(3) Duke vs (7) Virginia – 8:00 PM EST [Last Season: Virginia 2 – 0 Duke]
It’s another mammoth ACC clash (really, are there very many other types?) on Thursday night as Duke looks to defend their turf and take another step towards the ACC title against Virginia. The Blue Devils have opened up the league campaign on a flyer with three wins out of three, including an opening day defeat of Florida State in Durham. But the real meat of Duke’s ACC schedule begins right now, and the team needs to pick up all six points this week to keep their title hopes in great shape before a three match road trip that promises to push the Blue Devils to their very limit. Duke’s made it look criminally easy so far. The only teams to have even gotten within a goal of the Blue Devils have been Auburn (in the team’s only loss), Ole Miss, and Florida State. Beating Virginia by multiple goals is a major ask though, especially after the Cavs are bound to come into Durham on a major high after finally topping rivals North Carolina on the thirty-eight attempt. That win was a must for Virginia’s ACC title hopes after the team had dropped a match at Boston College a week earlier. With a crucial weekend at Duke and Wake Forest looming before the schedule eases up with four of their next five back at Klockner, the Cavs know that two wins would again heap the pressure on their title rivals going into the stretch run of the season. The star power on the big stage on Thursday night will be immense, but extra focus figures to fall on Morgan Brian of UVA and Duke’s Kelly Cobb, two of the nation’s top freshmen so far this season.
(12) Florida State vs (15) North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST [Last Season: North Carolina 1 – 0 Florida State]
These two teams have a major task on their hands in topping the last time they met in Tallahassee in 2009. That match was quite simply one of the greatest matches in college soccer history, with Florida State coming back to beat the Heels in extra time, 3-2, in a breathtaking and heart stopping ACC clash. UNC got a small measure of revenge back in Chapel Hill last season with another typically tight 1-0 win over the Noles, and it goes without saying that this one figures to be a close affair as well. The stakes are bound to be sky high as well, with both of these teams struggling to keep up with the leaders in the ACC title race. The hosts have endured a tough start to the league season with a pair of losses in the opening week of play, being downed by Wake Forest and Duke on the road, thrusting FSU into an immediate hole in the chase for league silverware. A thrashing of Clemson probably felt good, but Mark Krikorian’s side knows that the team’s margin of error in their quest for a league title has likely disappeared with seven regular season matches to play. North Carolina has lost two of three and delivered a rather lethargic offensive performance against Virginia last Sunday afternoon, delivering an early blow to their title hopes. There’s also the worries over the defense that gave up four goals to Texas A&M a few weeks ago, especially considering FSU’s offense has the potential to be just as explosive. Misfiring strikers Courtney Jones and Kealia Ohai need to get back on form sooner rather than later if Carolina are to contend for honors this season. Powering UNC to victory in a hostile environment on Thursday night would count as a pretty good start.
(23) Penn State vs (34) Ohio State – 7:00 PM EST [Last Season: Ohio State 1 – 0 Penn State]
Wisconsin’s surprising draw with Michigan opened up the title race in the Big Ten once again for these two schools who came into the season as a pair of the hot favorites to top the league come season’s end. Penn State may still be smarting after their frustrating defeat in Madison to open up league play, but the Nittany Lions have responded well, winning their next two league games while not conceding a goal. Ohio State’s a whole different animal though, and the Buckeyes’ defense promises to provide quite the stern test to PSU’s normally vibrant attack. OSU also made a bit of a stuttering start to league play, drawing on the road to Minnesota before beating the same two teams PSU did last weekend, Illinois and Northwestern (in inverted order, of course). Neither are in amazing shape as far as the RPI is concerned, but Ohio State probably has more to worry about at the moment. The Buckeyes’ win over West Virginia on the road is looking better and better as the weeks click off, though the loss to Missouri by same measure doesn’t looks so hot right about now. Ohio State’s thrown Lauren Granberg into attack from her former spot in defense, and the move has seemingly brought the inconsistent offense back to life. But such a move on Thursday could be a major risk considering the amount of firepower Penn State brings to the table. If Maya Hayes and the other Nittany Lions are able to grab a multiple goal lead at home, it’s very difficult seeing the limited offense of the Buckeyes clawing their way back into this critical Big Ten showdown.
(2) Wake Forest vs (59) Virginia Tech – 7:00 PM EST [Last Season: Virginia Tech 3 – 3 Wake Forest]
These two ACC programs played out a six-goal thriller last season but find themselves at opposite ends of the embryonic league table at the moment. Wake Forest look like a team in contention for one of four #1 overall seeds, with the only blotch on their record so far being a mystifying loss to UConn at home in the beginning of September. Other than that defeat, Wake has been pulverizing their opponents behind an explosive offense. The Demon Deacons have scored multiple goals in nine of their eleven matches, with only UConn and UCF being able to keep WF from scoring more than a single goal. At 3-0-0 in the ACC, the Demon Deacons are in the running for a league title but still have much work to do with seven matches remaining. Also with much work to do, in a very different way, is a Virginia Tech team searching for their first points in the league and for wins to bolster their resume for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies are perilously placed at the moment though, with very few wins of value in the eyes of the computers at the moment, with a win over UConn looking best for VT at the moment. It was a case of close but no cigar last week for the Hokies, as Chugger Adair’s team fought bravely against Maryland and Boston College but fell short on both occasions. The Hokies need to get some wins from somewhere if they want to be dancing come November, but this weekend may not be the time VT gets them with Wake and Duke on the road. A shock win on Thursday or Sunday would obviously go a long way in getting them into the Field of Sixty-Four and also in the field for the ACC Tournament in a little over a month