The rankings might say otherwise, but the men's college game of the year in Southern California arrives Friday, when perennial national powers UCLA and UC Santa Barbara tangle at the Bruins' Drake Stadium.
The Gauchos (4-0-1) are No. 6 in the new National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll and UCLA (2-2-1) is unranked, but no matter. Both figure to be in the push for a national title come November (and maybe UCSB's Big West Conference rival UC Irvine, too).
UCLA leads the series, 31-4-3, but it's 2-2-1 in the past five years, with Santa Barbara prevailing in the 2006 NCAA title game and in last year's meeting, played in front of 15,896 at the Gauchos' Harder Stadium, the second-largest on-campus crowd ever to see a college game.
Drake won't be quite so full, and it's not nearly as nice a place to see a game as is Harder: The track greatly separates the stands from the field, and its an increasingly distant view the higher up the loping concrete rows behind the benches.
But the quality ought to be exceptional. UCLA's slow start can't mask its talent, a sophomore-heavy group led by forward Chandler Hoffman (23 goals in his last 24 games, including with the Orange County Blue Star this summer) and midfielder Kelyn Rowe (on the Hermann Trophy watch list).
The Gauchos are led by Ghanaian forward David Opoku, the Big West's Freshman of the Year last season, who has a team-best four goals, and Hermann watch-lister Sam Garza, a Texan who led them with nine last year.
There's a big-name legacy on UCSB's roster, too: senior defender Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS), whose brother Chris, a (now-injured) winger for D.C. United, was an All-American for the Gauchos a few years ago.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: All-America forward Sydney Leroux scored three more goals -- her fourth, fifth and sixth of the season -- as UCLA (6-0-1) marched on, with victories over SMU and Fresno State. The Bruins jumped to fourth in the NSCAA poll and No. 2 in Soccer America's top 25.
Local conference Players of the Week:
Big West Conference
Men: Offensive -- UC Irvine's Enrique Cardenas (Coachella/Coachella Valley HS)
West Coast Conference
Women: Pepperdine's Laura Cole (Whittier/La Habra HS)
California Collegiate Athletic Association (D2)
Women: Cal State Dominguez Hills' Tiffany Hollis (Los Angeles/Lakewood HS and Cerritos College)
Golden State Athletic Conference (NAIA)
Men: Defensive -- Biola's Aaron Fenlason
Women: Offensive -- Vanguard's Gabriela Valles; Defensive -- Point Loma Nazarene's Tiffany Kracy (Whittier/La Habra HS)
ETC.: Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS), who left UC Santa Barbara following his junior season last fall, has transferred from the Ventura County Fusion to FK Spartak Zlatibor Voda of Serbia's SuperLiga. ... The Big West Conference is 22-7-6 in nonconference men's games. ... UC Davis finally quieted down Cal State Bakersfield forward Gyasi Zardes (Hawthorne/Leuzinger HS), shutting him out in a 0-0 draw. Zardes had hat tricks in the Roadrunners' first two games, wins over UC Riverside and San Francisco.
RANKINGS: Cal State Fullerton, at 4-0-1, is off to its best start since going 6-0-0 to begin 2000. The Titans are receiving votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's preseason poll and are in Soccer America's top 25, at No. 24, the first time they've been ranked anywhere in eight years.
Here's a list of local teams in the NSCAA rankings:
5. UC Irvine
6. UC Santa Barbara
Receiving votes: UCLA, Cal State Fullerton
Nos. 1-3: Maryland, Connecticut and Creighton
15. UC Irvine
Receiving votes: Loyola Marymount
Nos. 1-3: Stanford, Oklahoma State and Florida State
10. Cal State L.A.
23. Cal State Dominguez Hills
Nos. 1-3: Northern Kentucky, Rollins (Fla.) and Midwestern State (Texas)
14. Cal State Dominguez Hills
Receiving votes: Cal State L.A., Cal Poly Pomona
Nos. 1-3: Florida Tech, St. Edward's (Texas) and Fort Lewis (Colo.)
Nos. 1-3: Christopher Newport (Va.), Messiah (Pa.) and Ohio Northern
Receiving votes: Cal Lutheran
Nos. 1-3: Messiah (Pa.), William Smith (N.Y.) and Williams (Mass.)
7. Azusa Pacific
15. The Master's
24. La Sierra
Receiving votes: Concordia
Nos. 1-3: Mobile (Ala.), Hastings (Neb.) and Rio Grande (Ohio)
1. Azusa Pacific
12. The Master's
Receiving votes: Vanguard
Nos. 2-3: Lee (Tenn.) and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.)