Rough weekend for top teams
Everybody knows that polls/rankings really don't mean anything significant in college sports other than football but it's still hard to ignore them.
There are likely to be new No. 1 teams in volleyball and men's soccer this week. And while rankings right now don't necessarily even indicate how those sports' respective NCAA tournament brackets may be seeded, it will still be interesting to see how the top teams now are perceived by the coaches who do the poll voting.
We'll start with volleyball: No. 1 Illinois lost its first match of the season Saturday, falling 3-1 to new Big Ten rival Nebraska. The game, at the always sold-out Nebraska Coliseum, put the No. 4 Huskers in the driver's seat to win the league title in their first season in the Big Ten.
They have a great deal of work left to do, though: Nebraska still has 10 regular-season matches to go, including this weekend's visits to Ohio State and four-time defending national champion Penn State. Nebraska beat the Nittany Lions in their first meeting this season -- Sept. 21 in Lincoln, Neb. -- but the rematch on Penn State's turf should be one of the tougher tests remaining for the Huskers.
Nebraska also still has to visit Purdue. If the Huskers do somehow manage to get through the Big Ten unscathed -- they are now 17-1 overall and 10-0 in the league -- they will certainly be looking at an NCAA No. 1 seed.
But who will be ranked No. 1 this week in volleyball after the Illini lost? Here's a curious thing: Last week, Cal was No. 2 and USC No. 3 -- even though the Trojans got two votes for the top ranking (Illinois got the other 58) and swept the Bears in the teams' first meeting this season on Sept. 23.
So if Cal ascends to the top spot in the Oct. 24 AVCA poll, that will mean the No. 1 team in the country is tied for second place in its own conference, while the team that leads the Pac-12 would be ranked second. Which is a bit goofy. Maybe the coaches who vote in the poll realized this and corrected it; the poll comes out Monday afternoon.
If not, it could just add a little more incentive for the Trojans -- not that they need any -- for this weekend's trip to the Bay area. USC, 17-3 overall and 12-1 in the Pac-12, visits No. 5 Stanford on Friday and then will have what we expect to be a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown with Cal on Saturday.
The Trojans' aforementioned sweep of the Bears is indicative of how they have been playing for the past month. USC's three losses at the start of the season -- to Penn State, Central Florida and UCLA -- could in part be attributed to the Trojans figuring out how to compensate for the loss of Falyn Fonoimoana, the 2010 league freshman of the year, who was declared ineligible for 2011.
Since their 3-0 loss at UCLA on Sept. 9, the Trojans have won 12 consecutive matches, 10 of them sweeps. They dropped one game in wins over Arizona State and Oregon.
Meanwhile, 21-2 Cal is 11-2 in the league, as is UCLA. The Bears -- who made it to the NCAA final last year, where they lost to Penn State -- will have a chance to avenge their only losses this season when the Bruins (Friday) and Trojans (Saturday) visit this weekend.
Monday afternoon update: Now we know the answer for this week's AVCA poll, which has been released: Nebraska, with 38 first-place votes, jumped from No. 4 to No. 1. Cal remains No. 2, Illinois drops to No. 3 and USC actually falls to No. 4 – even though the Trojans got 12 first-place votes compared to eight for Cal and two for Illinois. Should be a very fun weekend in the Big Ten and Pac-12 with the high-power matchups we'll see.
Men's soccer: Huskies sputter, Terps-Tar Heels deadlock
No. 1 Connecticut had a difficult week. The Huskies lost their first match of the season Tuesday at West Virginia, then played to a scoreless tie against Georgetown on Saturday.
Meanwhile, No. 2 North Carolina and No. 3 Maryland didn't make voting for No. 1 any easier, as they tied 1-1 Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Add in that the Tar Heels lost to Davidson last Monday.
So will the Huskies keep their spot atop the rankings, or might the Terps grab it? Another team to watch out for is New Mexico, which was ranked No. 5 last week and remains undefeated. The Lobos are 13-0-2 after Sunday's 2-0 victory over Cal State Bakersfield.
They meet again
Either Maryland or North Carolina has won the past six NCAA field hockey championships. But after the No. 2 Tar Heels beat No. 3 Maryland 2-1 on Friday, they really had to battle Saturday to avoid an upset by No. 7 Michigan.
UNC prevailed 4-3 in double overtime, setting up the Tar Heels for their second showdown of the season against Old Dominion; the Tar Heels' only loss of the season came versus the Monarchs on Sept. 16. No. 1 Old Dominion plays William & Mary on Friday, then finishes with UNC on Sunday.
Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.