Another week, another national numero uno. Clemson, standing 8-0, tops the latest NSCAA/adidas rankings. The Tigers are now off to their best start in 28 years, with the school record of 11 wins to start a season squarely in their sights.
Anyone who tuned in last Friday to watch Clockwork Orange's triumph over ACC rival North Carolina clearly could tell that Trevor Adair's squad are worthy of their lofty spot. Although the final score was only 1-0, and although the Tigers outshot the Tar Heels just 8-7, it never seemed that Clemson would lose. What's more, in Danny Poe, it seems the Tigers have found their go-to scorer. The junior midfielder/forward notched another winner, as he had a week earlier in a 2-1 victory over defending champs Maryland.
Previous No. 1 SMU suffered its first hiccup of 2006 but remains undefeated. On Sept. 15, the Mustangs tied last year's runner-up New Mexico, 1-1, before resuming their winning ways against the University of Dayton, 1-0, on Sunday. SMU's on-fire offense finally sputtered, but the Mustangs' D remained a brick wall. GK Matt Wideman has posted seven clean sheets on the year while conceding just two goals. Those gaudy stats have earned the senior three consecutive Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors, the second-best goals-against average (.0237) in the country, and the third-best save percentage (.929).
With SMU's record now blemished, there are only three remaining Division I teams that are unbeaten and untied a month into the new season. Second-ranked Virginia (8-0) stayed perfect with a narrow a 2-1 OT win at home over No. 8 West Virginia. Junior M Nico Colaluca was the hero with both goals, his second coming less than three minutes into the extra session. The Cavs might find it even tougher to secure their ninth-straight win when they travel to UNC for an ACC tilt on Friday. The Heels surely will be hell-bent on winning a conference match after starting league play with two losses.
The other perfect record belongs to 8-0 Washington. The Huskies only have one game this weekend (in Seattle against Oregon State), but the real test comes on September 29, when the squad visits a much-improved UCLA side. The Bruins have won four consecutive games and are back in the top 10 after falling out of the rankings altogether a few weeks ago. Washington remains fourth.
We'd like to give a shout out to Colgate this week. The Raiders (4-0-2) get no love in the national rankings (although they sit third in the NSCAA's Mid-Atlantic poll) despite being the only top-tier team in America (out of 196 D-1 programs) that has yet to surrender a goal.
The usual suspects have work to do in the Big East. The conference normally belongs to Connecticut and St. John's, but neither school has been impressive yet. Seton Hall leads the Blue Division, followed by surprising West Virginia. UConn (3-0-1, 3-2-2 overall) is third. On the Red side, South Florida leads the Johnnies by a point. The only surprise there is that USF (4-2-2 overall) isn't further ahead of the Storm. The eventual division winner might not be decided until the Bulls head to Queens for both teams' regular-season finale.
Time to check in on the nation's top scorers with three players now in double digits. Jacksonville senior Tommy Krizanovic leads the fray with 12. Washington's Kevin Forrest (junior) and Kentucky's Riley O'Neill (senior) each have 10.
The last two NCAA champions are having much different experiences this season. Indiana, the 2004 national champion, is struggling, unranked, and .500 -- not the type of territory Hoosier boosters are accustomed to occupying. Meanwhile, Maryland is 6-1 in what is supposed to be a rebuilding year.
What to Watch for
UNC Greensboro is 4-4 after last weekend's games, and two recent outings say a lot about the two-faced Spartans: On Sept. 10, the team trounced Belmont, 5-1. Five days later they were on the wrong end of a 5-2 decision against William and Mary.
UNCG has been tipped to make noise the last two seasons, mainly because of the All-American attacking duo of Randi Patterson and Scott Jones. However, Michael Parker's men have failed to live up to the advanced billing. But in Patterson at least, it seems they have a legit pro prospect. The senior has bagged six goals in five games. Over the summer, Patterson led the PDL's Carolina Dynamo to a regular season title, netting 15 goals in 14 games along the way. He also helped the Dynamo advance to the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where he scored in an eventual loss to MLS namesake Houston.
If the Spartans can turn it up a notch and make the tournament again (they've been eliminated in the third round the past two seasons), Patterson will be the man who gets them there. You can check out this budding star and his squad during Friday's national game of the week, when the Spartans meet Costal Carolina (8 p.m. ET) on Fox Soccer Channel.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.