Champs start at top, but plenty ready to challenge for title, as preparations for the new season begin in the next couple weeks.The start of August means that the first college exhibition games of the 2011 season are only a couple weeks away. Last season, Akron left Harder Stadium with the title; but after a mass exodus of key contributors, the Zips have questions to answer across the field. Teams from all over the land have their hearts set on stopping a repeat title run for the reconfigured Akron side.
Out West, UCLA poses a serious threat for the title after holding on to the majority of the team during the off-season. Back East, North Carolina looks as strong as ever, despite some turnover among the coaching staff. And across the Midwest, Indiana, Notre Dame and Louisville all figure to have their eyes set on a deep run in the post-season.
1. Akron 0-0-0 Adding 16 players to a roster is the definition of rebuilding, but that is what head coach Caleb Porter and the Akron fans will have to get used with the quality of player that the Zips coach staff is recruiting. Despite the overhaul, the champs keep the top spot until someone knocks them off. Next game: Cleveland State, August 27
2. UCLA 0-0-0 The 2011 UCLA Bruins are the most talented team Westwood has seen in a long time. It is going to be up to head coach Jorge Salcedo to make sure that the roster produces results on the field with expectations so high. Next game: @ Louisville, August 27
3. North Carolina 0-0-0 After 22 years under Elmar Bolowich’s watch, the Tar Heels have a new coach. Carlos Somoano brings new life to an already spectacular program that has appeared in four consecutive College Cups. The pressure is on the new coach to keep the streak alive, but transfers Ben Speas and Matt Hedges should give him plenty of confidence in this squad. Next game: UNC-Wilmington, August 27
4. Louisville 0-0-0 The Cardinals return most of the core players from the College Cup run last season, which makes Louisville one of the favorites to end up in Alabama in December. Led by the dynamic attack of Dylan Mares and Colin Rolfe, the 2010 national finalist will still be a handful for opposing defenses. Next game: UCLA, August 27
5. SMU 0-0-0 The powerhouse in Texas made some savvy additions in the off-season, inserting a good core of new players to the stable. Combine the fresh faces with an already impressive roster that only lost out on a trip to College Cup due to a penalty kick result, SMU’s potential remains high. Next game: William & Mary, August 27
6. Indiana 0-0-0 The Hoosiers have a massive hole to fill with the loss of leading scorer, and face of the team, Will Bruin to MLS in the off-season. Recruits Eriq Zavaleta and Jack Coleman should step in immediately and propel this team forward, but finding a target player will be key in the physical Big Ten. Next game: @ Notre Dame, August 27
7. Notre Dame 0-0-0 Transfer forward Ryan Finley will help the Notre Dame offense, but the health of center midfielder Dillon Powers is the key to the season. Next up: Indiana, August 27
8. Creighton 0-0-0 It was a tumultuous off-season in the front office for the Blue Jays with Jamie Clark exiting after one season and the introduction of former UNC coach Elmar Bolowich. It should not take long for Bolowich to mold this team in accordance with his system. Next game: @ Denver, August 27
9. Georgetown 0-0-0 The Big East Blue Division regular season champions bring back many of the key members from last season’s impressive spell, including underrated center back Tommy Muller and freshman sensation Steve Neumann. Next game: VCU, August 29
10. Maryland 0-0-0 The Terps lost a handful of significant contributors from last year’s quarterfinal team, but replaced them with a noteworthy incoming class. Maryland may be another year off from their normal high standard, but there is potential with this side. Next up: St. John’s, August 26
11. Duke 0-0-0 Blue Devils need to improve their away form this year after going a lackluster 2-4-2 on the road last season. The addition of former U.S. residency member Nick Palodichuk will add a different bite to the midfield. Next up: @ UNC Greensboro, August 26
12. Virginia 0-0-0 Replacing goalkeeper Diego Restrepo is the most challenging task for head coach George Gelnovatch heading into the season. Returners Brian Ownby, Will Bates, and Brian ‘Cobi’ Span pack plenty of punch to threaten opposing defenses. Next up: West Virginia, August 26
13. Connecticut 0-0-0 Picking a successor for goalkeeper Josh Ford, who played in 85 games over the last four years, will be tricky for the Huskies, but the rest of the roster is relatively unchanged from a two-loss season last year. Next up: St Francis (N.Y.), August 27
14. FGCU 0-0-0 The unheralded squad from Florida is finally eligible for post-season play after a couple years in the probationary phase, as a new team to Division I. Do not let the lack of history fool you, this team can knock the ball with the best of them. Next up: FAU, August 26
15. Wake Forest 0-0-0 Head coach Jay Vidovich spent last year rebuilding a team after College Cup appearances for the previous four years. This year, the fruits of his labor should pay off with a more experienced group ready to challenge for an ACC crown. Next up: University of South Florida, August 27
16. UCSB 0-0-0 If the goalkeeper situation is rectified and the defense can hold on [especially on set-pieces], the Gauchos have the talent offensively to keep pace with almost any team in the land. Next up: Seattle, August 27
17. South Carolina 0-0-0 Finding someone to replace former captain Blake Brettschneider’s production from last year will be the big question for the Gamecocks entering the season, but rising sophomore Bradlee Baladez should give fans plenty of hope for a banner year. Next up: @ College of Charleston, August 26
18. Michigan 0-0-0 A rough offseason for Michigan fans was highlighted by the exit of a few starters and assistant coach Paul Snape. Obviously, there is still talent left on the roster, but head coach Steve Burns needs some fresh faces to step into key roles immediately to fill massive voids. Next up: @ Bowling Green, August 26
19. Denver 0-0-0 Head coach Bobby Muuss is quietly promising a defensive scheme unlike any other in college soccer. As long as it does not backfire, Denver’s new stadium should be hosting a few NCAA playoff games come late November. Next up: Creighton, August 27
20. Providence 0-0-0 The Friars athletic department made a very smart move in locking head coach Chaka Daley into an extension before the season starts. He is an exceptional coach who is going to take this program to the next level in the coming years.
21. Penn St. 0-0-0 Transfer Hasani Sinclair should add some flair to the Penn State attack, as the squad builds on last season’s post-season appearance. Next up: Siena, August 27
22. University of Central Florida 0-0-0 If midfielder Nik Robson performs at the same level as last season, the Knights will give SMU and South Carolina a run for their money in Conference USA action. Next up: @ Jacksonville, August 26
23. Penn 0-0-0 The Quakers return four players who made either the first or second team All-Ivy league last year including leading scorer Stephen Baker. Next up: La Salle, September 2
24. West Virginia 0-0-0 Head coach Marlon LeBlanc and his Mountaineers squad bring an impressive home undefeated streak into the season, which will be put to the test with games against UCONN and Georgetown at home later in the year. Next up: Virginia, August 26
25. NC State 0-0-0 Kelly Findley and the rest of the new coaching staff will have this team in contention for an ACC title before you know it. Next up: St. Francis (Pa.)
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