In the past two editions of the College Cup, the NCAA Division I men's soccer crown has gone to a first-time champion. That's a good reminder that new teams can emerge and surprises can and do happen.
This year, we decided to take a look at six different conferences and see which teams could take the auto bid to the NCAA tournament, what the top challengers may be and make any sleeper picks before they emerge.
Dates: November 2-12
The preseason favorite: Pitt
The challengers: Wake Forest, Duke
The sleeper: Louisville
The pick: Pitt
Pitt was selected as the preseason favorite in the coaches poll prior to the season, garnering seven of the 12 potential votes from head coaches. Clemson also received three votes, while North Carolina received two.
Since then, the parity in the ACC has made this a really tough pick. North Carolina has seen two conference losses already, while Duke is rolling at 3-0 in conference play, but without meeting Pitt or Louisville just yet. Pitt on the other hand has only seen one conference loss at this point, a 3-1 defeat to Wake Forest. Enter Louisville, who handily defeated Wake Forest 3-0. If those wins and losses seem like a whirlwind, it's because they are. For this pick, and the current state of the ACC, I will go with the early favorite. My auto bid goes to Pitt, led by one of our preseason players to watch, Valentin Noel.
Dates: November 10-14
The preseason favorite: Marshall
The challenger: Kentucky
The sleeper: Coastal Carolina
The pick: Marshall
Marshall entered as the favorite in Conference USA after its incredible run to capture the national championship last season. So far, Marshall stands at 5-1-3, with two ties in conference play to Kentucky and Coastal Carolina. Although Marshall is now without star Jamil Roberts who came alive in the College Cup, the Herd still returned key players and the promising foundation of a program now accustomed to the expectation of greatness.
Coastal Carolina and Kentucky look good so far, too. Kentucky is one of just eight undefeated teams left in Division I men's soccer in the country. The Wildcats have posted five shutouts in their first seven games, with just two scoreless draws to Coastal and Marshall to keep them from 8-0-0. The Chanticleers have come away with some sneaky good results, like a 3-3 double overtime draw to Marshall and a quality 2-0 win over Wake Forest in the preseason.
RELIVE THE MOMENT: We caught up with Marshall head coach the season after winning it all
Dates: Champion determined via regular-season competition
The preseason favorite: Stanford
The challenger: Washington
The sleeper: San Diego State
The pick: Washington
Defending conference champion Stanford was the Pac-12 coaches' preseason favorite to claim the title. The Cardinal won its sixth Pac-12 Championship in the last seven seasons prior to entering the fall 2021 campaign. But Stanford lost its first two conference battles with a 2-0 loss to UCLA and a 1-0 setback to San Diego State in 2OT. I would not count out the Cardinal completely with plenty of time left in conference play to sort things out, but the 0-2 start out of the gate will take them out of contention for my auto bid.
The Huskies took second place in the popular vote by Pac-12 coaches, even receiving two first place votes of their own. Washington fell a game short of the College Cup in 2020-21, losing to Pitt 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Right now, the Huskies are 8-0-0, and just took down a formerly undefeated conference team in San Diego State. At No. 2, Washington has tied the 2006 team for the best start to a season in program history. Washington will get my auto bid pick here, and San Diego State will remain as my sleeper despite the loss to the Huskies. The Aztecs have a ton of potential and had not given up a goal since September 3rd when Washington finally broke through in the 94th minute to win the match.
Dates: November 7-14
The preseason favorite: Indiana
The challenger: Maryland
The sleeper: Rutgers
The pick: Indiana
Unsurprisingly, national runner-up Indiana was the unanimous preseason pick to win the Big Ten title. Indiana has fared decently so far, with one loss to challenger pick Rutgers and two conference wins against Northwestern and Michigan State.
Rutgers defeated Indiana 2-1 in its conference opener, and then met sleeper pick Maryland on the road in a 0-0 2OT draw. The Indiana win was a great win on the road for the Scarlet Knights, but the following game put things in perspective with a 2-0 loss to Wisconsin. Although I am not completely sold on Rutgers, a win against the former national runner-up says a lot about what the team can do down the line. I chose Rutgers as my sleeper pick instead of Wisconsin, as I don't see enough from the Badgers' schedule up to this point to prove otherwise. Maryland looks strong in its own right, sitting atop the conference at 2-0-1, and its only loss being a narrow 1-0 loss to No. 1 Georgetown.
Dates: November 10-13
The favorite: West Virginia
The challenger: Akron
The sleeper: Bowling Green
The pick: West Virginia
Conference play has only just began in the MAC, with two of our top contenders duking it out to start things off: Akron and West Virginia met in Morgantown in what ended in a 0-0 double overtime draw. West Virginia had the edge in shots over Akron 11-7, despite neither team being able to break through. I expect the battle for the conference title to be a similar hard fought match between these two.
Much of the sleeper pick comes down to speculation, as Bowling Green has yet to play a conference game. In the preseason, the Falcons played defending champ Marshall, falling 1-0. Much is yet to be determined for Bowling Green, but with its history in the MAC, it takes the sleeper spot. West Virginia is my easy pick here for the auto bid after impressive wins over then-No. 3 Pitt, winning 2-1, and a 3-1 win over a ranked Penn State team.
Dates: November 11-14
The favorite: Georgetown
The challenger: St. John's
The sleeper: Providence
The pick: Georgetown
Despite being last year's Big East runner-up, Georgetown is the favorite for this season, topping the preseason poll with eight first-place votes. Last year's Big East conference champion Seton Hall grabbed the remaining first-place votes, but have started off with back to back conference losses.
The Hoyas are easily my favorite to claim the crown. Georgetown practically has to take my auto bid, with four-consecutive weeks as the No. 1 team in the United Soccer Coaches poll. St. John's and Providence take the challenger spot and the sleeper spot, respectively, but this comes with some unknowns. Each have claimed a few early wins in conference, but much is yet to be seen with their schedules. Seton Hall tends to fare well in the Big East, but with a few early losses the Pirates were left out of my picks in this conference.