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Sep 14, 2007

Demon Deacons on a mission

The season is less than three weeks old, but that doesn't mean it is too soon to look at some teams sporting perfect records heading into the weekend action.

Wake Forest tops the NSCAA rankings for the second consecutive week. The Demon Deacons are now 4-0, and they appear to be setting the early pace as the best team in the land.

It's not surprising that the Deacs are off to a fast start. They have the talent to match up with anyone, and this veteran team is supremely confident coming off a best-ever campaign last year. They are also highly motivated after an excruciating loss to eventual national champ UC Santa Barbara in the College Cup semis (UCSB won the penalty-kick tiebreaker) last December.

Wake wants to win it all this year, and it already has two titles in 2007. In the Wake Forest University Tournament at Spry Stadium, Wake came from behind to beat pesky Akron 3-1 on Friday, and then defeated Bradley University 3-0 in the final on Sunday. The Deacs had defeated Old Dominion and Monmouth to win North Carolina's Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill the previous weekend.

Coach Jay Vidovich's side should pad its record next weekend against a cupcake opponent in Louisville, but things will get tricky after that.

A tough ACC tilt at Clemson on Sept. 21 looms on the horizon, and another conference foe, Maryland, visits Spry just eight days later. After that, we should have a better idea of how good these Deacs actually are.

Huskies rising

Not much was expected of Connecticut this season. The perennial Big East power was ranked dead last in the preseason Top 25 and dropped a home decision to Duke to close the preseason. But the Huskies are now 5-0 after a midweek win against Hofstra in Storrs. Now, coach Ray Reid's squad sits fourth in the polls. The Huskies' back line -- led by Herman Trophy candidate Julius James -- has been impenetrable in September, and forward O'Brian White is the conference's Offensive Player of the Week for the second time running. But according to Reid, the real difference maker has been the 12th man.

Connecticut led the country in average attendance last year, with almost 3,000 fans packing Morrone Stadium for each of the team's 11 home dates. Even more impressive is the school's Goal Patrol, the 540-member-strong fan club that is the largest in college soccer.

With that sort of support backing a talented group with something to prove, UConn could make a serious postseason run this fall, something the Huskies have been unable to do since winning it all in 2000.

Furman in the spotlight

Tiny Furman University is back in the national spotlight. The Greenville, S.C. school, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 2,800, is 4-0 and debuted this week at No. 22. It's the first time the Paladins have cracked the polls since before the 2003 season, when a brash Texan named Clint Dempsey was their leading man. Fellow national teamer Ricardo Clark also cut his teeth at Furman under longtime head coach Doug Allison.

The '07 Paladins are led by a new crop of young, attack-minded standouts. Freshman Brooks Duff and sophomore Eric Baffour each has four goals on the year.

Meanwhile, could this be the breakout year for South Florida? The Bulls have been tipped as postseason spoiler each of the last two seasons, but always found ways to underachieve.

But on Saturday, they will try to equal the program's best-ever 2004 start with a fifth consecutive victory. The game against American doubles as a final tune-up before a run of five straight Big East games begins with UConn visiting Tampa next week. In fact, USF has just one nonconference game left on the docket all year. It helps that the Bulls compete in the league's weaker Red division, where St. John's poses their biggest threat.

Brown (2-0), Harvard (3-0) and Michigan (4-0) are also still perfect to date. We'll have more on those three next week -- if they can get through another round of games unscathed.

What to Watch for

No. 19 Virginia Tech travels to No. 23 Tulsa as Fox Soccer Channel's College Match of the Week returns for a third season on Friday (8 p.m. ET).

The Hokies are 3-1 and won their first ACC game last week, beating Clemson in OT. Physically imposing at 6-foot-6, Englishman Robert Edmans has been VT's star performer. The forward is the conference's reigning Player of the Week after picking up a goal and two assists in the past two games. He makes up half of a fearsome front line with preseason All-American Patrick Nyarko.

Tulsa also comes into the match 3-1. The Golden Hurricane's lone loss was to then-No. 3 Virginia. Tulsa is off to its best start since 2003, when it reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Tom McIntosh's team is led by crafty midfielder Hunter Christiansen and physical defender Chris Clements.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.