Power rankings: Gators break in
As college students around the country return to skipping classes, let's start with a history lesson. Don't worry, there will not be a quiz.
The topic: How significant is a quick start?
When North Carolina lost its opening game last season at Portland and went on to win the national championship, the Tar Heels shrugged off the weight of soccer history to do so. Only three other times in the NCAA era had an eventual national champion lost a game during the opening week of the season. Last season's Tar Heels joined the North Carolina teams that did the same in 2006 and 1983 (in all three cases losing opening-week games on the road). The fourth team, and the only team to lose its first two games and go on to win the national title, was Portland in 2002.
Draws are rarer still -- only George Mason in 1985 and North Carolina in 1986 won titles after an opening-week stalemate.
So while we're not quite to Labor Day and looking at a whole lot of soccer left to play, the scarcity of upsets in the opening weekend could be a good sign for most of the teams below. As for Duke and Penn State, well, they need look only as far back as last season to know history can be what you make of it.
1. North Carolina (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 1)
Depth clearly sets up as a team strength. The Tar Heels managed to squeeze 26 players into 180 minutes of soccer during wins against Santa Clara (2-0) and VCU (4-0). But it is nice to have Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai at the top of that depth chart. Headed to the senior national team for the Sept. 3 game against Mexico, Dunn scored three goals in the wins over VCU and Santa Clara and has eight goals and two assists in eight games since the start of last year's NCAA tournament. Ohai has five goals and four assists in that same span, including two goals and an assist this past weekend. And after suffering a season-ending injury just 4 minutes into last season, redshirt senior defender Megan Brigman led all Tar Heels with 175 minutes in the first two games this season.
2. Stanford (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 2)
The results were not overwhelming -- a 2-1 overtime victory at Boston College and a 1-0 win at Connecticut -- but crossing the country to open against solid programs is more than many contenders took on this past weekend. And at least for now, Stanford has enough capital built up to say wins are wins. Shot totals aren't always revealing, especially given the whims of official scorers in college soccer, but the Cardinal were outshot in back-to-back games. That happened only once last season, against UCLA and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. The work kept keeper Emily Oliver busy enough to earn Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Minnesota transfer Taylor Uhl headed in the winner against Connecticut. This week brings a visit from a talented Portland side.
3. Wake Forest (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 5)
We're out on the limb with Wake Forest at No. 3, but there's no point crawling back toward the trunk now. Especially not after the Demon Deacons quietly had an excellent weekend with a 3-1 victory against Kentucky and a 3-0 win against Alabama. This from a team that scored three or more goals just four times last season, none against teams as good as Kentucky. Katie Stengel tied the program's single-game record with three assists in the win against the Wildcats and then scored her first two goals of the season against the Crimson Tide. Defender Caralee Keppler, who missed last season with an injury, was the only outfield player to play 90 minutes in both games this past weekend.
4. UCLA (2-0-0, last season's ranking: 6)
The schedule is about to get more difficult and remain that way for quite some time, but let's start with victories against Northeastern (4-0) and Cal State Northridge (3-0). The Bruins scored at least three goals in each game, something they did in back-to-back games just twice last season. That's a good start to finding goals without Zakiya Bywaters. Sarah Killion assisted on three of the seven goals this past weekend and now has nine assists in 19 games since last year's Under-20 World Cup. Next up is a trip to South Bend, Ind., and games against Marquette and Notre Dame.
5. Notre Dame (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 7)
The Fighting Irish scored four or more goals in back-to-back games just once in each of the past two seasons. A week shy of Labor Day, they have already equaled that this season on the heels of matching 4-1 wins against Illinois and Northwestern. That scoring binge included a brace inside of seven minutes for Lauren Bohaboy against the Wildcats. Of note on the other end of the field, freshman Kaela Little got both starts in goal for Notre Dame. Sunday's game against UCLA marks the only Top-25 opponent the Fighting Irish are likely to face before ACC play begins.
6. Virginia (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 8)
So much for missing Caroline Miller. Even without last season's All-American and NWSL draft pick, the Cavaliers scored 108 seconds into the new season and rolled to a 4-2 victory against VCU and a 4-0 dismantling of Santa Clara. Sophomore Brittany Ratcliffe came off the bench in both games but managed three goals. Virginia won't leave home until its first ACC road trip, so Friday's game against Penn State takes on extra importance. If you don't travel, you had best win big home games. Morgan Brian heads to the senior national team for Tuesday's game against Mexico.
7. Florida State (2-0-0, last week's ranking: 9)
Would anyone else from Iceland like to come to Tallahassee? The highlight of wins against Oregon State and Auburn was probably redshirt freshman Berglind Thorvaldsdottir totaling two goals and an assist against the latter. As long as you aren't trying to put them in the same Twitter post, Thorvaldsdottir and Dagny Brynjarsdottir should excel together. The victories pushed Florida State's home unbeaten streak to 20 games, but it's a road game at Florida that looms large. The teams play every year in the regular season. The last time it wasn't a one-goal game was 2005.
8. Penn State (1-0-1, last week's ranking: 3)
The rankings at this point in the season are akin to the draft in a NASCAR race. Slip out of the pack and a bunch of cars are going to speed by, at least briefly. There was nothing to set off alarm bells in Penn State's 2-2 draw with West Virginia, a team already on the cusp of these rankings last week. Considering the Nittany Lions fell behind 2-0 but rallied late for the draw on goals by Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram (and had chances to win), it even showed a bit of resilience. But too many teams on this list have too much potential to ignore dropped points completely.
9. Duke (1-1-0, last week's ranking: 4)
No team had a more impressive road win than Duke going into College Station on Friday and coming out with a 1-0 victory against Texas A&M in front of 5,242 fans (and if you've been to an athletic event at Texas A&M, you know any crowd there sounds twice as big as it actually is). No contender faced a more difficult road trip than the Blue Devils did in following that opener with a game in Columbia, S.C., two days later. They lost that one 1-0 on a goal by South Carolina's Danielle Au and slip in the rankings for the same reason as Penn State, but it was far from a bad start.
10. Florida (2-0-0, last week's ranking: NR)
Welcome to college soccer, Savannah Jordan. Five goals in a month is a decent return for a striker. Five goals in your first weekend as a collegian is, well, wow. Jordan scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of her debut against Florida Gulf Coast to turn a close call into a 3-1 win. The freshman did that one better with a hat trick in a 3-1 win against Oregon State. The Gators have a lot to replace this season without Erika Tymrak, Jo Dragotta, Adriana Leon and Kathryn Williamson, among others. Jordan (not to mention classmates Pamela Begic, a Slovenian international, and Brooke Sharp) made a nice start of it.
Next in line: West Virginia, BYU, Portland, Baylor, Texas A&M.
Ten games to watch this week (rankings from NSCAA Top 25)
• No. 16 Portland at No. 2 Stanford
• No. 3 Florida State at No. 8 Florida
• No. 17 UCF at No. 3 Florida State
• No. 4 UCLA at No. 7 Notre Dame
• No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 20 Marquette (South Bend, Ind.)
• No. 9 Penn State at No. 5 Virginia
• Nebraska at No. 6 BYU
• Louisville at No. 10 Wake Forest
• No. 21 San Diego State at No. 14 Michigan
• Central Michigan at West Virginia