Part of me feels the Demon Deacons deserve to be higher. It takes more than an offseason to remove the bad taste Wake ended 2008 with in its mouth: completing an undefeated regular season, only to fall in the conference and, then more crushingly, national tournament semifinals. This team is going to come out of the gate hungry. Expect the defense to be led by Ike Opara, and for Corben Bone to have a standout season in midfield. Both are top-caliber players and could legitimately contend for the Hermann.
The other part of me is more hesitant, citing the losses -- not last postseason, but in the lineup. Wake Forest loses seven starters, and that is a lot of holes. Sure, newcomers can fill those voids, but the process takes time, and in the ACC, there's not a lot of room for mistakes. Marcus Tracy, 2008's Hermann Trophy winner, leaves big shoes to fill, and the recent departure of Cody Arnoux, who decided to forgo his senior season and sign with the Premier League's Everton, is another blow for the offense.
Wake's ranked down here because it's the latter side that I find more convincing.
Huh? I'm sure that's what you're asking yourself, and I can't blame you. The Minutemen aren't on anyone's list -- in fact, they're picked third in their conference -- but that's why this is the wild card. How did I pick UMass? Simple, I found a random number generator online and typed in 1-48 (the number of teams in the NCAA tournament) and the number generated was 27. This was the team with the corresponding 2008 RPI. I was dubious -- the team has a big hole to fill with the loss of goalkeeper Zack Simmons, the Atlantic-10 isn't a power conference, etc.-- so I ran the number generator a few more times, getting other numbers, but cherry-picking defeated the whole idea of randomness. As a "restart," I set the numbers to between 10-48 (because if a top-10 team came up, it wouldn't actually be a wild card) and again the first number was
yes, 27. So I took that as a completely non-random sign that this could be the Minutemen's year.
It's very possible I'll be completely off. But then again, in 2006, I randomly picked UC Santa Barbara, and the Gauchos won it all. Last year, I went with my kid's birthday, which corresponded with a St. John's team that everyone had overlooked.
Could be complete luck, I know, but sometimes that's as big a part of the college game as anything.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at email@example.com.