Southern Cal, UCLA and Stanford all highlight the success of the Pac-12, as the conference features three out of the top ten in the latest United Soccer Coaches rankings. It's not just these schools representing the talent in the conference. California, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State will all have something to say too. Conference play out west should be exciting this year as the Pac-12 is full to the brim of title contenders and MAC Hermann level talent.
Here's everything you need to know about the Pac-12 play heading into conference play:
Cal could be the surprise out of California
The state of California is in a prime position to produce women college soccer's next national champion. USC, Stanford and UCLA have been stellar throughout the season, each in the top ten, but do not sleep on the Golden Bears. Cal, who was just booted from the No. 21 spot to outside of the top 25 after a tough 2-0 loss to Portland has made its name through its defense, recording 6 shutouts so far this season. Their 7-1 record comes on the back of the lowest goals allowed rating in the conference — 3 goals allowed all season, with an average of .33 per game. The Golden Bears' seven wins include victories over the likes of Santa Clara and San Diego State. Cal will look to continue their strong start to the season against No. 7 UCLA when they travel down to Los Angeles on Sept. 27.
Who can stop Stanford's high-flying offense?
A legitimate question if you are looking to compete with Stanford for the Pac-12 crown. The Cardinal have posted the most points per game in the country and top pretty much every offensive category in the Pac-12. They lead in goals (31), assists (35) and points (97) but their most impressive stat so far this season is being one whole goal over the next competition in goals per game. Stanford has averaged 3.88 goals per game so far this season, with the next highest being Arizona State at 2.89. The Cardinal's schedule hasn't been a cakewalk either, as their 7-1 record includes wins over then-No. 6 Penn State and defending Big 12 champions and formerly ranked 11th West Virginia. Stanford's offense did falter in one match as they got shutout 0-1 versus Pepperdine. The No. 2 Cardinal will start the season versus No. 3 USC Saturday, Sept. 28.
No. 2 vs. No. 3: Stanford-USC preview, how to watch
Catarina Macario could be the first back-to-back MAC Hermann trophy winner since 2014
There is a reason Stanford has such a high-powered offense, her name is Catarina Macario. The defending MAC Herman trophy winner has stormed out of the gate this season as she has almost caught up to her amazing offensive stat-lines of last year. In 2018 Macario put up 14 goals, eight assists, 36 points with five game-winning goals. This season, the junior forward has already racked up 10 goals, six assists, 26 points with four game-winners. Although competition will take a step up against the high-flying Cardinal and Macario, her game should as well. Throughout the season Macario has performed better against tougher teams — this includes notching two goals versus Penn State and a hat trick against South Florida.
USC's dynamic duo has solidified the Trojans as one of the strongest teams in the country
Southern Cal is arguably the best team in the Pac-12, but two things you can't argue about this team is its unbeaten record of 7-0-1 and their high-flying duo of Penelope Hocking and Tara McKeown. Hocking and McKeown have combined for a total 14 goals this season, two-thirds of USC's total goal mark of 21. The two are also in the top five in the conference in points, Hocking with 17, McKeown with 19. WIth Hocking being the traditional forward, McKeown takes on more of a versatile role, listed as a do-it-all defender, midfielder and forward. Along with her goal-scoring ability, McKeown can also dish it as she is tied for fourth in the conference with five assists on the season so far. The Trojans have blown through non-conference opponents including well-known programs such as Florida and defending national champions Florida State. Their only non-win of the season came against defending Big 12 regular-season champ, Baylor. The Bears were able to hold the Trojans to only two goals that match while producing two of their own. USC will be faced with their first big in-conference test right out of the gate on Sept. 28 when they host No. 2 Stanford.
If Oregon State wants to remain perfect, they'll have to rely on their defense
Oregon State is one of three remaining perfect teams in the country, yet they are not ranked in the top 25. The other teams without a blemish on their records are No. 5 BYU and No. 18 Oklahoma State. The 8-0-0 Beavers have relied on strong defense when it comes to their record. They have one of the lowest goals allowed marks in the conference so far with only allowing three goals scored on them all season. They also have the second-lowest goals-allowed average on the year so far, falling only behind Cal. The Beavers' defense has been anchored down by strong goalkeeping, as sophomore goalkeeper Bridgette Skiba has the second-best save percentage in the conference, saving 85% of shots taken on her. Although their early-season schedule was weaker than other Pac-12 teams, the Beavers' offense shined as well outscoring their opponents 21-3. Oregon State will face their first ranked opponent in No. 21 Washington State to kick-off Pac-12 play. If the Beavers can finish their first week of conference play with two wins, over the Cougars and over Utah, expect them to crash the top 25.