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Zakuani the force behind the Zips

With less than two weeks to go before the end of the regular season, it's time to take a look at some of college soccer's top individual performers. As a reader recently (and rightly) pointed out, Akron forward Steve Zakuani deserves some long-overdue props in this space. The sophomore striker is the leading point-getter in the nation with 35 (15 goals, five assists) in 17 games. Zakuani also is tied with UC Davis senior Quincy Amarikwa atop the NCAA's goal-scoring chart.

If it seems like the 6-foot Congo native (via London) came out of nowhere this season, perhaps you haven't been paying close enough attention. Even though Zakuani wasn't selected to any of College Soccer News' three preseason All-America teams (he did make Soccer America's XI as a second-teamer), he was one of 48 players selected to the Hermann Trophy watch list in August after being named the Mid-American Conference's top newcomer in 2007.

Still, even after he led the Zips with six goals and 14 points as a rook, few would have predicted the former Arsenal trainee would be the front-runner for college soccer's version of the Heisman heading into November.

While Zakuani's offensive production is perhaps the most obvious reason Akron has climbed back to No. 2 in the current NSCAA/adidas national rankings, he's not the only Zip who deserves to be singled out for praise.

On the other end of the field, keeper Evan Bush has been a brick wall for Caleb Porter's squad. The MAC player of this week after he pitched clean sheets against Michigan (1-0) and Western Michigan (2-0) this weekend, Bush has allowed only five goals all season and was second nationally with a .247 goals-against average before Akron's 1-1 draw at Penn State on Wednesday night. If the 6-foot-3 senior, who entered 2008 as Akron's all-time shutout leader, maintains his lights-out form as the Zips chase their first national title, he's a lock to continue his career in Major League Soccer in 2009.

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Finally, a quick shout-out for Wake Forest's Corben Bone, the ACC's outstanding freshman last season, who has emerged as the premier playmaker in the country as a soph.

Bone, now healthy after playing through a hip flexor injury last season, leads the nation with 15 assists. Of course, it helps that the Dallas product plays for the most dominant college team in recent memory (Wake has outscored opponents by an astounding 56-10 count and is averaging 3.5 goals per game, almost one more than North Carolina, the second-most prolific side). But say whatever you want: Bone's total still is more than 25 percent higher than that of any other player in Division I.

Quick hits

Keep an eye on No. 18 Michigan. The Wolverines knocked off then-No. 2 Northwestern 3-1 this past Saturday, and that upset came about three weeks after UM beat then-No. 8 Notre Dame by the same lopsided score. Sandwiched in between were a pair of tough 1-0 road losses to Indiana (Oct. 4) and Akron (Oct. 22), but with lockdown defender Michael Holody holding down the fort, Michigan should close out its Big Ten schedule with home victories against Ohio State and Penn State to head into the playoffs on a high.

Holody wasn't the only defender to receive rave reviews this week. South Florida back Yohance Marshall, whom we named to our preseason All-America team in August, was a rock in USF's shutout wins over Florida Atlantic (3-0) and Villanova (1-0) last week. Alas, after regaining the No. 11 spot when the latest rankings were released Tuesday, the Bulls took another step back with a 1-0 loss at Cincinnati that night. Expect Marshall and his fellow seniors to rebound at home against Rutgers in South Florida's regular-season finale Saturday.

After a slew of Top 25 teams were scalped by eager underdogs last week, the upsets have kept coming -- particularly in the always-tight ACC. In a pair of OT games this past Saturday, Clemson beat then-No. 8 North Carolina 3-2, while Duke toppled then-No. 19 Virginia 1-0. With 12 games left on the conference schedule, including a handful of marquee matchups, expect another shocker or two before play concludes Nov. 7.

What to watch for

Cincinnati at St. John's: 8 p.m. ET Friday, Fox Soccer Channel

After beating a ranked team for the first time this season (see above), Cincinnati won't be frightened to head to Gotham on Halloween to face No. 4 St. John's. And, with four wins in their past five matches, the Bearcats' form is plain scary. But at 7-8-2 overall and 4-5-1 in the Big East, Cincy is in danger of missing the conference championship, let alone the national tournament. In other words, this game is its College Cup Final.

Meanwhile, St. John's (12-1-3) is trying to stay healthy and consistent as it preps for its first NCAA appearance since 2006. The Red Storm would lock up the Big East's Red Division title with a win.

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


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