Wake Forest no longer perfect, but still unbeaten
A lot has happened in the wacky world of college soccer since we last checked in two weeks ago. Let's get right to it, shall we?
First, a look at who is hot ...
Wake Forest still is -- no surprise here. The top-ranked Demon Deacons' undefeated season continued Tuesday with a 3-0 road win against in-state rival Davidson. The tilt drew a record 1,921 fans to Alumni Stadium, quite a feat considering the struggling Wildcats are 2-10-1. Wake's win extended its unbeaten streak against non-ACC opponents to 38 games, including 10 straight this year alone.
But Wake had its other, more impressive streak snapped against ACC foe Duke this past weekend when the teams played to a scoreless draw. It was the first time in 19 tries that the Deacs hadn't won, a statistic that dates back to last season. Yet although all the talk about a perfect season is officially over, Wake is still the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champion -- even if it slips up again before the tourney begins.
It could happen, too. Wake will end the season with tough conference games against Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia. Next up will be the crapshoot ACC tournament, so it is hardly a foregone conclusion that the Deacs will head into the soccer dance undefeated. Wake coach Jay Vidovich is as competitive as they come, but we're pretty sure he'd much rather drop one now than in the win-or-go-home NCAAs.
Wake isn't the only ACC team to keep an eye on, though. Both UNC and Maryland are heating up just as the weather gets cold. The No. 10 Tar Heels (11-2-1) have won three in a row and six of their past seven. Meanwhile, No. 6 Maryland has been even better. The 11-3 Terrapins picked up their fifth straight victory with a 4-0 midweek smashing of Evansville on Tuesday.
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Not to be outdone, No. 19 Virginia is three full points ahead of both in the regular-season standings. The 8-4 Cavaliers, a team we called out in early September after it started the season with two losses, trail Wake by a single point. If UVa can beat the Deacs in the regular-season finale on Nov. 7 (a big if, granted), it has a great chance of capturing the ACC title and a ton of momentum heading into the postseason.
After dropping three in a row last month, Tulsa has reeled off eight consecutive victories. That run has elevated the Golden Hurricane to No. 11 in this week's NCAA poll. No. 7 Loyola (Maryland) has won seven straight, and the Greyhounds are the only Top 25 team not named Wake or Northwestern to remain undefeated. Of the five games Loyola has left, only two opponents, Iona and St. Peter's, are better than .500 overall. If Loyola runs the table (or at least avoids a loss), it likely will lock up an at-large NCAA bid regardless of what happens in the MAAC tournament.
... And who's not
We don't want to spend much time kicking teams that are down. Alas, we must mention two teams we've been following closely (and rooting for, too) this season that have slipped a bit in recent weeks.
SMU has fallen out of the national polls altogether after being ranked as high as No. 2 last month. After opening 5-0, the Mustangs are 2-4-1 in their past seven matches. The problem? The offense. Not counting a 5-1 win over Central Arkansas on Oct. 12, SMU has managed just five goals in its past six outings. In its latest setback, a 1-0 defeat at home to Marshall, the Stangs outshot the visitors 25-7 but still couldn't find the net. SMU sits dead last in Conference USA, so unless rookie coach Tim McClements can right the ship in time to win the C-USA tourney, SMU is in real danger of missing the NCAAs for the first time in 15 years.
Like SMU, Saint Louis also started promisingly in 2008. But the Billikens recently dropped two vital Atlantic-10 matches for their first two losses this year. The first came at Fordham, 1-0, on Oct. 12; the second was a week later at home to Dayton by the same score. SLU is still ranked 13th nationally, but losing league games down the stretch usually isn't a good sign.
When I read that Friday's UC Santa Barbara-Cal Poly game drew 11,075 fans, the third-most ever to watch a college game, I assumed the contest was played at UCSB's Harder Stadium. After all, UCSB enjoys perhaps the best fan support in the country, and huge crowds are nothing new there.
But in fact, the unranked Mustangs hosted the tilt at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Making that figure even more impressive is the fact that those in attendance could have watched from their couches instead, as it was televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel. The only negative? The match, which UCSB won 1-0 on Christopher Pontius' OT tally, was stopped briefly after fans peppered Gauchos keeper Kristopher Minton with debris. Otherwise, well done, Cal Poly fans.
What to watch for:
College of Charleston at Furman: Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel
Furman, which is best known for producing U.S. national teamers Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark and MLS spokesman Stephen Rodriguez, is coming off a big 2-1 OT win over Clemson in noncon action. The 10-5-1 Paladins return to Southern Conference play by hosting 8-7-0 CofC. Although both teams remain well outside the Top 25, expect another large crowd to be on hand for Furman's final regular-season game at Stone Soccer Stadium: 2,412 turned out against Clemson.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.