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Nov 6, 2007

Impact underclassmen dot college landscape

Six weeks from now a new national champion will be crowned. The postseason always produces story lines of its own, but before that happens here's a look at some of the season's more notable points that we haven't had a chance to touch on yet:

Best of the best

Wake Forest may have fallen to the No. 2 spot after a loss to Boston College, but it still remains on top when it comes to stats.

The Demon Deacons lead the nation in scoring (43 goals) and shutout percentage (.67). The team also boasts an impressive .36 goals-against average (second in the country) and a 12-1-2 record.

Connecticut's spot atop the polls can in part be attributed to the fact that its players sit atop the leader boards. Forward O'Brian White has emerged as a Hermann Trophy candidate, leading the nation in points and goals. With 40 points (17 goals and six assists), White holds an 11-point advantage over the rest of college soccer. Teammate Michael Pezza has added a national-best 13 assists for the Huskies.

Underclassmen rising

Freshmen and sophomores are making their mark. White's impressive numbers aside, first- and second-year players are among the national leaders in every statistical category. Harvard sophomore Andre Akpan ranks second in points per game, averaging 2.07 (11 goals and seven assists in 14 games). Akpan may have seen his impressive 10-game scoring streak snapped by Dartmouth, but the forward already has another one in the works after scoring in the 67th minute against Columbia. Coming in right behind White in goals per game is Loyola-Chicago forward Michael Ferguson, averaging .88 (14 goals in 16 games). Of course, Pezza, a sophomore, leads the way in assists.

In between the pipes, the game's fresher faces are really coming up big. Quinnipiac sophomore Frederick Hall leads the nation in saves per games (100 saves in 13 games for a 7.69 average) and save percentage (.917, giving up just nine goals in that span). The ever-busy Hall deserves a large share of the credit for Quinnipiac's hot start -- the Bobcats were undefeated through their first 14 games.

A pair of freshmen lead the nation in goals against. Santa Clara's Kevin Klasila has been stellar in the net for the Broncos, giving up just three goals in 10 games (875 minutes). Joining Klasila as the only other keeper in the nation with a GAA of less than .4 is West Virginia freshman Zach Johnson. Johnson (.358) has played all but nine minutes in the Mountaineers 16 games this season and has given up just six goals in that span.

What a difference 10 weeks makes

With the regular season wrapping up, it seems like a good time to look back at preseason expectations. Some teams have surpassed them, and some have fallen by the wayside.

Using the NSCAA rankings as a measuring stick, nine of the expected top 25 teams have disappeared from the list altogether. However, seven of those were ranked between Nos. 16 and 25. UCLA (No. 2) has dropped the furthest, vanishing completely along with No. 12 Clemson. Five of the initial top 10 remain among the cream of the crop, but it's the other five that are the biggest surprises. Virginia Tech, Brown, Boston College and Creighton have worked their way from MIA to hold down the Nos. 5 through 8 spots, respectively. Current No.1 UConn just missed joining the aforementioned four, having snuck into the preseason at No. 25.

RPI Review

All season long, everyone tows the line of rankings being irrelevant, but this list actually carries weight.

College soccer's ratings percentage index (RPI) may be less discussed than its basketball counterpart and less controversial than the NCAA's BCS rankings, but a few weeks from now, the RPI will undoubtedly be at the center of several teams' complaints. Most of the complaining will be unwarranted.

As expected, perennial powerhouses hold down multiple spots on the list. Wake Forest and Boston College usher in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Five other ACC teams are ranked in the top 25. While the ACC debuts strong, Big East champion Connecticut is the first conference team to make the list, coming in at No. 10. Half of the Big East is in position to see the light of late November -- with eight teams in the RPI's top 35. Expect a big showing from the Big Ten or, in the case of men's soccer, the Big Seven. The conference has three teams in the top 10 -- No. 3 Northwestern, No. 4 Indiana and No. 7 Ohio State -- and five teams in the top 30.

Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.