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Nov 2, 2007

Eagles and Terrapins on the rise

Seems that Boston College's players read this column. Or perhaps the Eagles are simply a bit better than we gave them credit for in this space last week. Whatever the case may be, two days after the suggestion that BC wasn't quite as good as its perfect ACC record indicated, Ed Kelly's men went out and handed top-ranked Wake Forest its first loss this season, 1-0 on Oct. 27.

Not only did the victory knock Wake out of the No.1 spot, it all but secured the conference title for the boys from Beantown (as if that city needs another championship to brag about). BC is now five points clear of the second-place Deacs with two league games -- at Clemson on Sunday and against Virginia Tech on Nov. 9 -- left in the regular season. The Eagles need just two points from those matches to secure the ACC regular-season title.

BC (11-3-1) now sits sixth in the latest national poll, and is in the midst of a five-game winning streak after beating Holy Cross on the road Halloween night. Barring an upset, it should take its first title at the bottom-feeding Tigers, rendering the home finale versus surprising Tech virtually meaningless.

Then the second season awaits. We're standing by our assertion that inexperienced BC is a prime candidate to flame out early in either the ACC tourney and/or the NCAAs. It might actually take a setback like that to make the Eagles a true national contender next year (when star midfielder Alejandro Bedoya will be a senior), but no matter what happens the rest of the year, fact is that Boston College, a program that lost current U.S. national team striker Charlie Davies in the winter, deserves a ton of credit for its landmark 2007 season.

Maryland back in the mix

The 2005 national champs finally cracked the NSCAA/adidas rankings this week after spending most of the past two months on the outside looking in. The No. 25 Terps started the season 3-4-2, but have since reeled off an eight-game unbeaten streak, most recently pounding Atlantic Coast foe NC State 5-0 in College Park last Saturday. It was UM's largest margin of victory since beating Georgetown during that storybook campaign, which is obviously a good omen for Terpheads. "We keep building momentum," coach Sasho Cirovski told the school's official Web site afterward. "We're a lot better than some people think out there right now."

Fortunately, Cirovski's team will have a chance to prove just how good it is. No matter how the Terps fare in the conference tournament, expect to see them in the NCAAs. After the rough beginning, some pundits speculated that Maryland might be left out of the Dance altogether. However, its current run, the program's recent College Cup history and Cirovski's considerable clout within NCAA soccer mean there's no way UM doesn't get an at-large invite, at least.

Conference call

There have been times over the past two seasons when ACC teams have practically owned the top 10. On more than one occasion, as many as seven spots have been occupied by teams in the nation's undisputed heavyweight conference. So it's refreshing to see a little more diversity in the current rankings. Six different leagues are represented this time around: the Big East, ACC, West Coast, C-USA, Ivy League and Big Ten. What's more, the individual circuits are getting more and more competitive. No. 10 Indiana used to dominate the Big Ten, but has faced increased resistance from rivals trying to close the gap in recent years. It was Penn State in 2005 and 2006; this year, No. 12 Northwestern looks like the Hoosiers' biggest threat. Yet, NU will have to work to get past stubborn Ohio State (10-3-3), which also has earned 10 points in conference play.

SMU is in a similar situation. The class of Conference USA for years, the Mustangs have been climbing the polls steadily for weeks and are now up to fourth nationally. And while another regular-season crown is almost in the bag, Schellas Hyndman's squad has every reason to be wary of No. 11 Tulsa should the two meet in the C-USA tourney. The Golden Hurricane have been fantastic this season, and held the Mustangs to a 2-2 draw back on Sept. 28. Tulsa has probably done enough to get an NCAA call even if it doesn't take the conference championship, but with nothing guaranteed, must have its sights set squarely on the automatic bid.

What to Watch for:

SMU versus Kentucky (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, CSTV)

It's not often that we highlight a tape-delayed affair here (the match will be played in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday night). But with Fox Soccer Channel offering a Lehigh-Bucknell clunker in Friday's Game of the Week, we know you'd rather see a Mustangs team that has a real shot at winning it all next month.

Brazilian sensation Bruno Guarda has been at the top of his game for Texas' lone Division I program. The Hermann Trophy candidate netted game-winning goals in SMU's last two contests. Meanwhile, the Wildcats, while only 6-8-2 overall, are third in C-USA with a 4-2 mark and could play a spoiler role in the upcoming conference tourney.

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