(14) Florida vs (24) Ole Miss – 7:00 PM
Florida’s endured a rather trying month in September despite five wins in six coming into Friday’s matchup with Ole Miss. The club lost All-American defender Kathryn Williamson for potentially the season with a torn meniscus at the beginning of the month and then had to stomach seeing Erika Tymrak go down with a sprained left ankle against Tennessee last weekend in Gainesville. All things considered, Florida’s coped reasonably well, able to power through both the Lady Vols and Georgia last weekend to collect six vital points in the SEC. Tymrak has been tipped to return this weekend, but Williamson’s loss has definitely shown for the Gators, as the club hasn’t kept a clean sheet without her in the lineup. That could spell problems on Friday with a high powered Ole Miss side coming into The Swamp. After losing two games in a row to league newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, the Rebels perhaps notched the most vital win of their season last Sunday when they downed potential bubble rivals Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Goalkeeper Kelly McCormick played the heroine by saving a penalty, with Mandy McCalla then converting a spot kick of her own to send the Rebels to three huge points in the league. Questions still remain over the side’s ability to do it against the top teams though, so Ole Miss will try to answer emphatically on Friday. The Rebels should at least have enough offense to be problematic to the Florida defense. The dynamic duo of Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza haven’t been shy about shooting on sight, and it’s paid off to the tune of nineteen combined goals thus far. The pace has slowed down a bit against stronger SEC sides, but the pair will get the chance to keep their foot on the accelerator in an upset bid on Friday. Victory would not just net Ole Miss another three points in their bid to return to the postseason but would also go a long way in getting the club back in the NCAA Tournament after a three year absence.
(65) Utah vs (31) Washington State – 3:00 PM
If you truly believe one big win can make the difference for a bubble team, Utah’s sitting pretty right now with their win over BYU being the only setback for the Cougars thus far in 2012. But the problem for Utah is, it’d take a very generous committee to see the Utes as a bubble team if the season ended right now. After losing on opening night, Utah strung together a seven match unbeaten run, which included the aforementioned win against BYU, as well as a draw at Colorado College. Of course, the last game in that run, a draw at Boise State, wasn’t exactly positive, and neither was the Pac-12 season opening loss at Corvallis to Oregon State, 2-0. It’s left the Utes a little short in their overall resume and needing another big result or two if they want to float back up to the bubble. They aren’t going to get it all in one fell swoop with a win over Washington State, but it certainly won’t hurt to knock off the Cougars. Washington State’s been a bit confounding this season, winning the games they should have but also getting pounded by Duke in a loss that raised questions about their ability to compete with the top teams. But then, WSU promptly went out and made UCLA look mortal in the league opener, drawing the Bruins in Westwood, 0-0. It brought back memories of the club’s draw with Virginia last season, a result that WSU was able to ride to the NCAA Tournament after sweating it out on the bubble a bit. The Cougars couldn’t build on that draw though, as they were soundly beaten by Santa Clara three days later in a 3-0 setback. It was a head scratcher after the club had performed so well just a half week earlier against a stronger opponent. Head coach Keidane McAlpine and his club will want to put that all behind them though as they try to jockey for position in the Pac-12 on Friday afternoon. If the Cougars can just keep winning, they might just be able to leave the bubble drama in the rear view mirror come Selection Monday.
(50) Arizona State vs (78) USC – 5:00 PM
Second chances don’t come along too often in the race to stay viable on the bubble, and both Arizona State and USC will want to take full advantage of the new lease on life they’ve earned with recent results. After the home side’s awful start to the new season, most had written the Sun Devils off in the NCAA Tournament race, with some also wondering if coach Kevin Boyd was due to come in for some pressure due to the club’s presumed recent downslide. A win at Pepperdine changed much though, and a three match winning streak brought ASU right back into the at-large bid conversation. While toppling Stanford proved to be a bridge too far, ASU is very much alive in the NCAA Tournament discussion but also has work to do as they’re currently under .500. With their RPI in its current position and the strength of the Pac-12 as a whole though, just being at .500 come Selection Monday may be enough to get the Sun Devils into the field. USC’s trying to pull an even bigger Houdini act, coming back from a four match winless streak earlier in non-conference play and a string of one win in six. It was a Pac-12 win against Washington that renewed hope in Los Angeles and delivered a much needed boost to USC’s RPI. Though that win did give USC life, the Trojans are still ranked twelfth of twelve Pac-12 sides in the RPI and only at .500, meaning they still have much room to make up over the next few weeks. The good news is, USC’s win against Washington also brought some much needed defensive improvement. Previously, the Trojans’ defense had been getting bounced around like a superball, and the clean sheet victory over the Huskies was the club’s first all year. They’ll be looking for more of the same on the road this weekend as they try to keep gaining ground in the race for the NCAA Tournament in the Pac-12.
(38) Kentucky vs (11) Texas A&M – 7:00 PM
Kentucky’s chance at an upset fully rests on which Big Blue side shows up on Friday night in Lexington. If the good UK shows up, the side that toppled Louisville and Florida, then Jon Lipsitz’s side may have a puncher’s chance at an upset and at least that much at taking a point off the Aggies. If the bad Kentucky shows up? Well, the losses taken at the hands of Samford and Arkansas are going to look mild compared to the beating that A&M could deliver. As can be expected with a squad full of youngsters, Kentucky’s been a wee bit inconsistent this season at times, but they’re also 3-1-0 in the SEC right now and will be right in the mix for the SEC title if they can pull the upset on Friday night. Getting that upset will likely mean getting another big contribution out of freshman pitbull Courtney Raetzman. Raetzman’s one of DI’s shortest players at 4’11” but has made an incalculable impact to UK in recent weeks after returning from injury, including netting both goals against LSU in the club’s 2-1 win in Baton Rouge last Sunday. Texas A&M? Well, they’ve made this whole SEC thing look awful easy during the opening two weeks of the season, winning all four games and keeping four clean sheets along the way to extend that run to seven straight games. The Aggies haven’t faced the league’s best though, with the Wildcats, Florida, Tennessee, and fellow Big XII expats Missouri all yet to come. An offensive force with plenty of players capable of putting the ball in the back of the net, Texas A&M has been riding the offense of Annie Kunz for much of league play, with the big and burly striker netting three goals in four games in the SEC so far. With fellow sophomore Kelley Monogue struggling for fitness as she tries to recover from a knee injury, Kunz’s rise to marshal the club’s offense has been crucial to the Aggies’ run to the top of the table. They’ll surely need more of the same on Friday as they try to strengthen their grasp on first place in the league while also trying to charge towards a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
(28) Michigan vs (47) Iowa – 7:00 PM
For those wanting something more than an inevitable Penn State march to the Big Ten title, Michigan may be the last best hope, with the Wolverines coming into Friday’s match with a perfect 3-0-0 league record. The Wolverines have now strung together five straight wins, all of them with clean sheets. It’s gone a little ways in undoing some of the damage that Michigan endured in a disastrous trip out to California, which saw them lose both games late, with those defeats to Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State being spurned opportunities for potentially decisive wins. The shockingly decisive win over Wisconsin last Sunday not only let the club keep pace in the Big Ten title race, it also gave the Wolverines something to tout on what had been a rather lacking resume up to that point. Two of the goals came from Canadian Nkem Ezurike, who’s just as likely to get booked as she is to score, but who is also one of the nation’s most effective offensive spearheads and showed as much against the Badgers. It could well be a shootout on Friday though, as Iowa comes in in need of wins and in possession of offense to spare. The Hawkeyes are squarely on the bubble right now having racked up a lot of wins but not a lot of substantial wins. Their best win is probably their last win, a thriller against Purdue at home that probably didn’t move the needle much as far as their NCAA Tournament hopes go. The Hawkeyes clearly need big wins, and while Michigan’s not a huge scalp at this point, they’re still a reasonably sized one that would boost Iowa’s case to a sizable degree. Iowa’s ridden the goals of Cloe Lacasse and Ashley Catrell, who’ve combined for eighteen goals thus far, to a great extent all year, but neither has scored yet in Big Ten play. Instead, defensive midfielder Alex Melin’s led the way with a pair of goals against league foes. Obviously, getting Lacasse and Cattrell firing again will be key to Iowa winning their remaining league fixtures, and getting back on the scoresheet on Friday night would be a great start for the duo. It won’t be easy against Michigan’s staunch defense though, and it might end up being a case of unstoppable force vs unmovable object in Ann Arbor on Friday night.
(35) Baylor vs (41) Kansas – 8:00 PM
Though West Virginia will almost certainly have something to say about it in the end, a major piece of the Big XII title picture will be put into place in Waco on Friday night. The home Bears come into this one with a gaudy 9-1-2 record, but with just one point to their name in Big XII play after drawing the opener at Oklahoma. It was another reason for Baylor supporters to fidget, as the club’s RPI isn’t exactly shining through right now despite their record. A real lack of significant wins has put Baylor squarely on the bubble despite their status as one of the league’s favorites for the title. It means that Marci Jobson’s side has plenty of work to do in the league, and that starts with knocking some potential bubble rivals out of the way. Baylor will be looking towards scoring talisman Dana Larsen for the key goals on Friday night. Larsen leads the team with seven strikes, but more importantly, she’s also on top of the club’s game winning goals chart, with four. Opponents Kansas also know a thing or two about defense having netted multiple goals in seven of their ten games this season, including a pair in a huge 2-1 win over Oklahoma State that underlined their potential as title contenders. KU’s run has been made all the more impressive considering they’ve done it without so many key parts. Cassie Dickerson, thought of as the final piece to the puzzle in defense, was lost for the season through injury early, while Colombians Ingrid Vidal and Liana Salazar are both sitting out for academic reasons, cutting further into the Jayhawks’ strength in depth. Kansas’ offense has been led by the deadly duo of Caroline Kastor and Ashley Williams, who’ve combined for thirteen goals thus far and may need to be on top form to compensate for a suddenly creaky defense. After signs of improvement early, KU has not kept a clean sheet in five games, bringing back painful memories of last year’s rather hideous defense. If the Jayhawks can’t improve in that department on Friday, they could be in a world of hurt against a capable Baylor attack. And with KU’s RPI just as threatened as Baylor’s at this point, dropping points against their title rivals could also be a big blow to their NCAA Tournament ambitions.
(40) Marquette vs (46) Louisville – 8:00 PM
“The Bubble” is probably not where these two sides wanted to be at this point in time, but it’s the stark reality facing both Marquette and Louisville as September winds down. The Golden Eagles have done well to right the ship a bit with four straight wins by multiple goals after a stuttering non-conference campaign that had seen the club go winless in three straight, including a 4-0 loss to North Carolina and a 5-2 defeat to Duke. It left Marquette in dire RPI circumstances at the beginning of league play, but the club has slowly worked its way back up the ladder, with last Sunday’s 2-0 win at Rutgers cause for a big sigh of relief in Milwaukee. Also cause for joy is three straight clean sheets after the club had been mauled against bigger clubs in non-conference play. Though you can’t really argue that Louisville’s a “big club”, the Cardinals do still have the firepower to trouble most clubs. Just ask the team’s last Big East opponent, St. John’s (NY), who were crushed, 6-0, at Cardinal Park last Sunday. It was a much needed win for the Cardinals, who had opened up the weekend by dropping two points against Syracuse on home turf, dropping them into a bigger hole after a league opening defeat to Notre Dame. It hardly helped with Louisville’s RPI though, which has definitely suffered due to a lack of big wins. With limited opportunities for advancement in the RPI ahead, the Cardinals better take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way, and that means knocking off a potential bubble rival on Friday night. The key could be mustering enough offense to trouble that sometimes leaky Marquette defense. With Canadian Christine Exeter short of form at the moment, the impetus could be on duo Angelika Uremovich and Charlyn Corral to supply the goods, with the pair having combined for five goals in league play. Erin Yenney has also netted twice, meaning Marquette could potentially have its hands full if their defense isn’t clicking on Friday night. One thing’s for sure: whoever comes out of this match on the losing may have their hands full down the road in trying to secure a berth to the NCAA Tournament.