Another week of college soccer is upon us, with possible title contenders beginning to make themselves known. This week’s slate sees some key conference matchups mixed in with a midwest-style derby. As we enter the first week of October, here are five more games that you need to be watching this week. By Brian Ludden
Omaha @ Creighton – Tuesday
Neither of these two sides look like they’re going to be top contenders in November, but this week gives us the next edition of the Dodge Street Derby. A cross-city rivalry that originated in 1979 and was revived in 2016, Nebraska’s only two Division 1 men’s soccer teams face off for both city and statewide bragging rights.
After last season’s impressive run to the College Cup semifinals, Creighton has taken a step backwards in 2023. The most glaring loss for the Blue Jays is the departure of forward Duncan McGuire, who plays in MLS. With a less-than-stellar 1.2 goals per game, Creighton’s attack leaves something to be desired. With a 3-4-3 record on the season, Creighton’s resumé boasts wins over Marquette and Michigan, but also a disappointing loss to Kansas City. In their final non-conference game of the season, Creighton will not only look to gain momentum heading into the remainder of the conference matchups, but also look to get one over their city rivals.
On the other side, Omaha began their season with three consecutive losses. However a 2-1 win over Grand Canyon kickstarted Omaha’s season, as the Mavericks currently ride a six-match unbeaten streak into Tuesday’s derby. Omaha has only won once since the rivalry was renewed, a commanding 3-0 win in the spring of 2021 (COVID season), and have never won at Morrison Stadium. Following a 6-1 drubbing that they faced at the hands of Creighton at home last season, Omaha will undoubtedly be looking to get their revenge and secure their first win at Morrison Stadium.
For Crieghton, they will look towards the Duncan McGuire replacement, Aflie Pope, to score the goals. Pope leads the team with four goals on the season, and will hope to score his first goal since the win over Marquette. On the other side, Omaha’s Theo Klein, Junior Casillas, and Ede Gramberg all lead the team with four goals each, with Klein scoring two of the team’s goals on Saturday in their win over Western Illinois. The trio will all look to provide goals and find the back of the net.
How to watch: Flo FC
Prediction: Creighton 1, Omaha 1
Indiana @ Penn State – Saturday
“Big Noon Kickoff” is typically a term used in the fall to showcase a key college football game. But this week, we’ll focus on our own type of Big Noon Kickoff. Except instead of the football field, we turn to the soccer pitch, as #21 Penn State prepares to host Indiana.
Penn State’s last taste of the NCAA Tournament was an 8-2 drubbing at home at the hands of Hofstra. But with a record of 6-1-3 so far on the season, the Nittany Lions have their sights set on another appearance, and hopefully a better result. After draws vs. #6 Pittsburgh and #1 Syracuse back in the early days of the season, Penn State has added wins over Ohio State and Maryland, as well as playing out a goalless draw against #14 Michigan State on Sunday. With seven points from their first three conference matches, Penn State sits joint-top of the Big Ten standings, level on points with Northwestern.
After a heartbreaking loss on penalty kicks in the 2022 College Cup Final, Indiana has far from lived up to preseason expectations. Despite beginning the season ranked #2 in the CSN preseason poll, the Hoosiers have limped to a current record of 3-3-3. Early season loses vs. Washington and USF set the tone, and goalless draws vs. Wisconsin and Michigan on either side of a loss to Michigan State means Indiana enters this week completely out of the CSN poll and in the bottom half of the Big Ten Standings. A possible silver lining for the Hoosiers is that three of their final four Big Ten matches are against the three teams below them in the standings (Ohio State, Maryland, and Rutgers). Luckily for Indiana, qualifying for the conference tournament shouldn’t be a worry, as 8 of the 9 teams will participate. With an unimpressive campaign so far, the Hoosiers will hope that an upset win over Penn State will give them momentum and add to their resumé.
A player to watch for Penn State is goalkeeper Kris Shakes, who has kept five clean sheets on the season and has yet to concede a goal in Big Ten play. Opposite Shakes will be Indiana keeper JT Harms, who has kept five clean sheets of his own and has played every minute so far for the Hoosiers. We could be in for a defensive battle, as both teams sit inside the top ten for fewest goals allowed in the country.
How to watch: Big Ten Network
Prediction: Penn State 1, Indiana 0
Syracuse @ North Carolina – Friday
A cross-divisional ACC matchup is on tap for #15 (and undefeated) North Carolina, as they host #20 Syracuse on Friday night.
North Carolina remains one of the few unbeaten teams in the country, as they enter this week with a record of 4 wins, 4 draws, and 0 losses. With their signature win being a 2-1 victory over in-state rival Duke, the Tar Heels have also earned draws vs. Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh. North Carolina moved up four spots in the newest edition of the CSN Top 30 poll, and will hope to continue their upward trajectory this week. A home matchup vs. Elon awaits the Tar Heels, ahead of Friday’s meeting with Syracuse.
The past few weeks have been very tumultuous for the defending champions, as #20 Syracuse has had varying results. After beginning their ACC campaign with two draws vs. Louisville and Wake Forest, Syracuse suffered their first loss at the hands of Cornell, losing by a score of 2-1. The Orange rebounded with a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh just a few days later, but then suffered another defeat last Friday, in which they surrendered five goals to Duke. Syracuse will host Colgate on Tuesday, hoping to right the ship ahead of Friday’s conference showdown.
We mentioned Quenzi Huerman as a player to watch for North Carolina a few weeks ago vs. Duke, and he delivered, scoring the winning goal. We’ll focus on him again, as he is up to six goals and three assists on the season, and will look to again make his presence felt. For Syracuse, midfielder maestro Jeorgio Kocevski will be a player to look out for, as he is tied for the conference lead in assists with seven (also tied for fourth in the nation). Kocevski has registered four assists in the past two games, including three vs. Duke. He will look to unlock the North Carolina defense and provide opportunities for the Syracuse forwards.
Where to watch: ACC Network
Prediction: North Carolina 2, Syracuse 1
Duke @ Notre Dame – Saturday
Another ACC matchup that we will be keeping our eyes on is an ACC Coastal meeting between #16 Duke and #13 Notre Dame.
It’s been a largely successful season so far for Notre Dame, as a 1-0 loss against current #14 Michigan State is the only blip on their record. Entering Saturday’s showdown on a four-match unbeaten run, Notre Dame sits atop the ACC Coastal standings, with 10 points from four conference matches. The Fighting Irish moved up five spots from #18 in the latest poll, following a 3-1 win over North Carolina State. A win over Duke could further bolster Notre Dame’s resumé, and give them a case as the ACC’s best team.
It hasn’t been a perfect start to ACC play for Duke, as they sit at 2-2 in the conference, but the Blue Devils shouldn’t be too worried. Back-to-back losses vs. Clemson and North Carolina saw Duke slip down the conference standings, but a big 5-3 win over then #10 Syracuse got things going in the right direction again. Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame will likely be Duke’s toughest task for the remainder of the regular season, as the Blue Devils’ final five matches include conference games against NC State, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh, along with matches vs. Elon and Howard. Should Duke be able to take down Notre Dame, it could give the Blue Devils more momentum as we enter the final month before tournament play.
Notre Dame’s key player to watch will be Matthew Roou, as the junior leads the team with seven goals on the season. Roou has scored in two straight matches for the Fighting Irish, and will surely be hoping to make it three in a row on Saturday. Duke’s main attacking threat will come from one of the nation’s top scorers, Forster Ajago. Like Roou, Ajago is also in fine form, scoring four goals in the past three matches. Ajago will look to keep his hot streak alive and fire Duke to a key win.
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
Prediction: Notre Dame 3, Duke 2
SMU @ FIU – Sunday
Following years of conference action between SMU and Florida International when both teams were in Conference USA, the series was put on halt for ten years following SMU’s move to the American Athletic Conference. Last year, we saw the two teams meet for the first time since 2012, with FIU joining the AAC as an affiliate member. But this year could very well be the last time the two schools meet in conference action, with SMU departing for the ACC in 2024 (wait isn’t the ACC the Atlantic Coast Conference? And isn’t SMU in Texas? Yeah, but we’ll ignore that for now). Anyways, Sunday’s matchup sees #25 Florida International play host to #3 SMU.
It’s been a respectable season so far for Florida International, with their only two losses coming at the hands of then-#24 and #5 Akron. A 2-2 draw at #8 UCF back in September is one of FIU’s notable results, along with a 2-1 win at Oregon State to open the season. The Panthers sit with Charlotte atop the AAC standings in the early weeks of conference play, with a perfect 9 points from three games. Before Sunday’s showdown with SMU however, FIU travels to Birmingham to take on UAB on Wednesday.
SMU might be considered one of the surprising teams of the season, as they sit at #3 in the rankings on a 7-1-1 record. I had the pleasure of watching this SMU team play a few weeks ago, in a match where they defeated USF 2-1. The USF match was the last win in a five-match win streak for the Mustangs, which ended last Wednesday with a 1-1 draw vs. Grand Canyon. SMU is still unbeaten in their last six, with their only loss of the season coming back on September 1st at Denver. Two wins from the first two conference matches places SMU just behind FIU and Charlotte at the top of the AAC standings. Ahead of Sunday’s matchup, SMU will host the aforementioned Charlotte, a game that we will be keeping an eye on.
A player to look out for on the Florida International side of things is Eduardo Mustre, the team leader in goals with six. Mustre has scored in three straight matches as well, and will try to keep his good form going this week. For SMU, Jelldrik Dallmann will lead the line up front, as the German forward has tallied a team-high seven goals on the season.
How to watch: ESPN+
Prediction: SMU 2, FIU 0
Brian Ludden is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at email@example.com
Picture from Creighton Athletics