(4) BYU vs (9) Santa Clara – 8:00 PM
The WCC could be won on Friday night in Provo, as, arguably, the league’s two title favorites meet in the league opener for each. While there’s still plenty of games to play over the next month, this match will, nonetheless, likely be a pivotal one in the title chase. Through 2012, BYU has been nigh-unstoppable at home, with a perfect 7-0-0 record in Provo. The list of victims is a long and accomplished one, with potential NCAA Tournament teams Penn State, Washington, Long Beach State, and Colorado College all having felt the wrath of the Cougars at South Field. More impressively, BYU has dispatched most of those clubs with ease, having won five of their seven home matches by more than a goal. Since a 1-0 defeat at Utah in late August, BYU has been in deadly form, winning nine in a row and conceding just three goals.
While the offense has dried up a bit in recent weeks, the club’s defense has been more than capable, shutting out three straight opponents. The Cougar offense is a versatile one. The three playing behind Carlee Payne Holmoe in the BYU 4-2-3-1, Jaiden Thornock, Michele Muprhy, and Jessica Ringwood, each has five goals a piece, while Payne Holmoe herself has four goals and six assists as the offensive spearhead. The freedom enjoyed by the front four is partially down to the midfield destroyer duo of Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning, who have proven to be a natural disruptive force this season. Couple them with a strong rearguard headed up by All-American Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall and strong goalkeeping from breakout star Erica Owens, and you’ve got a club that matches up well with almost any in the nation.
It’s a good thing too, because BYU is meeting up with a Santa Clara club that has been just as hot as them as of late. The Broncos went 5-0-1 on their recent homestand that featured wins over Washington State and Cal State Northridge and a draw against San Diego State. The Broncos haven’t lost since the end of August, and that 6-1 loss at Stanford must seem like an eternity ago for SCU. Getting Sofia Huerta and Julie Johnston back from international duty has made the Broncos an entirely different animal, one with aspirations of ending the club’s long WCC title drought and one that could potentially make some serious progress in the NCAA Tournament.
In range for a high national seed that could see it avoid Stanford for a while in the Big Dance, the Broncos know that upending BYU on the road could be huge for those hopes. But going on the road to Provo and emerging with a win is one of the hardest tasks in college soccer. BYU has lost just five times in almost four years at home and won’t be looking to make it six on Friday night. But the prize for a win for the visitors would be massive and would announce that this Broncos side could well be in line for a deep run into November and perhaps beyond.
(38) Utah vs (1) Stanford – 4:00 PM
Defying the odds has become commonplace in Salt Lake City the last few seasons, as the hometown Utes continue to confound the critics with their surprising form. Expected by many to finish near or on bottom in their Pac-12 bow last year, Utah instead turned in a solid season, finishing in mid-table, ahead of a collection of more fancied sides. Prognostications this season probably weren’t much different, as the Utes returned a very young side, with just one senior on the roster going into 2012. While the club’s youth showed against Utah State in an opening day loss and later on in a bizarre draw with Boise State, the Utes have still ended up punching above their weight more often than not this year. Just ask Washington State and Washington, who both fell to the Utes in Salt Lake City last weekend.
It marked a solid rebound from a league opener defeat to Oregon State and boosted Rich Manning’s side’s odds of returning to the NCAA Tournament considerably. While Utah will undoubtedly get in if on the bubble thanks to an earlier win over BYU, another upset here against Stanford would probably ensure Utah avoids the bubble entirely this year. It’s been goalscorer by committee so far for the Utes, but midfielder Harley Spier held the hot hand last weekend, despite coming off the bench in both games. The junior scored in both wins and will be looking to extend that scoring streak again this week.
Easier said than done of course, with Stanford coming to town on a seven match winning streak and an eight match unbeaten run. The Card had a bit of an odd weekend last week, first crushing a traditionally stubborn Oregon State team on Friday night before then struggling a bit to push Oregon aside in the Sunday game, only winning by a 2-1 count when all was said and done. Like their opponents, Stanford’s been doing a lot of their scoring by committee, but it’s been a big committee, with seven players tallying at least three goals. The points leader has been Courtney Verloo, back up front after previously functioning as a center-back. Verloo’s been a creative catalyst thus far for the Card, with seven assists to her name, many of them off set pieces, which Stanford has been deadly with this year.
The real intrigue in this one though might be beyond players and tactics though. This is the first true road game for the Card since their shock defeat at the hands of West Virginia in University Park in Penn State’s tournament in August. Since, Stanford has played exclusively at home or on Santa Clara’s ground, which is a de facto home game at any rate. While Stanford should enter as comfortable favorites, they did so in their last real away game as well. The Card will be hoping for a more desirable result on Friday night against a Utah side that’s proven to be more than formidable in 2012.
(47) Kansas vs (37) West Virginia – 5:00 PM
Though it’s still crowded near the top of the Big XII standings right now, Friday’s showdown in Lawrence figures to be one of the decisive battles of the 2012 league season. Already smarting after a loss to Baylor in Waco last weekend, KU knows that another defeat would likely mark the end for their title hopes this season. The Jayhawks have been up and down for the past few weeks, alternating wins and losses over the past five contests, including a potentially valuable bubble win against Oklahoma State and a tough loss to Denver at home. The Jayhawks are right on the ragged edge of the bubble right now and find themselves in real need of some quality wins to boost their stock ahead of Selection Monday. In that respect, beating Wake Forest on the road on Sunday would likely be more valuable, but triumphing over WVU on Friday would still be a positive development nonetheless.
Though they have home advantage, Kansas will still be underdogs against an in-form West Virginia side. The Mountaineers almost patented slow start to a season almost bit them in the rear this year, with the club seemingly in real danger of falling off the bubble before a recent upsurge in form. The Mountaineers likely had a lot of leeway thanks to their win over Stanford earlier in the year, but Nikki Izzo-Brown’s side have risen up the RPI rankings quickly thanks to a five match win streak and eight match unbeaten run that has seen the club rise to the top of the league table on the back of three wins out of three in the Big XII. That included two wins against potential bubble rivals Texas Tech and Oklahoma State that have given WVU a little room near the upper end of the bubble. The run-in looks rather hospitable as well, with three of the league’s lesser sides still to come in the final five games of the regular season. West Virginia’s high octane pairing of Frances Silva and Kate Schwindel have combined for fifteen goals so far and will surely be relishing a matchup against a defense that hasn’t kept a clean sheet since August. If the KU defense doesn’t come to play, it could be a long afternoon for the home side in Lawrence.
(33) Washington State vs (48) Arizona State – 5:00 PM
A battle on the bubble looms for Arizona State, but an even bigger battle may be brewing with the Sun Devils also needing to end up at .500 to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Currently sitting at one game under the magic mark, ASU supporters might be sweating a bit with eight games left to play. On the other hand, the Sun Devils have already played (and got thumped by) league favorites Stanford and UCLA, meaning they should at least fancy their odds of getting back to .500 if this team is truly an at-large contender. The club certainly doesn’t want to to slip back to two games under .500 with a defeat here though.
While the club was basically whitewashed by UCLA in a Monday night tilt in Tempe, Sun Devil supporters will look back fondly at last Friday’s wild 5-4 win after extra time against USC. While USC finishing with nine players on the pitch got most of the attention, ASU’s Cali Farquharson’s star making performance shouldn’t be overlooked. The promising freshman netted a hat trick in regulation before supplying the winning assist in extra time after a rebound from her shot was put home by Tommi Goodman. Potentially the big time scorer ASU’s lacked for a while, Farquharson will be hard pressed to recreated those heroics against Washington State’s ironclad defense.
The Cougars are tied with Stanford and UCLA for the league’s stingiest defense, having conceded just two in three league games so far. When you consider WSU held UCLA without a goal, that mark becomes even more impressive. Some of the early season stutters in defense seem to have been allayed, though the club’s finishing has sometimes left much to be desired, as was the case in a 2-1 loss to Utah last weekend, in which WSU dominated early, only to fall to pieces late. The Cougars will be hoping leading scorer Micaela Castain is firing true on Friday, the striker having netted eight goals, four of them game winners, thus far.
WSU doesn’t enter this one in nearly as much bubble trouble as the visitors, but it’s not going to take too many losses for the Cougars to begin to sweat a bit. Then again, given Wazzu’s current RPI position and a draw against UCLA already in hand, it probably won’t take too many more wins to see the club safely in the field of sixty-four again. Topping Arizona State on Friday would be a good step towards achieving that goal for WSU.
(40) Colorado College vs (27) Memphis – 6:00 PM
For Colorado College, the course of their potential run at an at-large bid will likely be decided over the course of the next eight days as they host league favorites Memphis and UCF. The Tigers have produced a stellar record thus far in 2012, with a neutral site win against Denver to go along with draws against Colorado and Utah, but that may not be enough to push them over the top if they’re on the bubble come November. A win or two in the next three games over the title favorites probably would be though. The Tigers are probably happy to be back at home after a four game road trip considering their record away from home this year is a pedestrian 3-2-2.
Unbeaten at home for almost fourteen months, Colorado College will likely be banking on a big push over the next few weeks to try and get themselves in the C-USA title picture while also trying to solidify their case for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers’ offense has been fairly staid in the league thus far, with five goals in four matches, which could be a problem if it turns into a shootout given the opposition.
Memphis has turned into a killing machine offensively since the middle of September, scoring twenty-four goals in a six match homestand, all victories. The Tigers may have saved their best for last, with a stunning 7-1 demolition of Marshall that underlined their status as current favorites in the C-USA right now. The form of Canadian Christabel Oduro in particular has been stunning, with the junior logging four goals and five assists in four league games along the way. Another big performance would go a long way in getting Memphis three more points. Winning on the road is a whole different ballgame though, and Memphis has gone just 1-2-0 away from home this season.
Considering CC’s record at home as of late, this may not be the best matchup to break that trend. Memphis hasn’t quite clinched their NCAA Tournament spot either, though they have to be pretty close. A win against the other set of Tigers in the league wouldn’t just essentially see Memphis with a hand on the league title, it might also be good enough for the club to be planning another trip to the Big Dance.
(15) Virginia vs (12) Wake Forest – 7:00 PM
It’s rare to see ACC matches on Friday these days and perhaps rarer still to conceive that these two clubs could be all but out of the ACC title picture with a defeat in their showdown in Charlottesville. With both of these teams having already dropped points in two matches thus far, combined with Florida State’s blazing start to the league season, it’s hard envisioning either side putting in a title challenge if they can’t at least get something on Friday. The odds are probably against both reaching the summit this season, but both sides are still very much in the mix for a national seed, perhaps a high one at that. Obviously, increasing those odds likely involves rolling over the other on Friday night.
The home side have shown some spotty form as of late, with just two wins in four, with one of those wins coming over league cellar dwellers Clemson. Sometimes last impressions speak loudest though, and Virginia certainly made a big one in a nationally televised game against Duke last Sunday. After just about getting the better of their ACC rivals, Virginia won it at the death with a gorgeously constructed goal form Caroline Miller to Makenzy Doniak. UVA supporters will be hoping for more of the same against Wake Forest’s stingy defense.
The Demon Deacons have the league’s second best defense, having given up just three goals in five league games thus far. Wake’s also been a bit erratic in their ACC form though, as the club has alternated wins and losses through five games in the league, which could be a problem with four of the league’s Big Eight still to play. Katie Stengel has been in sharp form since her return from international duty, spearheading the offense with three goals and two assists in five games. She’ll likely have to carry much of the offensive load again, with Rachel Nuzzolese, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury, not listed among the probable starters or key reserves for this upcoming weekend. A new outlet of goals could be rookie Jenai Davidson, who netted a brace in her first career start against Clemson. Asking her to repeat that feat against Virginia is a tough ask though.
WF’s set piece mastery could be a key to victory though, especially on the road. The Demon Deacons have already scored nine from dead ball situations thus far, with six from corners, continuing last season’s trend of crushing clubs on set pieces. The other side isn’t absent of threats from dead balls either though. Julia Roberts is one of the nation’s best free kick takers, while Olivia Brannon is a solid force in the air. It’s just one more storyline to watch in what could be one of the weekend’s best games between these two exciting ACC clubs.
(13) Missouri vs (36) Kentucky – 7:30 PM
The true mark of a champion is the ability to bounce back from adversity, and so it will be on Friday night as Missouri tries to prove their championship credentials less than a week after their first league defeat to Tennessee in Knoxville. The Tigers are still very much in the title hunt, just a point behind Texas A&M in the table, but they’ve also got some serious tests in the run-in, beginning on Friday with Kentucky. Missouri hadn’t exactly been blowing people away at the beginning of the league season, but they had been winning, taking home five straight wins to be exact.
But the Tigers also had been feeding off of most of the league’s bottom feeders and was facing its first big challenge against the Lady Vols. In a rough and tumble affair, Missouri’s offense came up short, eventually slumping to a 1-0 defeat. It’s not a result that can be repeated if the Tigers want to stay in the title hunt against rivals Texas A&M and Florida.
Their opponents on Friday have other problems to worry about. Kentucky has, after winning their first two league games, won just one of four in the SEC, essentially ending their title hopes. One of those results was a draw against Texas A&M though, with that point leading some to believe that Kentucky may have finally turned the corner after some inconsistent performances all year. Instead, the Wildcats laid a serious egg on Sunday, putting just one shot on goal in a listless defeat to Alabama. While Kentucky is likely in the NCAA Tournament if they’re anywhere in bubble range thanks to that draw with Texas A&M and an earlier win over Florida, a late slide could still do them in. Victory against Missouri would likely end any nightmare scenarios of missing out and could perhaps even give UK a glimmer of hope for a national seed. But it all depends which Wildcats team shows up. The good Kentucky is more than capable of beating Missouri. The bad Kentucky could crash and burn in emphatic and painful fashion.
(11) Texas A&M vs (49) Alabama – 8:00 PM
Four points on the road last week was enough to put Texas A&M’s SEC fate in its own hands, as the Aggies climbed into the league lead after Missouri lost to Tennessee on Sunday. Though the Aggies get five of their final seven games at home, there’s still a lot of season to be played, and this weekend looks to be far from a cakewalk given the opponents involved. A&M got a stern test from Kentucky last Friday before pulling a point from the fire thanks to the efforts of a still not 100% Kelley Monogue, as the sophomore forward struck twice to earn the club a point in Lexington.
More unsung heroes Jayne Eadie and Shea Groom scored early on Sunday to stretch A&M’s unbeaten run to eleven games. The Kentucky game was likely a bit of a shock to the system for a defense that hadn’t conceded multiple goals all season and hadn’t conceded period since August 31. Another clean sheet followed on Sunday though, and A&M will fancy their odds of adding to their season total of shutouts back in College Station.
They’ll be facing a foe with a renewed degree of confidence after a potential season saving win against Kentucky last Sunday. The Tide had started out league play in horrendous form, with just one win in five and were beginning to look like NCAA Tournament longshots given their paucity of meaningful wins. They needed a victory against Kentucky in the worst kind of way and got it in comfortable fashion despite needing a golden goal to get it. The win didn’t just jump start their SEC campaign, it probably gave them a lifeline to a repeat bid to the NCAA Tournament. Alabama’s still very much on the bubble, but they’ve got a much better shot than they did before last weekend.
While the offense has been dynamic and multi-pronged, with four players with five or more goals, the defense has been a concern, having not kept a clean sheet since the beginning of September, having conceded in seven straight, including every league game. The Tide aren’t going to win a shootout with A&M, meaning the defense is probably collectively going to have to play the game of their lives if Bama is to emerge with three points and an upset on Friday night.
(46) Texas Tech vs (19) Baylor – 8:00 PM
One is chasing a potential Big XII title, the other a long awaited NCAA Tournament spot, but both will clash in a high profile state derby on Friday night in Lubbock. The home side actually comes into this one with two more points in the Big XII standings, but the Bears have a game in hand over the Red Raiders. TTU looks destined to run it all the way down to the wire again, with Tom Stone’s club right on the bubble entering into October. Since dropping the league opener against West Virginia, TTU’s won three straight, including two in the league, but the Red Raiders still remained precariously placed on the bubble. While Tech’s got quite the ace in the hole in the form of a win at a neutral site over Long Beach State, there’s no guarantee that’ll be enough come Selection Monday.
Paige Strahan was the offensive star last weekend, with a goal in each of the club’s two wins, and combines with rookie Janine Beckie to form a potent attacking core for these Red Raiders. TTU might have to score in abundance on Friday though, because the defense has kept just one clean sheet in eight games, and that was against lowly New Mexico State a few weeks ago. It’s not been as bad as a nightmare stretch where they conceded multiple goals in five straight, but leaking goals in any frequency against this Baylor team could be bad news.
Any bubble worries seem to have been put to bed by the club’s latest flurry of wins, stretching Baylor’s unbeaten run to nine games and putting them back on track for a potential national seed. The Bears played just once last week, but they picked up a crucial win over Kansas to stay afloat in the Big XII title picture. For all the talk of Texas Tech’s offense, Baylor also boasts some formidable options, including Dana Larsen, who has four game winning goals among her team best seven strikes on the season. Having earlier dropped points against Oklahoma in the league, the Bears know that they probably can’t afford many more slips if they want to win the conference this year. With West Virginia and Oklahoma State on the road next weekend, the pressure will definitely be on for the Bears to get the three points on Friday night.