NCAA Soccer – But What About…? Mid-Major Non-Conference Review Part II

Big South

Liberty’s doing a whole lot better than I expected thus far, topping the Big South RPI rankings, while Coastal Carolina has also defied expectations early on.  My preseason favorites, High Point, had a horrendous start but come into league play with a couple of wins from their past two games.  Radford, Winthrop, and Longwood also look poised to strike from the middle of the RPI in the Big South right now, while Presbyterian has also been better than expectations in league play.  Biggest disappointment?  Charleston Southern is languishing off the back of a dismal four match winless run after winning three of four to open the season, with a defeat to USC Upstate especially egregious.

Big East

Georgetown looks to be in the clear for an at-large bid, though their lofty ranking at this stage would appear to reveal the potential for a high national seed if the club wins big down the stretch.  Marquette might be sweating a bit after a non-conference season whose best results are wins against Colorado College and Louisville.  Saint John’s (NY) and DePaul have also enjoyed fine openings to the season, but the real sleeper for an at-large bid is Butler, whose win over Michigan may prove priceless come November.  Xavier and Creighton have done their part to keep their heads above water in non-conference play, defying predictions of a season of struggle.  The same can’t be said of some of the league’s holdovers from its previous incarnation.  Villanova are again disappointing, while Providence have made predictions of mid-table obscurity look generous.

Big Sky

We’re where I predicted we’d be at the beginning of the season, with Weber State and Northern Colorado topping the pile.  I’m guessing few expected either to still be in the RPI Top 100 at this point though.  Beyond those two, much is going to form, give or take a few places.  Southern Utah, despite having six losses, is still performing better than expected in the RPI in comparison with its league rivals.  The same cannot be said of Eastern Washington, as the long-awaited breakthrough I predicted at the beginning of the season doesn’t look to be coming off right now, with the club having already lost seven games, sitting at #300 in the RPI.

CAA

William & Mary could yet rue those draws with Penn and Princeton, as the Tribe could’ve had a shout for an at-large spot with a previous draw against Rutgers.  The Tribe still have a shot at it, but they margin of error has dropped like a rock.  James Madison enjoys an almost equally lofty RPI, but it’s been build on no bad losses instead of big wins, and their at-large hopes are almost nil.  Delaware’s used a recent spurt to outperform RPI expectations, while Hofstra has been slightly disappointing after a lot of near misses and few quality results.  You could probably say much of the same for Drexel.  Towards the back end of the league, there probably aren’t too many surprises save Northeastern’s embarrassing season.  The Huskies have faced tough opposition like UCLA, South Carolina, and Ohio State, but really, there’s no excuse for a club of their pedigree to be winless after nine games.

SoCon

The top three at the moment are as I predicted before the season, but Samford’s the only one of the three that probably has an at-large bid chance.  That, of course, is contingent on Tennessee, and to a lesser intent Vanderbilt and Auburn, having good seasons in the SEC.  On a less happy note, neither Appalachian State nor Georgia Southern appear to be performing up to expectations at the moment, sitting in ninth and eleventh respectively in the SoCon RPI rankings.  At the moment, Western Carolina, Elon, and Wofford are overachieving, though right now, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone out of the top three are going to be able to put in a challenge for a league title.

A10

La Salle’s swung and missed on multiple opportunities at results to boost its at-large profile, and their only hope for an at-large bid seems to be if they’re able to get an unlikely bump from James Madison.  VCU and Dayton are roughly where they were expected to be at the beginning of the season, but neither are contenders for an at-large bid.  Much of the rest of the league is going close to predicted form, but Saint Louis and Fordham are outperforming predictions early on right now.  George Mason, picked by me for mid-table in the preseason, is languishing in tenth in the RPI right now and under .500.  On the whole, the league still looks OK in the RPI, but it looks to be a very down year as far as potential for at-large bids go.

Atlantic Sun

The A-Sun’s been pretty predictable, with Florida Gulf Coast against at the top of the RPI in the league, though they’ll be disappointed having missed out on a chance for a big name win during non-conference play.  Otherwise, there’s not much to rock the boat.  Northern Kentucky’s been solidly in the middle of the RPI thus far, defying my predictions of a basement finish.  On the other end of the spectrum, ETSU’s struggled even more than expected to replace some serious losses and are languishing in the bottom half of the league RPI.  As always though, it’s going to come down to the A-Sun Tournament to decide who’s going to the NCAA Tournament.

C-USA

As predicted, Colorado College is on top of the RPI at this point.  The Tigers’ at-large profile is weak though, and their odds of a bid are pretty low unless Texas has a great season in the Big XII and rises dramatically.  There’s not much hope for an at-large bid elsewhere either, as the entire conference is pretty short on quality results.  Marshall and Southern Miss are outperforming expectations (drastically in Marshall’s case) after I predicted lower half finishes for both, though it remains to be seen if either has staying power in the league.  On the other hand, Florida International and Rice, who I predicted as potential title challengers, are a combined 4-9-2 thus far and really need to step it up to get back up the RPI.  Florida Atlantic wasn’t predicted for such a lofty challenge, but my predictions of mid-table look unfounded early, with the Owls continuing their disappointing string of seasons.

Horizon

Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s at the top of the RPI right now…it’s just that they’re 2-7-1 right now after playing a murderous non-conference schedule.  Their league performance will certainly bear watching, with the league’s other contenders all performing at or close to expectations thus far.  The same can be said with the bottom half of the league in the RPI at the moment, with the exception of Youngstown State.  Predicted to make a breakthrough into mid-table, the Penguins have instead reverted to their old brutally bad ways, bringing a dreadful 1-7-1 record into league play.

Ivy

The Ivy League’s late start to the season makes the RPI rankings in the league that much more harder than the crapshoot that these rankings already are in other leagues.  Dartmouth and Harvard were my clear favorites in the preseason but scheduled ambitiously and struggled to under .500 and .500 respectively.  I think both will turn it around in the league, but both are almost surely out of the at-large bid hunt.  Penn and Princeton currently top the league RPI, with both surely hoping William & Mary has a great league season, as both have drawn against the Tribe.  Penn in particular is defying my predictions of mid-table right now, while Yale, who I picked for the basement, has also proven surprisingly spry thus far.  Inevitably though, it’s probably going to be another one-bid year for the Ivy, a far cry from its glory days.

MAC

It’s not been a vintage year for the MAC, with no real at-large bid contenders, and a lot of the traditional powers struggling mightily in non-conference play.  On the face of it, I’m struggling too, as my picks for most of the league look radically different from reality at this point.  Eastern Michigan are one of the few teams I seem to have hit on thus far, while title rivals Miami (OH) have taken their knocks in non-conference play against some bigger clubs.  Another contender, Akron has also floundered into lower mid-table, while Ball State and Northern Illinois, teams I tabbed for mid-table, are languishing near the bottom of the table.  Buffalo and Ohio have been overachieving greatly from my projections, while traditional contenders Toledo have climbed slightly from my projections.  Western Michigan haven’t risen quite as high, but have at least climbed away from my projections of finishing near the bottom.

MVC

I got a bit cute in picking Drake as my pick to win the league title in preseason.  Yeah, oops.  The Bulldogs are a galling 1-6-2 right now and at approximately #313 in the RPI right now with a defense that’s been atrocious.  If they can’t turn it around, you’d bet on Illinois State to bring home the silverware again despite a 5-6-0 record not helped by some big name opponents.  It’s tough picking out surprises and disappointments in a league with just seven clubs in it, but tip your cap to Loyola (Ill.), who may be just 3-4-3 but who also have a draw with Indiana on their record to help them to second in the MVC RPI rankings.

Mountain West

Hey!  I wasn’t actually that far off on this one.  Utah State and Boise State have puncher’s chances at at-large bids, with the former counting on Nebraska to do well in the Big Ten and the latter really in a good position with results against Arizona State and Washington State and in an even better position if Washington turns it around.  San Diego State and UNLV also appear to be in the mix for honors, despite the former suffering under the weight of a really difficult non-conference schedule.  Otherwise, there’s little variation from my projections and early RPI conference ratings.  The exception is a San Jose State side that looks like a loss cause at 1-7-0 and trying to stay in the RPI Top 300.

OVC

Much looks like following projected form at the beginning of the season, though Tennessee-Martin’s sluggish start to the season has been a slight surprise despite a somewhat challenging schedule.  Austin Peay have put their name into the hat as OVC Title challengers, though they also haven’t played the most rigorous of schedules.  Murray State have also recovered from last year’s disaster to be solidly in the upper-middle of the conference RPI rankings right now.  I’d keep an eye on Eastern Kentucky.  Their record is abysmal, but the computers seem to favor them more than many their league rivals.  As is the case in almost all years in the OVC, there aren’t any at-large contenders, and the OVC Tournament will be telling as far as the league’s NCAA Tournament representative is concerned.

Sun Belt

The Sun Belt hasn’t been drop dead awful like I thought it might have been after the membership exodus before this season, but it’s still been rather bad, especially after the top few teams.  As I projected, South Alabama and Western Kentucky top the pile and are probably going to turn the title race into a two-horse race.  I thought Georgia State could have been a dark horse, but the Panthers have been a pretty poor 2-5-1 so far, joining rock bottom Troy as a league disappointment.  On the other hand, my bottom club going into the new season, Louisiana-Lafayette, have been a decent surprise thus far and may be able to contend for mid-table this season.

America East

Much is going to plan thus far in the America East, with league favorites Stony Brook currently holding station in the RPI Top 100, though I doubt they’ll stay there.  My pick of UMBC as a surprise team certainly looks to be justified before league play, as the Retrievers are second in the league RPI.  Binghamton has been a pleasant surprise, currently in third in the league RPI after I felt that they’d be close to the bottom of the league.  Maine and its raft of Canadian talent, who I picked to potentially contend for a league title, have been a slight disappointment though, currently at 3-3-3 and in the middle of the RPI in the America East right now.

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