It was a wacky week in the world of men's college soccer, particularly in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Everybody knows that the ACC is a monster circuit, but after some eye-popping results the past seven days, you'll forgive us for employing the forthcoming cliché when it comes this league, namely: Any team can beat any other on a given day.
We might need to modify said cliché just slightly: In the ACC, any team actually can trounce any other at any time. How else can we explain once-victorious (1-3-1 in ACC play entering the game) Virginia Tech's 5-2 whooping of a Clemson squad that seemed virtually unstoppable just a few short weeks ago?
And how about Virginia's 3-0 pasting of second-ranked Maryland, a team that had gone seven games without a loss and hadn't dropped a match inside the comfy confines of Ludwig Field in two years?
The upsets weren't limited to the nation's uber-conference, though. Top-ranked SMU didn't quite lose (and remains undefeated at 13-0-3), but the Mustangs did suffer a pair of scares in a five-day span. Last Saturday, C-USA foe Central Florida stormed out to 2-0 first-half lead before Brazilian soph M Bruno Guarda pulled one back on the stroke of halftime. Things were looking bleak for the Mustangs late in the second half, but Schellas Hyndman's team managed to escape Orlando with a tie thanks to an 83rd minute PK conversion from senior tri-captain Chase Wileman.
On Wednesday night, the 'Stangs were held 1-1 in Dallas in a league match vs. South Carolina. SMU remains the top dog -- for now -- but is hardly displaying the form of a champion with the postseason just around the bend.
West Virginia quietly has emerged as the team to beat in the Big East, thanks largely to the play of senior F Jarrod Smith. The New Zealander broke the conference's 11-year-old single-season goal scoring record on Saturday when he notched both goals in a 2-0 win over Georgetown in D.C. Ten of Smith's 14 tallies have come in conference play, and nationally, he's tied for second place on the goal chart.
Smith has earned a rep as a game-breaker for three seasons, over which he scored a combined 18 goals. But after playing for the senior All-Whites squad this summer (including a 30-minute cameo against Brazil) his confidence and goal output have soared, much like the Mountaineers' ranking. This week, surprising WVU sits fourth nationally.
Of course, if we're gonna give props to Smith for carrying his team to new heights, how can we possibly ignore Notre Dame's Joe Lapira? We gave Lapira a quick mention in an earlier column, but now he deserves his due. The junior is averaging an insane 1.2 goals per game, and with 19 netters, he could become the first 30-goal scorer in Division 1 play this century. If he keeps up his blistering pace, Lapira is a Hermann lock no matter what Smith and Boston College's Charlie Davies (14 goals) do the rest of the way. (Remember, Maryland's Jason Garey won the award with 22 tallies in 2005.)
Lapira's Irish were up to sixth in the NSCAA/adidas rankings before Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Smith's Mountaineers. Both players were held scoreless (Smith had a helper) in Morgantown.
Like West Virginia, Wake Forest also has managed to somehow slip under the radar for much of this season. But all of a sudden the Demon Deacons are third in both the national rankings and the ACC standings. The Deacs raised some eyebrows when they convincingly beat Clemson (on the road) earlier this month before picking up two more Ws against Connecticut and most recently, North Carolina. The Deacs still have plenty to prove, but Jay Vidovich's team seems to be getting better as the season goes on. We'll say it first: Don't be shocked to see Wake hanging around St. Louis in December.
Another squad we feel we've neglected a bit so far is Duke. Our apologies to the fans in Durham. The Blue Devils are 11-2-1 and lead the ACC. Much was expected from the Dookies last season, but after winning the ACC title over archrival UNC in a PK thriller, they were bounced in the opening round of the dance by Creighton. You better believe that John Rennie's veteran squad (only five freshmen are on the roster) will do everything possible to avoid a similar fate this year. Forget that Duke is ranked fifth. Forget defending that conference championship. Duke has the tools to win it all, and what happens in the tourney will determine if 2006 is a success or not. We'll be shocked if the Devils don't extend their season several weeks longer this fall.
Cal was the big mover of the week, jumping 12 spots to seventh after beating a quality Washington side for the second time in two weeks. But the Golden Bears have their work cut out for them if them want to remain in the top 10 until the end of the month, because up next is a hat trick of tough Pac-10 encounters: Home vs. Stanford on Friday, away to San Diego State and UCLA to close out the regular season.
What to Watch for: A week ago, we told you that Indiana finally was back among the country's top teams. But don't take our word for it -- you can judge for yourself when IU meets Penn State (who tripped the Hoosiers up twice last year) in this vital Big Ten tilt. (Live on Fox Soccer Channel, 8 p.m. ET)
CSTV serves up a pair of tape-delayed games early next week, but both are worth watching. First, you have a rare chance to check out the nation's top team when SMU faces South Carolina (Sun. 8 p.m. ET). Then on Monday, see if Joe Lapira's assault on opposing goalkeepers resumes when Notre Dame plays UConn.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.