San Jose, California, and football continued the winning ways by capturing 10 regular season games for the first time since 2011 and finishing No. 18 in the final national poll.
Men’s basketball gave Kansas another run for its money in the Big 12 before reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time since 2005, while women’s basketball knocked off league kingpin Baylor to capture its first conference tournament championship since joining the Big 12.
Rifle, as it seemingly does every year, produced another national championship season - its fifth straight under coach Jon Hammond and its 19th in program history.
Gymnastics made a return to the Top 25 under veteran coach Jason Butts in a season that saw all-arounder Zaakira Muhammad
make an appearance at this year’s NCAA nationals.
Women’s track will also have some competitors at outdoor nationals in Eugene, Oregon, next week when junior Shamoya McNeil
competes in the triple jump and Amy Cashin
participates in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
If either or both can place, that should earn the Mountaineers enough points for a top 20 finish at the NCAA meet.
And then there is Randy Mazey’s WVU baseball team, which snapped its 21-year NCAA Tournament drought by earning an at-large bid in this year’s field of 64 - baseball’s first at-large berth in program history.
Now, it seems, athletic success is becoming a year-round proposition for West Virginia University athletics.
“It’s definitely motivation because we go watch the football games and we root hard for them and the basketball team brings so much pride to this state and this school,” senior pitcher Jackson Sigman
explained. “We want to be able to contribute. In the past, it’s been tough. There have been streaks when West Virginia baseball hasn’t contributed in a way the fans deserve, and coming here to be able to do something that not only brings so much joy to me, my family and my teammates, but to the whole state of West Virginia and Mountaineer Nation … it’s an unbelievable feeling to be a part of something like this.”
“It’s cool for the University,” senior pitcher B.J. Myers added. “It’s cool for us because we know the other athletes on the teams and it gets WVU out there. Any way we can represent WVU in a positive manner, it’s always a good thing for us.”
* Mazey admitted earlier this week that he had to do a little tweaking to his non-conference schedule after seeing his team get left out of last year’s NCAA Tournament, despite its 36-22 record and its run to the Big 12 Championship game.
Some mid-week losses against Canisius, Furman, Pitt and Penn State put West Virginia on the wrong side of the bubble.
“I’m starting to figure this RPI thing out after about 25 years of coaching,” Mazey joked. “The best way to do it is to go on the road and play. If you go on the road and play against good teams and win some games, then your RPI is going to be in a good position when your conference season starts.”
Mazey’s Mountaineers were college baseball’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters, playing road games in Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Thibodaux, Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana, Hammond, Louisiana, and Norfolk, Virginia, before finally opening at home in late March.
West Virginia played its first 19 games of the season on the road before playing its first home game.
“All of the stars aligned scheduling this year from the fact that we went on the road and played Old Dominion and they had a great season. We went on the road and played Southeast Louisiana and they had a great season. Charlotte had a great season. Tulane won some good games. All of the teams we played on the road had good years, which really helped the RPI,” Mazey said.
The Big 12 was also outstanding this season, boasting college baseball’s No. 1 RPI with seven of its nine members qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
“The Big 12 was as good as it’s been since I’ve been in the league,” Mazey said. “When you play anybody in the league win, lose or draw, your RPI doesn’t go down that much.”
And, while West Virginia’s schedule fell into place this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean next year’s will.
“I’ve already got games scheduled for the year 2020 against some really good teams - right now,” Mazey pointed out. “Three years from now you never know what kind of team they are going to have. It’s somewhat of a crapshoot.
“We always want to challenge ourselves to play the best teams we can,” Mazey continued. “Fortunately, we have Pitt, Penn State, Maryland and Marshall close by to play those midweek games and I always root for those teams to have good years because of the RPI. If they’re having good years and their RPIs are good then that’s good for us, too.”
* In case you were wondering, here are the final RPIs for West Virginia baseball dating back to 2007:
2017 - No. 19
2016 - No. 54
2015 - No. 107
2014 - No. 38
2013 - No. 82
2012 - No. 155
2011 - No. 151
2010 - No. 106
2009 - No. 102
2008 - No. 102
2007 - No. 162
* I was saddened to learn of the death of longtime Valley News Dispatch sportswriter Rick Starr, who once had the West Virginia football beat for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review when Rich Rodriguez was leading the Mountaineers in the mid-2000s.
Rick had a tremendous knowledge of local sports, particularly Penn State football where he first cut his teeth as a sports writer working as the student editor of the Daily Collegian.
Starr also covered the Steelers beat for 19 years, which included the Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher eras.
He was 64.
* The other day I got a direct message from Ed Kracz, who covers the Philadelphia Eagles for Calkins Media in suburban Philadelphia. Ed spent four years working at the Morgantown Dominion-Post from 1990-94.
Ed said he likes what he’s seen so far from cornerback Rasul Douglas and believes he has a legitimate shot of cracking Philadelphia’s starting lineup as a rookie.
That bodes well for Rasul, because Ed has always had an exceptional eye for football talent.
* John Flowers is quickly becoming the P.T. Barnum of local summer basketball, and this year he’s taking his third annual WVU men’s basketball alumni game on the road to Fairmont State’s Joe Retton Arena on Saturday, July 29 at 7 p.m.
Advance tickets are priced at $15 at jflowent.com or they can be purchased at the door for $20.
Each year, a portion of the game proceeds benefit a local charity. Flowers said the game has raised more than $14,000 the last two years, including $8,000 for Conquer Chiari last summer.
Based on online suggestions, Flowers said proceeds from this year’s game will benefit the WVU Medicine Children’s Cure Kids Cancer Fund.
Flowers indicated WVU players committed to play in this year’s alumni game include Juwan Staten, Joe Mazzulla, Mike Gansey, Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Truck Bryant and Brent Solheim.
Additional players will be announced on jflownet.com.
* And finally, there is a budding TV star with West Virginia University ties and her name is Emily Calandrelli, a 2010 WVU graduate in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
You can watch Emily on Saturday mornings on the syndicated show “Xploration Outer Space” that airs on Fox. It is a program that is geared toward encouraging science-based education among children and young adults - particularly girls.
Emily’s most recent project includes a recently released Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World,” which features special celebrity guests and explores various scientific issues that touch our daily lives.
Emily serves as one of the show’s science correspondents.
She has also worked as a guest science writer and host for Discovery News and has posted science-related videos on YouTube.
If Emily’s last name sounds familiar it should, her mother, Kim Calandrelli, has been a valued member of the Mountaineer football staff since 1982, first working for Don Nehlen and then continuing with Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and now Dana Holgorsen.
Talent certainly has a way of passing from one generation to the next!
By the way, Kim’s husband (and Emily’s father), Brad, is a huge Mountaineer sports fan.
Have a great weekend everyone!