AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – How The Top Seven Conferences Will Finish (Probably. Maybe?)

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes | AWK Awards Shortlist | AWK Preseason All-America Team | Missing U20 World Cup Players

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | Miami (FL) | NC State | Virginia Tech
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech | West Virginia
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Louisville | Marquette | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Ohio State | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Boston University | Central Michigan | Dayton | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | Long Beach State | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UCF | UC Irvine | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | Georgia | Kentucky | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | Santa Clara | St. Mary’s (CA)

Coming Thursday: AWK’s Preseason Field of Sixty-Four, College Cup, and National Champion picks.

ACC

1 Duke Hard to argue against national finalists who return all eleven starters. Front four should be electric, but defense could be even better with return of Anasi as anchor and Campbell in goal. Don’t discount addition of rookie Pecht, who could be a future star.
2 Wake Forest Stengel & Nuzzolese a handful up front, Bledsoe strong in goal, but enough creativity in midfield to go all the way? Very few ancillary scoring options beyond top two and looked short of ideas when pushed by Duke at College Cup last year. Very dangerous on set pieces.
3 Florida State Explosive going forward, but loss of Pressley, Huster, Stephan considerably weakens spine. Goalkeeping still a worry on biggest stage. Absence of Kallman early on could create some defensive headaches. As always, new members of FSU’s foreign legion could tip the scales in their favor if they adapt to ACC early.
4 North Carolina No shortage of talented pieces, but can Dorrance get them all to fit by November? Any club with likes of Dunn, Brooks, and Ohai figures to be dangerous, but getting everyone pulling in the same direction could be a challenge. Much rides on highly touted recruiting class playing beyond their years as freshmen.
5 Boston College The ultimate Trick or Treat team. Could win it all, could crash and burn in mid-November. Talented but oh so inconsistent. Gaul a superb addition in goal, while Morrison could be one of nation’s best defenders. Mewis pulls the strings well, but can DiMartino recapture scoring form? If not, Eagles could frustrate again.
6 Virginia Young and talented, but absence of Coach Swanson at beginning of season could unsettle team. Need to replace departed Jones in goal for any chance of success. Will shred many an overmatched team, but can Cavs overcome mental hurdles that have tripped them up in postseason so often?
7 Miami (FL) Hurricanes have been in this position umpteen times before. Can they finally make upward progress in ACC? Lillard a solid addition in goal, along with volatile Romagnuolo in midfield. True gem could be Howarth in attack after dazzling WPSL Elite season. You get the feeling something big brewing in Coral Gables.
8 Virginia Tech Conheeney a potential superstar this year, Meier the next few years. Goalkeeping situation early a worry without Colpitts and may not have enough cutting edge in front of goal. Beat more fancied opponents in NCAA Tournament last year though, and could easily do same this year.
9 Maryland Tremendous freshman class, but wholesale changes in defense and up front likely means grappling with inconsistency all year. New boss Morgan should ensure continuity, but balancing so much youth could cause headaches. High upside, but Terps might not hit that upside this season.
10 Clemson Dog days probably close to being over in Clemson, but anything more than a win or two in the league would be a shock. Attack with Dobberstein, Elder, and Laxgang looks formidable, but Tigers don’t have claws going the other way. Could well upset a team looking beyond them though.
11 North Carolina State A few solid contributors, but talent gap too large after graduation to expect anything approaching even last year. Given experience on last season’s team, window for short-term success may have closed after last season’s close shave. Couple of noteworthy prospects can’t overcome club’s overall middling talent at this level.


Big XII

1 West Virginia Perennially well coached Mountaineers side well positioned for another title run in new league. First XI can roll with most anyone in country but lack of depth likely rules out deep November run.
2 Oklahoma State Franch, Michalowski, and Marchesano make for a nice core, but Cowgirls still get waylaid by graduation all over the pitch. OSU should still be good, but make no mistake, this year’s group isn’t anywhere near last year’s.
3 Kansas Could be one of the surprises of the season. Return tons of experience and no shortage of firepower offensively. Dickerson could be signing of the season if she can help stabilize defense.
4 Baylor Never likely to be a fashionable pick, Bears still likely confident of strong 2012 with return of majority of offense. Replacing top defender Salinas, goalkeeper Seelhorst could loom large though.
5 Texas Tech Long, agonizing quest for an NCAA Tournament bid might finally come to an end this season with talented side ready to pounce. Best still yet to come with young group as well.
6 Texas Likely happy to just get back on the pitch after dramatic offseason. Midfield looks quite solid, but graduations, defections have taken toll elsewhere. Solid recruiting class but talent unlikely to gel in time for Big Dance invite.
7 Oklahoma More talent than you might expect, especially in attack, but Whigham’s health in defense crucial to hopes. An outside bet for an NCAA Tournament spot this year.
8 Iowa State Painfully middling all over the park. Will likely be counting on TCU’s struggles to avoid the basement.
9 TCU Program has a lot of potential, this year’s team probably does not. Deficient in talent all over the pitch.

 

Big East – American Division

1 Marquette Should win weak division at a canter, thriving with explosive offense. Deep run in November contingent on finding a consistent replacement for Kulla in goal.
2 UConn Solid, but unspectacular might just be enough to take Huskies a long way in this division. Look pretty solid all over the pitch except for in goal, where inexperience may limit Huskies’ upside.
3 St. John’s (NY) They can’t score, but at least they’re relatively experienced. Marron’s a strong midfielder as well but team still looks woefully short of quality for an NCAA Tournament run.
4 Syracuse They can’t score either but don’t seem to have as much returning experience as the Johnnies. Anghel’s a potential star in goal, and she might have to be with light scoring offense in front of her.
5 South Florida OK, they can score, but Bulls look to be caught in between generations, with a lot of youth in the ranks. Look to be heavily dependent on international newcomers, which is a risky proposition.
6 Providence Did very, very well to get into the Big East Tournament last season but need to rebuild after heavy losses across the board. Strong backline but questions everywhere else, means another postseason appearance would be a success.
7 Pittsburgh Panthers have some much needed new blood at the top, but this is a long-term rebuilding project. Getting off the basement would be cause for celebration.

 

Big East – National Division

1 Notre Dame Kids likely to be alright in a down Big East this year, but Irish might not have staying power in NCAA Tournament with lack of veteran leadership, experience. Highly talented youngsters should thrill in stretches this year though.
2 Louisville Likely all about survival for Cardinals until Exeter and Melhado return from international duty. Once they do, it’s likely full steam ahead, though getting Notre Dame and Marquette away from home dims title hopes some.
3 Rutgers Once solid league stalwarts have turned into serial underachievers as of late. Solid depth and recruiting efforts combined with presence of Filigno and Woeller mean there’s no excuse for anything less than NCAA Tournament.
4 Seton Hall Defensive recruits need to pan out to improve wobbly rearguard, but Pirates looks solid on the whole. Not a team of stars or great depth, but first unit should be competitive enough.
5 Georgetown Blew it last year and probably have to pay the price this season with losses galore. Solid rearguard and Corboz looks a future star, but need to break in new keeper and find more sources of offense.
6 Villanova Had trouble moving the needle with the prolific Katie Ryan up front, what chance do they have without her? Losing Kranich to international duty early could be problematic as well.
7 Cincinnati Bearcats have a little scoring potential with Rhodes and Grause up front, but young team still needs time and patience. Club still lacking star power, with defense also a bit worrisome.
8 DePaul No depth, no offense, and little hope for a breakthrough. Defense could be passable, but distinct absence of firepower likely spells another year out of postseason.

 

Big Ten

1 Penn State Should be overwhelming league favorites in tepid conference. Could struggle for goals early, but club is loaded once Hayes and Schram return in September. Biggest obstacle could be mental block that has felled program in NCAA Tournament as of late.
2 Ohio State Would be mid-table in a few other conferences, but Big Ten doesn’t look so hot this year. Great midfield, and Cameron’s a fine attacking weapon, but upheaval elsewhere makes long November run unlikely. Watch for fine recruiting class though.
3 Illinois Hard not to be wary of a club who won’t have head coach and best player for first month of season. Widespread losses in defense and midfield aren’t exactly comforting either, though Illini should still be comfortably above the fray this year.
4 Michigan Underachieved mightily last season but tools there for a bounce back season. Strong everywhere, though defensive depth is a slight worry. Historical non-conference struggles could rear ugly head again with absent U20 World Cup stars though.
5 Wisconsin Fizzled in league play after topping Penn State and were generally disappointing last year. Walls a player up front, but supporting cast in attack looks questionable. Defense should be formidable, but UW has to replace star Dalton in goal.
6 Iowa Best days likely still to come with very young squad, but core is there for another solid season. LaCasse should be a big threat up front again, but club has to solve goalkeeper puzzle to truly be a player in Big Ten.
7 Minnesota Uhl’s a stud up top and could be a godsend for new coach Golan, who’ll need club to settle quickly to challenge for postseason. Experienced defense should improve, meaning NCAA Tournament bid isn’t out of question.
8 Michigan State Spartans don’t seem to have learned from last season’s NCAA Tournament miss after fine league season nullified by tame non-conference slate. Backline looks solid, but too many questions elsewhere to rate them highly in 2012.
9 Purdue Relentless chopping and changing has gone some way in eroding stability of a program that was once among nation’s most exciting. Fair amount of young talent, but graduation losses and season ending injury to Kuramoto limit group’s upside.
10 Nebraska Loss of Marlborough hurts both tangibly and symbolically for downtrodden program. Frontline goals should still be there, but club looks shaky everywhere else, making postseason a questionable proposition.
11 Indiana Attack isn’t that bad, even if it is a bit top heavy with Velasquez never meeting a potential shot she didn’t like. Defense doesn’t inspire confidence, but automatic postseason spot should ease pressure on Hoosiers a bit.
12 Northwestern Plenty of young talent, but emphasis on the ‘young’. Lack of offense and steep learning curve likely makes for another tough season though.

 

Pac-12

1 UCLA Could be a bit of an adventure early with U20 WC absentees, but Bruins could be a juggernaut later on. Hosting Stanford in Pac-12 could be decisive. Club still needs a top-notch center-forward to emerge though, and youth could again be a disadvantage come November’s travails in NCAA Tournament.
2 Stanford Defending champions should still be more than formidable, especially with one of nation’s best defenses in all likelihood. Questions abound further forward though, with loss of Zurmuhlen, Noyola, and Taylor. With Ubogagu gone for U20 WC early, reemergence of Verloo in attack could be crucial.
3 Cal Clearly look like the class of the league after the Pac-12′s “Big Two”. Bears look very strong everywhere but up front, which could be problematic, of course. Defense and midfield look fantastic though, and Cal could win multiple games in November.
4 Washington Big shoes to fill with loss of Deines and LaFontaine-Kussmann but Huskies have no shortage of heart and go to battle with a midfield to die for. Defense looks strong, but UW still needs big-time striker to emerge. Watch for rookies Farrell and Karas, both potential stars.
5 USC Shockingly disappointing last year, Trojans have fair shot at bouncing right back into the postseason in 2012. Ridiculously large recruiting class might raise some eyebrows but could be what’s needed for a swift remodeling job after last year’s stale effort. So many new pieces could make for some inconsistency though.
6 Washington State New boss McAlpine takes over a solid talent base from departed Potter, though life without Setterlund early doesn’t figure to be easy. Blue collar attack and strong defense are good signs, but club still looks understrength in midfield, even with Setterlund’s presence.
7 Oregon State Title window might have closed decisively last season on Beavers. Starting goalkeeper Boyd departs as does three-fourths of last season’s defense, and other starting defender Cabrera was lost to injury for the season. Picture doesn’t get prettier further forward with Buckland similarly injured and Richardson gone early at U20 World Cup.
8 Oregon Youth not an excuse any more for Erickson after last season’s rebuilding effort. Gorgeous new facility means heightened expectations, and anything less than push for NCAA Tournament bid could lead to the sack. Talented Ducks could get to promised land if a star emerges though.
9 Arizona State Not much positive coming from an offseason full of defections after a disappointing season. Goalkeeping situation looks like a nightmare, meaning a strong defense has to live up to expectations. Marshall’s got potential up front, but other options look sparse.
10 Colorado Buffs have a bona fide star in Barczuk, but loads of questions around her in Sanchez’s first season in charge. Like of punch up front and piecemeal defense likely means some rough times in league play though.
11 Utah Miracles happened in Salt Lake City last year with Utes’ mid-table finish, but such results this year could be hard to replicate. Manning’s bunch are perilously young, with just one senior on a squad crushed by graduation. As you might expect much better days will be ahead in future years.
12 Arizona It’s not like it can get much worse in Tucson, but it may not get much better right away. Some talented rookies may help stem the pain, but toothless offense will make escaping the basement difficult.

 

SEC

1 Texas A&M Ludicrously stilted home league schedule gives Aggies a big advantage in their first SEC season, though it’s arguable as to whether they needed it given strength of their squad. A&M attack likely to punish many shaky league defenses, but true test comes in November. Desperately needs home advantage in NCAA Tournament given recent postseason record.
2 Florida Should not be lacking motivation after being dethroned on both SEC fronts last season. Relentless tinkering and squad rotation did not reap dividends in disappointing season. Gators have two potential All-Americans in Williamson and Tymrak, but lack of consistent center forward could prove fatal to hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run.
3 Tennessee Coaches showed little respect for Lady Vols in preseason poll, which is likely a mistake, even with the new leadership. Gung ho attacking style made Pensky many friends at Maryland, but offense may not totally get rolling until Wilkinson’s return. Entire starting defense returning intact bodes well for UT, but overall lack of depth worrisome.
4 Kentucky A pure upside pick, but sometimes you have to bet on talent, raw as it might be. Replacing offensive Swiss army knife Hunyadi won’t be easy, but freshman Hubly could be budding star after impressive preseason lines. Still very, very young, but could be a late bloomer in Orange Beach this season.
5 Georgia Newfield’s electric in attack, with Baker almost as impressive in goal for Bulldogs. Everything in between? Passable, but unlikely to lift the club towards a league title. Shaky midfield and one-dimensional attack makes building on last season’s second round NCAA Tournament appearance unlikely.
6 South Carolina Historically stingy team will likely try to be a steel curtain again after last season’s against type offensive fireworks display. D’Angelo should thrive in goal ahead of a backline now with more experience, but club could struggle when she’s on international duty. Offense near crippled by losses though, meaning youngsters have to step up right away.
7 LSU Window for a major trophy likely slammed shut last season, at least for another season while the club reloads. Misfiring front line could be problematic, especially given the turnover in midfield personnel, which could sap the club’s supply line. Defense could be key to success, with strong backline returning, though questions in goal remain.
8 Alabama Who knows if they can defend after widespread losses on defense, but Tide should continue rolling on offense with a midfield and forward corps that should be a match for most league rivals. A big step forward not to be expected, but consolidation not so bad after years of spinning their wheels.
9 Auburn Too many sojourns with the bubble historically to believe the Tigers, who finished seventh last season, will be considerably better without Frierson and King. Cate and Coleman provide decent punch going forward, but defense could be a mess early without Kotero and still worrying even upon her return. Likely another tense Selection Monday after comparably blissful 2011 by Tiger standards.
10 Missouri Plenty of experience returning on paper, but blowout exhibition loss to SMU raises a few red flags. High risk, high reward style depends heavily on lots of goals, but club looks to lack a top notch scoring threat despite numerous solid complementary options. Much depends on continued improvement of the Tiger defense.
11 Ole Miss Injection of young talent just what the doctor ordered for struggling Rebels. Souza and crew should be able to put the ball into the back of the net with regularity, but defense still looks a little frail. If some of the rookies prove as good as advertised, Ole Miss has a shot at making it back to Orange Beach though.
12 Vanderbilt Young Dores certainly not without talent after strong recruiting efforts, but it may take a while for all those underclassmen to gel. Lack of proven attacking mettle could be tough to overcome in offense happy league, but there’s nothing but upside in Nashville this year.
13 Mississippi State Embraced their identity last season and nearly got back to the postseason in the process. Bulldogs will likely again have to defend deep and hit on the break against more talented league rivals. Still missing that star element to get the team to the next level.
14 Arkansas Years of neglect have taken a steep toll on Lady Razorbacks, who’re frighteningly low on SEC level talent. New boss Hale will have to hope for big contributions from youngsters to avoid another disaster. Watch for forward Ashleigh Ellenwood, impressive with Chicago in the WPSL Elite.

 

WCC

1 Santa Clara Hasn’t made for easy viewing over past few seasons, but Broncos finally appear to be back in position to climb WCC summit. Offense could labor a bit without Johnston and Huerta early, but could be deadly upon duo’s return. Still work to do in replacing defensive starters and Henninger in goal, but versatile squad helps in that regard. Extended progress possible in NCAA Tournament, but 2013 is the big year for the Broncos.
2 Pepperdine Getting there is one thing, staying there quite another as Waves might find out this season. Likes of Pao, Barker, and Williams have lifted Pepperdine to big accomplishments last season but will want to push on after early NCAA Tournament exit. Return of experienced core of talent bodes well, as does getting title rivals Santa Clara and BYU in Malibu.
3 BYU Cougars should be more than motivated after a season that fizzled after so much promise. Attacking options galore with Payne, Jepson, and Fernandes available to name just a few. Return of entire starting backline plus addition of Colohan bodes well for defense as well, though unproven goalkeeping situation could limit upside and title hopes.
4 Portland Loss of Foxhoven up front hurts, but Capelle should be able to pick up some but not all of scoring slack. Secondary options need to emerge on offense though if Portland are to contend. Johnson’s return on defense likely to be big, but lack of overall depth means club could be walking a tightrope with injuries and fatigue.
5 San Diego 2011 title triumph effectively end of an era for golden generation of Ochs, Parsons, and others who leave a massive void behind in San Diego. Fair amount of talent does return, but Toreros lose as much as any club in the nation talent-wise. Thin on depth, USD may have to be content with mid-table and scrapping it out for an NCAA Tournament spot year after league title.
6 St. Mary’s (CA) Departure of Marada was an arrow through the heart of the Gaels’ hopes of a rise into the WCC’s upper echelon in 2012. Reasonable talent still present, especially up front once Beaulne returns from international duty. Midfield depth and defensive consistency still needed for upward mobility this season though.
7 Loyola Marymount Lions were a one-trick pony last season, finding themselves too reliant on the scoring of Martino to bail them out of danger. Little appears to have changed this year, though the coaching switch could breathe new life into Los Angeles’ third team. LMU might have to do it with defense this year, which is a good thing, considering the Lions’ D is quite respectable.
8 San Francisco Millinder can build teams, which is a good thing, because Dons need some serious remodeling after trawling bottom of WCC for so long. Respectable core on defense and offense, but USF just doesn’t have horsepower to go the distance in the league. Sixth again would likely be just fine for Dons.
9 Gonzaga Bulldogs lack star power on the whole, not a recipe for success in such a competitive league. Departure of Rhodes crushes the offense, with few solid replacements appearing over the horizon. Defense looks decent, but lack of goals likely means a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

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