When you think about the top teams in the ACC, the ones that probably come to mind first are Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland, maybe even North Carolina. After all, each of those vaunted programs has either reached the College Cup or won the national championship outright in the past five years. One school you don't automatically put up there is Boston College.
BC kept its perfect mark intact with an impressive 2-1 road win over Virginia on Saturday. It was BC's third straight away victory in conference action, but their toughest test of the season will come at home in Beantown on Saturday versus undefeated Wake Forest, which (finally) reclaimed its rightful spot atop the NSCAA rankings this week after then-No. 1 Connecticut dropped a huge Big East tilt at West Virginia.
Thing is, the Eagles might not be as good as their record suggests. There is no denying that beating the likes of Maryland, Duke and UNC is impressive, but look at those three defeats. Losing on the road to sixth-ranked Brown in overtime certainly is forgivable, but succumbing to Providence and Quinnipiac (Quinnipiac?) in Chestnut Hill?
After meeting Wake, the next league match for coach Ed Kelly's Eagles is at last-place Clemson before they close out the regular season at home against current No. 4 Virginia Tech. But no matter how the rest of the season goes, the real test will come in the postseason. And for some reason, we can envision BC crashing out of the conference tournament early despite its banner regular season, a la Duke in recent years. Even if that happens, the Eagles certainly will receive an NCAA invite. Can they make a serious run once they get there? Put it this way: History suggests that the ACC will have at least one representative at the College Cup in Cary, N.C., in mid-December. Don't bet that it'll be BC.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, could make some serious noise after Thanksgiving. The Hokies are also a relative ACC newbie (they joined in 2004), but they seem determined to leave their mark this year. Like BC and Wake, VT remains unbeaten in conference play. But four ties in six matches renders the league title out of reach. Doesn't matter. Tech hasn't lost in 13 games, a streak that dates back nearly two months to its very first contest this season, a 4-0 drubbing at the feet of Virginia Commonwealth. It looked like it would be a loooong year after that result, but VT has since displayed the quality and the chops to realistically compete for the national title.
Tech might fall a spot or two after a midweek draw at Duke, but that also means nothing, and for that matter so does the ACC tourney. Like Boston College, VT has already done enough to dance. But unlike BC, the Hokies have the strike force to go deep. Even though preseason All-America Pat Nyarko and 6-foot-6 Englishman Rob Edmans have combined for only nine goals to date, the junior duo will be a nightmare for any defense to cope with, especially in a pressure-packed knockout match.
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Indiana has flown under the radar for most of 2007, but the Hoosiers are heating up just as the weather gets cold. IU has suffered some forehead-crinkling setbacks this season -- such as a home defeat to Alabama-Birmingham and another at Louisville. But then the most storied program in men's college soccer recently picked up two huge away wins and soared up the polls to 11th. Coach Mike Freitag's team dispatched a pair of top-10 foes last week, shutting out No. 9 Northwestern in Evanston before beating Notre Dame (No. 4 at the time) 3-2 in South Bend.
Indiana followed up with a slip -- a scoreless draw at home versus Ohio State on Sunday. This coming Sunday, the Hoosiers host a Penn State side that has beaten them each of the past two years. Still, with that postseason pedigree, you can bet Indiana is another squad no team wants to face come tourney time.
What to watch for:
After Friday's televisual feast that featured an upset of the country's top-ranked team, the upcoming game between 6-7-2 UNC-Greensboro and 3-5 Georgia Southern seems like a letdown. Still, it's a vital Southern Conference affair that could determine which side gets home-field advantage in the league tournament's quarterfinals. Both teams come into the tilt sporting identical 2-3 records (No. 18 Furman is running away with the Southern at 6-0), and Georgia Southern did the Spartans a big favor by knocking off Appalachian State this past weekend. UNC-Greensboro, which advanced to the third round of the NCAAs in both 2005 and 2006, hosts the semifinals and final of the SoCon tourney.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.