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Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Seminoles No. 1 as season gets serious

By Graham Hays

The autumnal equinox means fall is finally here, but soccer season didn't wait around. Believe it or not, we'll have an NCAA tournament bracket in just 40 more days. In the short term, seven teams in our power rankings face at least one opponent this week ranked in the NSCAA Top 25, while the other three all face potentially troublesome road games.

1. Florida State (9-0-0)

The Seminoles weren't exactly tested in a 5-0 win against Jackson State, outshooting the Tigers 35-0. It was the only game on last week's schedule, giving them ample time to recover from games against Wake Forest and Duke a week earlier and to prepare for a visit to North Carolina on Thursday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). Since allowing two goals in the first seven minutes of its opener at Minnesota, Florida State has allowed one in nearly 800 minutes.

2. Stanford (7-1-1)

Make it five shutout victories in a row for the Cardinal, who opened their Pac-12 schedule with a 3-0 win at home against Arizona State in their lone game of the week. Better still, junior goalkeeper Emily Oliver made her season debut in the second half after missing the first eight games due to injury. Thursday's game against Oregon State (9-1-0) is the only one in the country this week pitting teams with one loss or none.

3. UCLA (7-0-2)

The Bruins opened Pac-12 play by limiting Washington State to five shots and recorded their seventh shutout in nine games. The cloud attached to that silver lining is that the Bruins also failed score against the Cougars and had to settle for a 0-0 draw at home. UCLA coach B.J. Snow noted it was the first time this season he was disappointed with his team's effort. Five consecutive road games await.

4. Duke (7-2-1)

The question when the season began was how Duke's offense would manage without Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb for an extended period. The offense was fine, and Pathman and Cobb are now back, but it's the defense looking for answers after a 2-2 draw against Maryland. The Blue Devils have already allowed 13 goals this season, hardly a deluge but equal to the total they allowed all of last season with much the same personnel.

5. Texas A&M (10-1-0)

Four games in, and the SEC still hasn't scored on Texas A&M. The Aggies posted 2-0 wins against South Carolina and Auburn last week to improve to 4-0-0 in league play. Goalkeeper Jordan Day matched the SEC record with her seventh consecutive shutout, but getting No. 8 won't be easy. A road test awaits Friday at Kentucky, which is tied with Florida a game behind division leader Missouri in the SEC East.

6. Penn State (8-2-0)

Maya Hayes is doing her best to put together a Hermann Trophy campaign in little more than half a season, with four goals and two assists in three games since returning from the Under-20 World Cup. At the very least, she's providing the help senior midfielder Christine Nairn (nine goals, five assists) may need to make a run at the award. Arguably the biggest conference test looms in Thursday's road game at Ohio State.

7. Virginia (9-1-1)

Sunday's home game against Duke (ESPNU, 2 p.m. ET) provides another national stage for the Cavaliers, who play some of the most attractive, possession-oriented soccer out there, all the more so with midfielder Morgan Brian back in the lineup behind Caroline Miller and others. But Virginia must first concern itself with Thursday's trip to Maryland. The Cavaliers hold a 26-4-4 edge in the all-time series but lost their last visit, in 2010.

8. Boston College (8-1-2)

All things considered, getting three points out of an ACC road swing isn't a bad week. Boston College was outplayed and couldn't handle Katie Stengel in a 2-0 loss at Wake Forest, but two goals from Stephanie McCaffrey in the final seven minutes salvaged a 2-1 win at Virginia Tech on Sunday. Trips to Duke and North Carolina loom, but Boston College must first deal with a quality Pepperdine team this week in Boston.

9. Maryland (7-2-2)

Maryland's place in the ACC race may still be up for debate, but Jonathan Morgan is making coach of the year an increasingly easy decision in his first season in charge. Picked seventh in the preseason after former coach Brian Pensky left for Tennessee and half the roster graduated, Maryland drew 2-2 at Duke and won 2-1 at Wake Forest last week, a week after beating North Carolina for the third season in a row.

10. North Carolina (5-2-2)

No, this won't please fans of Missouri, BYU, Georgetown and several other contenders with better records and less name recognition, but a 3-1 win against Virginia Tech last week gave a glimpse of the team the Tar Heels can be when they're whole (which they still aren't with Summer Green in Azerbaijan for the Under-17 World Cup). This is a different team with Kealia Ohai and Crystal Dunn in the starting lineup and Bryane Heaberlin in the goalkeeping mix.

Free kicks

• As mentioned last week, Portland has always been a place to look for quality soccer outside the major conferences, but it was the visiting team putting forward the best show in Denver's 3-1 win. The Pilots were without three key players, but take nothing away from the Pioneers or Kristen Hamilton's hat trick. Denver has had some puzzling results (a draw against Wright State), but at 8-1-2, with wins at Portland and Kansas and against Colorado and UC Irvine, the Pioneers merit attention.

• Central Arkansas junior Adriana Lucar recorded a hat trick in a win against Texas Southern to push her season total to 14 goals, best in the nation. She also tied the school career goals record among those who played the majority of their career after the move to Division I in 2006. What makes that a touch more noteworthy is that the Peruvian striker has played just 10 career games for Central Arkansas after transferring from Division II Harding University. Minnesota's Taylor Uhl and Iowa's Cloe Lacasse share the goals lead among players from major conferences with 11 each.

• Oklahoma State is off to a rough start in Big 12 play. Ranked in the top 10 all season in the NSCAA poll, the Cowgirls dropped a 1-0 decision at West Virginia on Sunday after a 2-1 loss at Kansas two days earlier (an earlier loss against Bedlam rival Oklahoma, the first in seven years, did not count as an official conference game). Plenty of season remains, but the 0-2 start matches the program's total conference losses from the past two seasons.

• In addition to Florida State-North Carolina and Duke-Virginia, fans can check out Miami at NC State (Thursday, ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) and a quartet of games Sunday: Florida State at NC State (ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET), South Carolina at Vanderbilt (ESPN3, 2 p.m. ET), Texas A&M at Mississippi State (ESPN3, 3 p.m. ET) and LSU at Georgia (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).