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Natalie Bode | NCAA.com | October 1, 2021

7 women’s soccer auto bid predictions for the 2021 NCAA tournament

Women's soccer rankings: Virginia's upset settles Cavaliers at No. 2

Women's soccer has been unconventional so far this season, with three of the four College Cup teams from last season already suffering at least one loss. But that's not all. Duke beat North Carolina, giving the Tar Heels their first regular-season ACC loss since 2016. LSU reached its highest ranking ever and then lost two in a row. TCU had its best start in program history and lost two of three.

There are still a lot of games to go. But a little over one month into the season, we're taking stock of which teams have surprised us in various conferences — and what could be next as we look toward the NCAA tournament. Here are predictions for seven automatic bids.

ACC

Florida State women's soccer is ranked No. 1

Dates: November 5-7
The favorite: Florida State
The challengers: North Carolina, Virginia
The sleeper: Virginia Tech
The pick: Florida State

It's hard to ignore Florida State's consistency. Although the Seminoles may be the unexciting, obvious pick for an auto bid, it is with good reason. No. 1 Florida State houses perhaps the nation's best player in Jaelin Howell, has a perfect 10-0 record and a chip on its shoulder finishing national runner-up last season. 

The two most obvious challengers are North Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina has a legacy of greatness and always plays Florida State tough, but the Tar Heels suffered their first regular-season ACC defeat in nearly 1,800 days to Duke just a few weeks ago. Despite the loss, expect North Carolina to stay in the mix and challenge the Seminoles. Virginia on the other hand is looking strong again and is poised to make another College Cup run powered by point leader Diana Ordoñez. Virginia beats out Duke for our second challenger spot after defeating the Blue Devils, 1-0.  North Carolina and Virginia will meet in a pivotal top-5 matchup on October 3. Our sleeper goes to Virginia Tech, who has tied both North Carolina and Duke in the ACC and seems close to a breakthrough.

UNDEFEATED: Here are the remaining undefeated women's college soccer teams

SEC

Dates: October 31-November 7
The favorite: Arkansas
The challenger: Auburn
The sleeper: LSU
The pick: Arkansas

Arkansas has performed up to expectation so far this season at 3-0 in conference play. Its two losses so far have come from ACC powerhouse teams in North Carolina and Duke, one of which came down to the wire in overtime. Again, we pick the preseason favorite here to take the auto bid due to consistency and star power in Anna Podojil, one of our preseason players to watch and the Razorbacks' leader in goals and points.

Although Auburn is 8-2 this season, the two losses are deceiving. One came against Tennessee in double overtime, and the other was against Florida State, where the Tigers managed to knock in a goal against No. 1 FSU. Auburn has steadily been in and out of the top 15 in the rankings, and we expect the Tigers to challenge frontrunner Arkansas as SEC play continues. Our sleeper pick goes to LSU, which is hard to even type after the Tigers looked so promising with their best start yet and a record set for the most ranked opponents defeated in a single season just weeks in. Since then, LSU has had back-to-back losses in the SEC. If we know one thing from last season, though, it's that LSU can put up a fight when it matters. After not winning a single conference game, the Tigers pulled off multiple upsets in the SEC tournament.

Pac-12

UCLA women's soccer is a favorite in the Pac-12

Dates: Champion determined via regular-season competition
The favorite: UCLA
The challenger: Stanford
The sleeper: Oregon
The pick: UCLA

UCLA and Stanford have been the usual suspects the past few years in the Pac-12. This year is no different, as UCLA remains as one of the few undefeated teams left in women's soccer, and Stanford has only lost to a pair of ACC teams in the preseason. Stanford had a promising 3-1 win over reigning national champion Santa Clara in nonconference play, while UCLA has tied fellow unbeaten Oregon in double overtime so far in the Pac-12. I expect UCLA and Stanford to battle it out for the title.

Be careful not to overlook the Ducks, though, as Oregon is undefeated through their first nine games of the season (5-0-4) for the first time since 1981.

LATEST RANKINGS: View the full top 25

Big Ten

Dates: October 31-November 7
The favorite: Penn State
The challengers: Purdue, Rutgers
The sleeper: Wisconsin
The pick: Rutgers

It is a very, very odd time in the Big Ten conference right now. Penn State came out swinging, defeating No. 3 ranked Virginia 4-2, and now, the Nittany Lions have lost three straight in conference play. Penn State was the favorite coming in to the season, but now it will be interesting to see if the Nittany Lions can salvage their record in conference. I still predict they turn it around, but they fall short of snagging the auto bid with their current state of play and 0-3 record in conference.

Rutgers will again be a competitor for the Big Ten title, and they will need to improve as time goes on, currently moving in and out of the top 25. The Scarlet Knights have strong returners especially in the likes of national offensive force Amirah Ali, who will bring veteran experience to the frontline. Purdue has also started off strong in the Big Ten, currently leading the conference at 3-0, followed by Wisconsin at 2-0-1.

Big 12

TCU women's soccer is looking to win a Big 12 title.

Dates: October 31-November 7
The favorite: West Virginia
The challengers: Texas Tech, Baylor
The sleeper: TCU
The pick: TCU

West Virginia was selected as the preseason favorite in the 2021 Big 12 soccer preseason poll for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. However, I am not completely sold on the Mountaineers. I see West Virginia making it to a semifinal, maybe even the final, but falling short of the Big 12 title.

Major title contenders I see in the Big 12 are Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU. It was once again difficult to write TCU in the sleeper pick spot, similar to LSU in the SEC, as the Horned Frogs showed early glimmers of brilliance but then lost two, including dropping a game to Baylor. Baylor's best results so far have been the 2-1 win over TCU and the 2-2 tie over Oregon. There is room to grow. As for Texas Tech, the Red Raiders have not been majorly tested, and have their toughest conference games ahead, similar to West Virginia. I see it being a toss up in this conference between these teams, but if I had to choose right now, I would pick TCU finding a way to turn it around and win the title.

AAC

Dates: October 31-November 7
The favorite: South Florida
The challengers: Memphis, SMU
The sleeper: Cincinnati
The pick: Memphis or SMU

South Florida comes in as the favorite, as the reigning champion in 2019 and 2020 and tied for the most appearances to compete for the conference title. So far, Memphis leads the conference and is another favorite to win the conference title. Memphis had an impressive showing outside of conference, including tying Ole Miss in double OT. Memphis has also picked up two conference wins against UCF and Temple. Cincinnati is my sleeper with an impressive 2-1 win over Virginia Tech before conference, and a lot of potential despite not being a conference frontrunner. 

Not to be forgotten about, SMU is an impressive 7-1 this season with an overtime win against Baylor and a win against Rice heading in to conference. I could easily see SMU making a conference final in November. It is very close between South Florida, Memphis and SMU at this point in conference play, but I am going to put my money on a coin flip result between Memphis or SMU taking home the AAC title.

Big East

Dates: October 31-November 7
The favorite: Georgetown
The challenger: Butler
The sleeper: St. Johns and Creighton
The pick: Georgetown

Georgetown collected every first place vote in the preseason poll to be the unanimous pick to win the Big East conference championship. So far, I think the results early in the season have backed up this claim, with the Hoyas showing potential. Some results that stand out to me at this point are the 0-0 tie against Big 12 favorite West Virginia as well as a 1-0 win over Rutgers.

Butler poses a threat to Georgetown, currently leading the conference at 2-0, and also leading the conference so far in total offense with the most goals and points per game. Butler also had the only preseason unanimous all Big East player selections for two forwards in Anastasia Savich and Katie Soderstrom. St. Johns is my official sleeper pick, sitting at a 2-0 mark in conference, but that is largely due to its schedule so far.

Besides Georgetown, Butler and St. Johns, things are a bit mixed up in the Big East elsewhere. Creighton could have been another potential sleeper pick after tying the Hoyas, but it lost 1-0 to Providence. Providence lost to Xavier a game before, and Xavier lost 2-1 to the Hoyas. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the Big East going forward.

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