The college soccer season is getting down to business. Last weekend marked the start of conference play in leagues like the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC and the return of members of the United States team that won the Under-20 Women's World Cup earlier this month. With close to 20 of the best players back on the field, the next few weeks should provide some clarity on the race to San Diego and the College Cup.
1. Florida State (8-0-0)When you're on a roll Florida State moved stalwart defender Tiana Brockway to midfield against Wake Forest on Sunday, and she scored the game's only goal. The Seminoles were picked to finish behind Duke and Wake Forest in the ACC but earned wins against both to open conference play. Granted, seven one-goal wins, including three in a row by 1-0 margins, suggest room for improvement in front of goal, but you can't beat what you can't score on.
2. UCLA (7-0-1)Maybe it's not all cause and effect, but UCLA scored 11 goals in wins last week against Princeton and Pepperdine, its first games since Samantha Mewis and Sarah Killion returned from the Under-20 Women's World Cup. The big beneficiary was Zakiya Bywaters, who scored twice in both games. The Bruins open Pac-12 play at home against Washington State this week, then play five consecutive games on the road.
3. Stanford (6-1-1)Sure, the football team got the headlines for beating USC, but imagine if the Trojans hadn't managed a first down. That's essentially what the defending national champions did on the pitch, holding UNC-Greensboro without a shot in a 4-0 win to close a weekend that also included a 1-0 win against San Diego State. That's four wins in a row and a 12-0 scoring margin since dropping points against West Virginia and Boston College.
4. Duke (7-2-0)Survive and advance is the mantra of the postseason. Sometimes the regular season is simply about the first part of that equation. A 1-0 loss at Florida State in a game worthy of its No. 1 versus No. 2 billing gave way to a 3-2 overtime win in a quintessential trap game at Miami, with four goals scored from the 80th minute on. Now the Blue Devils head home to face Maryland and welcome back Kelly Cobb.
5. Boston College (7-0-2)With stars returning from Under-20 World Cup duty across the country, including her younger sister at UCLA, Kristie Mewis reminded everyone she's already well into a Hermann Trophy campaign. Mewis totaled five goals and an assist in routs of Clemson and Harvard, including a hat trick against her neighbors from Cambridge. Now it's proving time. Boston College's first four ACC games? At Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Duke.
6. Texas A&M (8-1-0)So far so good for Texas A&M in the SEC. The Aggies shut out LSU and Mississippi on the road in the first weekend of conference play, handing the latter its first loss and setting a program record with a fifth consecutive clean sheet. Defense wasn't the team's strength last season, but mainstays Rachel Lenz, Lyndsey Gnatzig and the group in front of sophomore keeper Jordan Day have things going their way this season.
7. Penn State (6-2-0)The Nittany Lions played just one game for the second week in a row, but it was a much happier result. A 2-1 win against Wisconsin to open Big Ten play should negate any lost momentum from a 3-1 loss at BYU last week. Of course, it's easy to have momentum with Maya Hayes in the lineup, and the All-American returned from the Under-20 World Cup with the winner against the Badgers.
8. Virginia (8-1-1)To be fair, Virginia had the early schedule a team wants when it's without its head coach, Steve Swanson, and midfield engine, Morgan Brian, for the first month of the season, its eight wins coming against teams with a combined 32-34-2 record against Division I opponents. But a 2-2 draw against replenished North Carolina on Sunday showed why this team deserves mention as a true contender.
9. Virginia Tech (9-0-0)Like its in-state rival, Virginia Tech's schedule puts its record in context. And a 3-0 win against NC State to open ACC play did little to move the needle. But either you believe in defense or you don't. The Hokies kept 11 clean sheets last season, Chugger Adair's first as coach, and have allowed just two goals this season. Games this week at North Carolina (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3) and home against Boston College loom large.
10. Central Florida (6-1-1)Last week's 3-1 win against North Florida required late work, but Central Florida did its job out of conference, earning a draw against Boston College and wins against Miami, Georgia and South Florida. Friday's Conference USA opener at Memphis doesn't shape up as the heavyweight battle it was last season, but the Tigers put up two goals in a loss against Oklahoma State and are 24th nationally in scoring offense.
• It was difficult to keep Kentucky (7-1-0) out of the rankings this week after one of the best up-and-coming programs in the country knocked off Florida for the first time since 2006, and just the third time ever. Unlike a week earlier, when the Wildcats followed a big win against Louisville with a howler in a 3-1 loss against Samford, they kept their focus and closed the weekend with a 3-0 win Sunday against previously unbeaten Mississippi State.
• University of Portland junior Amanda Frisbie is on pace to bring back a staple fans at Merlo Field have surely missed. Portland traditionally turned out double-digit goal scorers like "Portlandia" throws out hipster references, but no Pilots player scored more than eight goals in either of the past two seasons. With two goals in a 3-2 win against USC last week, Frisbie has six in seven games for a team quietly taking care of business.
• In addition to Thursday's game between North Carolina and Virginia, Sunday offers a pair of games on ESPN3, with Virginia visiting Clemson at 1 p.m. and Georgia visiting Florida at 2 p.m. Also of note, the entire Under-17 Women's World Cup from Azerbaijan is available on ESPN3. The United States, including North Carolina standout Summer Green, opens against France on Saturday morning at 5:48 a.m.