Ole Miss vs Florida – 8:00 PM
It’s time to get a feel of Ole Miss’ ceiling, as the Rebels have the chance to make a huge statement with the visit of conference titans Florida on Friday night. The Rebels showed their mettle last Friday in the league opener by coming back late to down Arkansas on the road and claim three priceless points on the road. Ole Miss then dispatched UALR in the non-conference finale on Sunday, with Rafaelle Souza continuing to devastate defenses, coming into the weekend near the top of the DI scoring charts as she continues to make a claim for being a highly prized commodity come January’s NWSL Draft. There are still some questions about this club against the very top teams, but most of those questions may be confined to the road, as the Ole Miss has made Oxford a fortress in four home games so far with fifteen scored and zero conceded. Sure, Florida is the best team to come through here by a mile so far this season, but the Rebels should have proved by far that they’re no flat-track bullies. While the deadly duo of Souza and Mandy McCalla should give Florida’s defense plenty to think about, it’s the defense that will have it all to prove. The club has kept just one clean sheet against the four teams in the uRPI Top 100 it’s played, and with Savannah Jordan amongst the weapons UF brings, that has to be a concern. If Ole Miss can weather the storm and come up with six points this weekend against Florida and Auburn, they might well be thinking beyond the NCAA Tournament and perhaps towards an SEC title.
SEC royalty, Florida certainly got their title defense off to a regal beginning by mauling Alabama in the league opener, 3-0. The resounding win extended the club’s unbeaten streak to six games and was a great way to bounce back after the Gators had slipped to a disappointing draw against South Florida in Tampa five days earlier. Even with that draw, Florida’s been on fire since the beginning of September, scoring fifteen in six games and conceding just one, to USF. Savannah Jordan’s torrid scoring pace continued against the Crimson Tide, with the rookie adding two more from inside twelve yards to her total, putting her on ten for the season. With Nora Neset Gjoen on international duty with the Norwegian WNT for World Cup Qualifying, Taylor Burke slid back between the pipes against Alabama and was relatively untroubled, forced into just three saves to keep the clean sheet. Against a confident Ole Miss side and a desperate Missouri team, Florida could face one of its most challenging weekends of the season. These Gators still haven’t traveled outside of the state of Florida this season, and it’ll be worth watching to see how they respond to the challenge. With the marquee matchup of Souza vs Jordan and a battle between two SEC title hopefuls, this could well be one of the weekend’s best matches.
Pepperdine vs Cal State Fullerton – 6:00 PM
Very much on the bubble right now, Pepperdine will have an eye towards the likes of Cal, Texas A&M, and USC, who the club have netted results against but haven’t gotten much in return as each has lagged in the RPI. The Waves will feel the pressure to help their own cause given the above, and they can certainly take a step towards those aims by knocking off a potential bubble rival in Cal State Fullerton on Friday. Mixed fortunes were the name of the game last weekend for the Waves, who fell to UCLA in Malibu in the opener before powering past Fresno State a few days later. That game saw a somewhat unbelievable performance from Lynn Williams, who had a crazy fourteen shots total for the club, putting seven of those on frame while scoring once and assisting on one of Ally Holtz’s two goals against the Bulldogs. Williams now has nine goals on the season and has been one of the nation’s top forwards in a true breakout campaign for the Waves forward. Though opponents Cal State Fullerton aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, Pepperdine will want to get their defense back on track after having conceded three last weekend following a weekend where the club didn’t concede against USC and San Diego State. The Waves have a two week break between now and the start of WCC play, so they’ll want to sign off with a flourish here.
The Titans are the at-large candidate that won’t die, as despite being 4-3-2 right now, they’re still very much in the mix. OK, it’s probably going to rely on Utah and Utah State to do very well in their respective leagues. And USC to rally in a big way over the second half of the season. But their a mid-major with an at-large opportunity, and that’s got to count for something this season. The Titans’ form has been erratic to this point. And that’s perhaps understating the point, as Fullerton hasn’t had the same result back-to-back at any time this season! They’ll want to snap that string this time out, as the club downed USC in their last game on the road. Fullerton’s a bit of a light scoring side, having scored multiple goals just twice in nine games, while they’ve also been shutout four times as well. The only player with multiple goals so far is Erica Mazeau, and she only has a couple for the club. The defense has been a bit leaky too as of late, with the club having conceded a goal in three of their past five, though the level of competition has been pretty steep as well. While the Titans aren’t quite in must win territory yet for their at-large bid hopes, with just two Big West sides other than them in the uRPI Top 100, the sense of urgency has to be pretty acute. To bring home a win, they’ll probably need to keep it a low scoring affair. If it gets into a shootout, it’s probably not going to be pretty for the visitors.
UCF vs South Florida – 6:00 PM
The War on I-4 is a conference affair once again, with UCF joining the newly minted AAC from Conference USA. The home side will have fonder memories of these two teams’ last meeting, a resounding 3-1 win that continued the Knights’ recent dominance over their state rivals. UCF will likely fancy their chances of another win on Friday evening, coming into this one with a six match unbeaten streak that included a draw at Georgetown last weekend. It was a result the club badly needed to breathe a little life into their sagging at-large bid hopes, and with that big win in tow, the club crushed Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday, 4-0. Lena Petermann finally broke back into the goals with a brace in the first half, while a well balanced offensive attack joined a stifling defense en route to a decisive win. UCF supporters will likely be hoping for the return of Tatiana Coleman though. The club’s leading scorer has been on target for most of he season but missed out on the team’s win on Sunday, and any extended absence would be a big blow for the Knights. The offense has netted eighteen goals in six games, and Coleman’s been a big part of it, so it remains to be seen how UCF will fare if their top scorer is absent again. The defense will look to hope to stymie a versatile USF attack, having kept four clean sheets in six and having conceded multiple goals in just one game all season. A few wins in the next few games with UConn looming next week could have UCF as one of the hot favorites for the AAC title come November.
South Florida enters having won just one of their last three, but the draw in that stretch may have been the most important result for the club, as tying Florida 1-1 may be enough to punch their NCAA Tournament ticket if they can maneuver themselves onto the bubble. That’s easier said than done though given some of the anchors currently dragging their RPI down, and you sense the Bulls are going to need to have a good league season to go dancing again in November. Defense has ruled for the most part here, with the team having not conceded multiple goals all season. Three straight clean sheets in the middle of September were nice, though the club did concede against both South Carolina and Florida right after. More worrying is the lack of offensive output the club has shown as of late. It’s true that only South Carolina has shut them out, but USF has also scored multiple goals just two times this year, and both of those games came against teams with a combined record of 1-16-0. Sharla Passariello’s been the team’s top offensive option by a mile thus far, but there’s a lot of talent here with the likes of Demi Stokes and Olivia Chance both having the capacity to knock them in with regularity. UCF being the opponent that will kick start the offense is a dicey proposition at best though, so the Bulls may again have to try and buck history and get a great defensive showing to emerge with something out of this one. Recent history speaks against them, but USF has never been a team to be predictable, with a win here likely to go a long way towards their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Michigan vs Wisconsin – 7:00 PM
The Wolverines got a dash of their pride back in their Big Ten opener after beating Iowa. Michigan had begun the season on a flyer by winning six straight at home to open the campaign but crashed to a shock defeat at Butler that raised a litany of questions going into the league schedule. Michigan used their depth to good effect in an otherwise tight game, taking an early lead through their scoring talisman Nkem Ezurike before pegging Iowa back in the second half right after they had seen the Hawkeyes draw level. The offensive showing wasn’t exactly the club’s best, with seven shots overall and four on goal, but at least they were fairly efficient with their efforts. After the road jaunt, Michigan will be happy to get back home considering they’re perfect in Ann Arbor this season, though they face two big challenges in Wisconsin and Minnesota this weekend. The defense has to tighten up against the high powered Badgers though, as Michigan’s kept just three clean sheets in eight goals thus far, which probably isn’t going to cut it if they’re to contend for honors. Wisconsin has the attacking might to punish them for any defensive lapses, but through Ezurike and some of their other weapons, Michigan themselves has enough offense to trouble the sometimes leaky Badger D. I’d edge towards defensive struggle over goalfest, but there’s no question that Michigan really needs this one to keep the pressure on title rivals Penn State.
The Badgers also come into this one having won their first league game, against Purdue, and also currently enjoying a very good season at 6-1-1. Wisconsin looks like having shed their dour reputation, turning into an absolute goal machine as we near the halfway point of the regular season. Consider not just the fact that Wisconsin hasn’t been shut out this season but also the fact that the team has netted three or more goals in six of their eight games, including in each of the last four. The defense has paid the price at times, most notably in the stunning 4-3 home defeat to Vanderbilt, but they’ve been able to keep things a bit closer to the vest since. Still, we’re talking about a club that has kept just a single clean sheet this year, and they’re headed to face a team with plenty of potency. Wisconsin isn’t about to shy away from an offensive slugfest though, with the trio of Cara Walls, Kinley McNicoll, and Rose Lavelle torturing defenses this season to the tune of fifteen goals and sixteen assists combined. Lavelle and McNicoll both scored against Purdue last weekend, while Walls also had a couple shots on goal. Another road win would be priceless for the Badgers, who have a brutal stretch of Penn State, Ohio State, Illinois, and Nebraska starting next week. It’ll probably decide more than just the club’s Big Ten title hopes. If UW can crank out results, they might just come into November with a coveted national seed as well.
Kentucky vs Arkansas – 7:30 PM
Big Blue might have ambitions on turning Lexington into Title Town after seven straight wins following a winless weekend to open up the season. The Wildcats really opened eyes with a big win on the road over a fancied West Virginia side before returning home and edging Auburn in the league opener last weekend. Given the relative status of both of the clubs, Kentucky definitely didn’t find things easy, with stats being almost even and the club unable to add to a 1-0 lead they took when Stuart Pope knocked home an Arin Gilliland rebound. The defense, which had buckled a bit in the win over West Virginia kept its fifth clean sheet of the season, another promising sign going forward. The offense, which was so stale in the opening weekend, looks to be hitting a groove with Arin Gilliland up front, as the combination of her, Pope, and Zoe Swift has proven to be potent against other clubs, with there being even more potential once Courtney Raetzmann returns from injury. UK’s still a longshot to win the league title, but the next five games are very winnable, which could set up a pivotal match between contenders in Gainesville against Florida in mid-October. UK probably needs to win almost all of its SEC games to feel confident about its hopes for a national seed though. On the back of seven straight wins, you probably aren’t going to be doubting Kentucky’s confidence right now. They’ll have to stay grounded on Friday though, knowing Arkansas will be desperate to hit back after two straight 2-1 losses.
After a blistering start to the season, Arkansas are reeling after back-to-back defeats. The Lady Razorbacks probably aren’t totally out of the NCAA Tournament hunt with wins over Nebraska and Utah State on their resume, but they are wobbling in form and face a very tough weekend on the road now. Colby Hale’s side looked like taking home three very big points in the SEC opener against Ole Miss last Friday when Allie Tripp scored an opener which the club defended dutifully into the last quarter of an hour. Rafaelle Souza promptly broke Arkansas hearts though, and Hale must be wondering what’s happened to his defense. The Lady Razorbacks kept four clean sheets in the team’s first five games. Since? Seven conceded in four, with the team having shipped two in each of their last three. That’s going to condemn them to some ugly outcomes against teams with big firepower in the SEC, and any postseason hopes are going to rest on the club tightening things up in the back. The good news may be that the club does have goalscoring potential, having not been shutout in nine games this year. Ashleigh Ellenwood may be a bona fide match winner up top, but Arkansas probably isn’t going to fancy its chances in a shootout on the road, meaning there’ll be even more pressure on the defense to perform.
Missouri vs Georgia – 7:30 PM
There’s almost no margin of error for Missouri, who have essentially waded into a perfect storm with their results so far. The Tigers have found themselves in a right old mess thanks to a string of losses against the best teams they’ve played, while their five wins have come against clubs that do more to hurt their RPI than help it. Needless to say, the Tigers have to come out swinging in the SEC, and with Georgia and Florida coming to town this weekend, they’ve got two shots to kickstart their NCAA Tournament hopes. Missouri likely needs a whole lot of wins down the stretch to haul themselves onto the bubble, but they also need some consistency after having not won consecutive games on more than one occasion this year. The defense has also shown signs of being the nightmare it was in years past, having conceded eight goals in the past five games, including two or more in three of the five. The team has conceded nine in their four losses, which has to be a worry considering the level of competition in the SEC and more immediately, over the next two weeks with Texas A&M joining Georgia and Florida on the opponent list. Missouri will inevitably be looking towards their attack to help fire them to victory, as they’ve scored multiple goals in three straight and haven’t been shutout all season. The attack had little difficulty carving up Mississippi State in the opener, though Mizzou’s attack remains very much a by committee approach at the moment, with Kaysie Clark and Taylor Grant sharing joint top scorer duties with four goals each, though Dominique Richardson leads in shots and shots on goal. Missouri probably won’t care who does the scoring though, just as long as it leads to three points.
Georgia’s bubble worries have likely been eased with their 2-0 win over South Carolina, and the Bulldogs have now conceded just one goal in their last eight games. Now comes a challenging weekend on the road for the Athens side though, as Georgia travels to play a desperate Missouri team and a Kentucky side who’s been just as hot as the Bulldogs have been for the first half of the season. The first game could be more important down the road, as with Missouri’s RPI so low at the moment, a defeat here could put a serious dent in the club’s hopes of climbing all the way into a national seed. UGA’s offense had won three of four games by a 1-0 margin coming into their SEC opener but were more than efficient enough in scoring two first half goals against South Carolina’s talented defense before putting the clamps on and winning convincingly at the end of the night. They’ll be looking for a similar defensive effort on Friday night, and odds are, the lower the scoreline, the more likely the visitors will take home three points. Georgia’s got some firepower, most notably freshman Marion Crowder, now on seven goals after scoring against SC, but trying to get into a shootout on opposition turf against a club like Missouri is a seriously risky proposition.
Illinois vs Iowa – 8:00 PM
Unbeaten in five, Illinois will try to extend that streak and pick up their first Big Ten win in the bargain as they host Iowa on Friday night. The Illini come in after a wildly entertaining 1-1 draw with Ohio State that featured forty-one shots, including twenty-two on goal between the two teams. Jannelle Flaws continued to show why she’s one of the league’s breakout players this year, netting the club’s goal in the seventh minute from twenty yards and finishing with four shots on goal to lead Illinois. Now with nine goals on the season, Flaws has proven to be the center forward the club has desperately needed, and her scoring form will be key to keep teams from engulfing Vanessa DiBernardo to try and stifle the Illinois attack. The defense looked to be heading for a second straight clean sheet after having not kept one all season before the prior win over FIU. They’d be pegged back late though, and there were further worries when goalkeeper Claire Wheatley went off injured at the end of normal time. It remains to be seen whether she or senior backup Lauren Parkin will start this one, but the Illinois defense needs all the stability it can muster after finally looking like it’s turned the corner over the past few games. Iowa and Nebraska are the type of teams Illinois needs to be beating at home to feel confident about their NCAA Tournament hopes. The schedule over the next few weeks is conducive to putting together a run of results, meaning Illinois needs to keep focused and string together wins before the schedule really picks up late.
Iowa might have taken the slightest of moral victories despite defeat to Michigan in the league opener, showing they can hang with just about anyone in the league, but the Hawkeyes really should be past such things. As has been the norm in recent seasons, Iowa dominated their rather tame non-conference opponents, only to find much harder sledding once facing opponents of similar stature. While Iowa would go down midway through the first half, they’d fight back impressively to equalize near the seventy minute mark in the second half. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, all that hard work to get back on level terms with the Wolverines was undone in less than a minute as the visitors promptly scored the winner fifty-nine seconds later. It was a brutal blow to the psyche of an Iowa side desperate for respect that comes from big results against league rivals. The offense didn’t fare too badly, though team scoring talisman Cloe Lacasse was held to zero shots on goal despite assisting on Iowa’s goal against Michigan. Iowa’s uncertain depth was also on hand, as the club used just two substitutes all game, and one of those, Nicole Urban, didn’t even play fifteen minutes. In such a grueling league, a lack of depth can be killer. Also killer would be Iowa continuing to be unable to get Big Ten wins. The first half of the schedule is much more amenable than the second, meaning if Iowa can’t start winning soon, it could be on the outside looking in in the postseason hunt.
Oklahoma State vs West Virginia – 8:00 PM
Oklahoma State enters Friday’s league opener not only battling a tough opponent but also the one-match ban of defender Kelsey Bass who was sent off late in the club’s fractious win against North Texas, as well as head coach Colin Carmichael, who will be serving a touchline ban after being sent off in the same match. It’s almost impossible to describe the bizarre scenes from Denton which featured more bookings (eleven) than shots on goal (nine). OSU had the shot on goal that counted the most though, Krissi Killion’s golden goal in extra time to get the Cowgirls out of town with a valuable win. It was one that likely let OSU breathe a sigh of relief after a brutal four game stretch had seen them go without a win in the face of big name competition. The OSU defense continues to be a serious liability though, having not kept a clean sheet since the season opener while having also given up nine goals in the past four games. The offense has been something of a saving grace, netting twice in each of the past three games, but playing ‘score one more than you concede’ against a side like West Virginia sounds like a recipe for disaster. OSU may not have a choice without a key player like Bass though. The Cowgirls are in a good position for an NCAA Tournament spot, but they’ll want three points right out of the gate to stamp their place as Big XII title challengers.
West Virginia’s probably under a surprising amount of pressure considering the plaudits that came their way in the preseason. The Mountaineers have a great result in the form of the draw with Penn State, but the draw with Duke suddenly doesn’t look that solid any more, while the club’s actual RPI number’s not that great. The big fish in the Big XII aren’t that big either, meaning WVU really needs to string together league wins to stand a chance of a national seed. The club’s last match, against Wright State, was little more than a training exercise, as the club put up twenty-two shots and four goals, while conceding just a single shot on goal. Of course, that shot on goal was actually a goal, equalizing after WVU had taken the lead shortly before. The Mountaineers would rush back with three more goals to win decisively, but the defending league champs haven’t been as stout defensively as they would have liked. This is a club that has shipped four to North Carolina and Kentucky, showing that there is vulnerability there for a side with a good offense like OSU’s to exploit. You probably couldn’t have dialed up a much tougher weekend for WVU if you tried, with Baylor in Waco to follow. If WVU manages some results though, they’ll firm up their position as league title favorites.