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Sep 5, 2008

Cavaliers off to a slow start

This week's column comes to you from my room in the spectacularly grandiose Hotel Nacional in central Havana, as I continue to cover the U.S. national team's historic World Cup qualifier against Cuba on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic). Feel free to be jealous, but don't think that just because I've spent the past week meticulously prepping for this amazing (and amazingly complicated) trip, I don't have time to chime in on the first weekend of the men's college season.

So without further delay, here are some thoughts on last week's action and a few things to ponder as we head into Week 2.

If you haven't heard by now, Virginia opened by losing to SMU and St. John's at its own tournament -- hardly a good omen for its prospects in 2008. The bigger question is: Just how vital is this season to coach George Gelnovatch's future in Charlottesville? Bruce Arena's former assistant took over what was, at the time, the most successful program in college soccer. Every top recruit wanted to play for the Cavs, and many -- Chris Albright, Alecko Eskandarian, Bakary Soumare -- did indeed end up in navy and orange. But Gelnovatch's teams haven't been truly elite in years, and the last time they did put together a College Cup run, in 2006, UCLA annihilated them in the semifinals. Word is that many high-profile UVa alumni are not at all happy with the Cavaliers' hoof-it-and-hope style of play or, more to the point, their coach.

Duke, on the other hand, does have a new bench boss this season. John Kerr is in after longtime top man John Rennie, who led the Blue Devils for 35 years, retired following a disappointing 2007. With all due respect to Rennie, the switch probably was long overdue -- even if Kerr's squad has started 0-2. Like Virginia, Duke is a top-end ACC outfit that consistently has been able to attract top preps. But the Blue Devils' blue chippers have not been able to lead the program to much NCAA tournament success in recent years, and Rennie, widely rumored to be unpopular with his players over the past few seasons, probably was a big reason why.

NCAA Scoreboard
This season, ESPNsoccernet brings you all the scores from every men's and women's NCAA Division I game.

Click here for all the action.

We're only a week into the new season, but don't be at all surprised if Wake Forest retains the top spot for the duration of the regular season before successfully defending its title in December. With striker Marcus Tracy beginning this season like he finished the last, netting game-winners versus Virginia Commonwealth and Florida International, Wake looks pretty unstoppable right now.

Much of the credit goes to Wake coach Jay Vidovich -- hands down the best coach in the NCAA, in this writer's opinion -- for helping turn the once woefully raw Tracy into one of the nation's best players. Whether Wake repeats or not, there is no disputing that Vidovich is the best there is when it comes to developing college-age players. The Demon Deacons face the first real test of their title defense when they host UCLA on Friday.

Speaking of UCLA, what a "game of" last week. In case you missed the national broadcast, Maryland orchestrated a stirring come-from-behind OT win (after getting the equalizer in the 90th minute) Friday night to beat the Bruins at Home Depot Center. It was a fitting way to kick off the new campaign: two marquee schools doing battle in front of a big crowd at the best soccer stadium in America. And thankfully, the match more than lived up to it's pregame billing. Message to the NSCAA and the fine folks at Fox Soccer Channel: more of those, please.

Other noteworthy results within the past seven days: How about ACC double-winner Boston College being upset by underrated former Big East rival Providence?

SMU figured to struggle after losing its longtime coach, Schellas Hyndman, and top player, Bruno Guarda, to FC Dallas of MLS. Instead, the Mustangs got out of the gate quickly, scoring victories against Old Dominion and Virginia.

Some also doubted 2007 national runner-up Ohio State (not us -- we placed the Buckeyes No. 8 in our preseason rankings), but OSU opened 2-0 despite losing most of its starters from a year ago. Strangely, John Bluem's men fell from ninth to 10th in the NSCAAs (granted, Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast aren't Wake Forest, but still.)

Alas, our No. 3 pick, Santa Clara, didn't fare quite as well. The Broncos dropped their first two to Loyola (Illinois) and Illinois-Chicago but will have a chance to get back to .500 as their Midwest swing continues at Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee.

Biggest mover this week? California, which debuts in the NSCAA rankings at No. 11. The Bears beat UC Riverside before notching a massive upset win over Maryland.

Finally, gotta give some props to my hometown team, the Red Storm of St. John's University. The Johnnies weren't fancied by anyone a few weeks back (except my esteemed Soccernet colleague Maria Burns-Ortiz, so she deserves some props as well), but unlike a lot of the bigger names out there, SJU remains perfect at 2-0.

What to Watch for:

Kentucky and UC Santa Barbara will be hard pressed to put on a better show than the Terps and the Bruins did last week, but this one might still be worth watching (11 p.m. ET Friday, FSC.) At 5-0, UK is off to its best start, and it always is fun to watch the student support 2006 champ UCSB receives at Harder Field.

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

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