Postseason impacts abound in Power Rankings
Blame a certain weather event and the threat of power outages for the lack of an introduction this week. With quite a few conference tournaments in full swing Wednesday, let's get right to it.
1. Stanford (16-1-1)The Cardinal picked up their eighth and ninth one-goal wins of the season this past weekend. Guess which one was a bigger deal? After escaping USC with a 1-0 overtime win Friday, Stanford rallied for two late goals on the road to beat rival UCLA 2-1 and clinch yet another Pac-12 championship, its fourth in a row. Chioma Ubogagu leveled the score against the Bruins in the 77th minute and assisted on Rachel Quon's winner in the 79th minute. For what it's worth, Stanford remains unbeaten (37-0-1) when Ubogagu is on the field. No, that's not a coincidence.
2. UCLA (15-1-2)The Bruins held the lead into the 77th minute, forced Emily Oliver to make seven saves and held the slightest of edges in shots for the game, all of which mean they aren't tumbling any further than No. 2, but they couldn't beat their nemesis. The last UCLA team to beat Stanford included Lauren Cheney, Christina DiMartino, Kara Lang and Sydney Leroux. Work remains. USC isn't going to the NCAA tournament, but a win at home against its rival would end a forgettable season on a strong note. On the other hand, UCLA can clinch a perfect 8-0-0 road record with a win, and further assure itself home games through the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament in the process.
3. Florida State (16-2-0)At this rate, Miami might be glad it exited the ACC tournament early. Florida State routed Boston College 4-0 in the quarterfinals, reversing an earlier 3-2 loss to the Eagles, the first of the season for the Seminoles. They won't get a chance to do the same to Miami, which upset the Seminoles in a rainstorm to close the regular season, but they do get a semifinal against Virginia, a rematch of a chess match three weeks ago that went to the Seminoles in overtime. Which midfielder will have a bigger impact: Morgan Brian or Dagny Brynjarsdottir?
4. BYU (16-1-1)How do you hit your stride nearing the postseason? If you're BYU, how about posting your highest one-weekend scoring output with nine goals in wins at San Diego and at home against Saint Mary's, including four goals on the field in San Diego that will host the College Cup semifinals in less than a month. Cloee Colohan scored twice against the Toreros and once against the Gaels. She is a player often valuable for reasons beyond the box score and entered the weekend with one goal. The bad news is that, despite the margins of victory, BYU slipped to sixth in the RPI.
5. Penn State (16-2-1)By the time you read this, Penn State probably will be in the midst of its Big Ten tournament quarterfinal against Iowa. No offense to the Hawkeyes, but the record suggests the Nittany Lions probably also will have scored already. They do against everyone else. A 2-0 win at Purdue to close the regular season marked the 17th time this season Erica Walsh's team has scored multiple goals. In fact, it marked just the seventh time Penn State has failed to score at least three goals in a game.
6. Wake Forest (13-4-3)It was a curious week. First, the Demon Deacons closed the regular season by laying an egg in a 3-0 loss at home against Virginia Tech in which they trailed for 88 minutes. Then they went out and beat Duke in the ACC quarterfinals behind a goal from Marisa Park in the first minute of overtime. As always, but especially at this time of year, it is nice to have Aubrey Bledsoe, who made six saves against the Blue Devils. Next up: Maryland (Friday, ESPN3, 7:30 p.m. ET).
7. Virginia (14-4-1)After routing Boston College 5-1 to close the regular season, Virginia came away with a 1-0 win at North Carolina to open the ACC tournament behind Caroline Miller's fifth goal in three games. It became the first team to beat the Tar Heels in regulation in the ACC tournament, one year after Florida State's double-overtime win made it the first team to do so in the run of play. Perhaps even more impressive, Virginia not only won but restricted North Carolina to just four shots, fewest in the history of that program. Next up: Florida State (Friday, ESPN3, 5 p.m. ET).
8. San Diego State (17-1-1)San Diego State finished off a perfect regular season in the Mountain West with a 1-0 win against New Mexico, but arguably the better news is the Aztecs are fifth in the RPI. Barring a conference tournament stumble, that suggests an opportunity to host at least three rounds of the NCAA tournament and avoid any potential UCLA game until at least the quarterfinals. No wonder they drew 1,122 fans against the Lobos, the first time they topped 1,000 fans at home this season.
9. Baylor (14-1-4)Lest the seniors get distracted, Baylor doesn't link its senior day to the final home game of the regular season (honoring the seniors earlier in the schedule). But Friday's home finale felt at least unofficially like Randy Waldrum Night, in that people spent a lot of time talking about the first time Baylor had done a lot of things, such as complete a conference season without a loss, since Waldrum was in Waco. And on at least one count, Marci Jobson's team has the record books to itself. A 2-0 win against TCU marked a program-record 12th clean sheet for the season.
10. West Virginia (11-3-4)Does this placement make these power rankings more bullish on the Big 12 than most this season, with Missouri and Texas A&M no longer around and recent power Oklahoma State struggling? Yes, but the regular-season champion (and only team to beat Stanford this season) joins Baylor after wrapping up the conference schedule with a 1-0 overtime win at Texas. The Mountaineers are young enough that they'll be better next year than they are this year, but the best of what they are this year is pretty good.
• Team No. 1 to watch this week: Colorado College (13-3-4). The top seed in the Conference USA tournament taking place in El Paso, Texas, Colorado College may well need the league's automatic bid to make the NCAA tournament. Its only two RPI top-50 wins are against Central Florida and Denver, and it was No. 45 in this week's RPI. Third seed UCF, on the other hand, should be safely in the NCAA field regardless of how it fares in El Paso. Colorado College opens the conference tournament Wednesday afternoon against Houston.
• Team No. 2 to watch this week: Denver (14-1-4). Speaking of the Pioneers, they face a similar predicament as their in-state counterpart as the Western Athletic Conference tournament begins. Denver is the No. 2 seed in the WAC, but it would potentially face No. 1 seed Utah State in Logan, Utah, after the two finished tied atop the table in the regular season. Denver is in better RPI shape than Colorado College, but a top-20 road win at Portland and top-75 wins against Kansas and UC Irvine aren't enough to avoid a nervous selection day.
(As an aside, shame on the WAC for forcing some teams to play tournament games on back-to-back days. It's one thing to give the top seeds a competitive advantage via byes; it's another to put the health of players at risk.)
• Team No. 3 to watch this week: Central Michigan (14-5-1). You remember the Chippewas, MAC road warriors. They finally got to play a few home games, but a 1-0 overtime loss on their field against Miami, their first home loss in four years, means they entered the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. A championship rematch would be in Oxford, Ohio. Miami is an NCAA at-large reach despite a 17-2-1 record and an unbeaten conference regular season, but Central Michigan's wins against West Virginia and Dayton and draw against Marquette might be enough.
• Team No. 4 to watch this week: Washington (10-6-3). Stanford and UCLA have interesting rivalry games this weekend, but the biggest Pac-12 game of the final week might be the one in Pullman, Wash., between Washington and Washington State. With just three conference wins, Washington's best result this season remains a 3-0 win against Notre Dame shortly after Labor Day. The Huskies are probably in good position for an NCAA at-large bid at the moment, but the emphasis is on "probably." Washington State, on the other hand, is 5-4-1 in conference (with the tie a big one at UCLA), but the Cougars got their first RPI top-50 win just last week when they beat Oregon State.
• Team No. 5 to watch this week: South Florida/Auburn/Kansas. Consider this the combo platter. What's odd about the Big East tournament (currently in the semifinal stage), Big 12 and SEC (both in the quarterfinal stage) tournaments is that there are almost no bubble implications. In the Big East, Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame should be safely in the NCAA tournament. Fellow semifinalist South Florida is No. 53 in the RPI. In the Big 12, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia should be safe. The next closest RPI team is Kansas at No. 64. In the SEC, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M should be safe. The next closest RPI team is Auburn at No. 50. Could a run to the final push a South Florida, Kansas or Auburn onto the bubble? Maybe, but it's probably automatic bid or nothing.