When the NCAA men's soccer season ends on Dec. 10 in Santa Barbara, Calif., the University of North Carolina and Akron University could very well find themselves matched up against each other.
Fortunately, college soccer fans don't have to wait until December to see what would happen if the two were to square off.
As part of the Carolina Nike Classic, the two squads will go head-to-head in their respective season openers in Chapel Hill, N.C., Friday night in a rematch of one of last year's College Cup semifinals that Akron won in penalty kicks. Caleb Porter's Zips feature a who's-who of youth prospects, with Kofi Sarkodie, Zarek Valentin, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Darlington Nagbe and Perry Kitchen leading the charge for the NSCAA's preseason No. 1 team in the country.
North Carolina, which was voted as the preseason No. 1 team in the always-strong Atlantic Coast Conference and No. 4 in the NSCAA preseason poll, counters with Michael Farfan and Billy Schuler, who were both named to the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List.
UNC-Akron is just one of a handful of matches to keep an eye on as the college soccer season unfolds. Here are some of the other can't-miss matches (all times ET):
adidas/IU Credit Union Classic, Sept. 3 and 5
Four premiere programs convene in Bloomington, Ind., for two days of top-notch competition. UCLA meets Notre Dame (and U.S. U-20 standout Dillon Powers) and Indiana, Indiana plays California and UCLA and Notre Dame plays UCLA and Cal in what is sure to be one of the better in-season weekends of non-conference play.
Akron vs. Wake Forest, Sept. 5, 7 p.m.
Talk about being thrown into the fire. The Zips second match in the Carolina Nike Classic pits them against Jay Vidovich's perennial ACC power and the No. 3 team in the NSCAA preseason poll. Even though the Demon Deacons lost a boatload of talent (four first-round picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft), they still return a top-notch roster, headlined by Andy Lubahn, Anthony Arena and keeper Akira Fitzgerald, and should be poised to make another deep run this year.
Wake Forest at Virginia, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.
Like UNC-Akron, this is another rematch of a classic 2009 College Cup semifinal, one that Virginia won in overtime on a Brian Ownby goal. Both schools should contend for the prestigious ACC Championship this season.
South Florida at Connecticut, Sept. 24, 7 p.m.
The Bulls boast one of the nation's top goalkeepers in Soccer America Preseason All-American Jeffery Attinella, and he'll likely need to be at his best for his up-and-coming side to top traditional Northeast power UCONN. South Florida, which topped Akron in its preseason finale, UCONN, Louisville and St. Johns should battle it out for Big East supremacy this season.
Tulsa at Akron, Sept. 24, 8 p.m.
Six players from the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List will be showcased on Fox Soccer Channel when the Golden Hurricane and Zips meet at Lee Jackson Field. Akron defeated Tulsa, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA Tournament, so emotions should be high in this battle of "mid-major" powerhouses.
UCLA at UC-Santa Barbara, Sept. 24, 10 p.m.
UCSB has threatened UCLA's long-standing reign as kings of the West, and the Gauchos will be looking to make another statement when they host the Bruins for an early-season encounter. UCSB, which defeated UCLA in the 2006 championship match, is the host school for this year's College Cup, and should the Gauchos make it through the tournament field and into the national semifinals, they'd undoubtedly be favorites to capture their second title in five years.
Duke at Maryland, Sept. 24, 8 p.m.
These two heavyweights have played some classic matches over the years, and Fox Soccer Channel will be broadcasting the 2010 version for all to see. Both programs return deep rosters, but both also incorporate top-of-the-line recruiting classes to interject some new blood into the rivalry.
Ohio State at Northwestern, Oct. 10, 1 p.m.
Two of the Big Ten Conference's better sides meet in a mid-season match that should definitely hold (regular season) conference-title implications. Both teams start the season among the NSCAA's Top 20 and both could easily end the season that way as well.
Creighton at Drake, Oct. 20, 8 p.m.
The class squads (not including Evansville) of the underrated Missouri Valley Conference square off in Des Moines, Iowa. Creighton is traditionally one of the tougher outs in tournament play, and Drake is coming off a dream Elite Eight run last season. The Bluejays have stacked their non-conference schedule this year with matches against UCSB, Tulsa, Indiana and Akron, but this road test could determine their fate in the MVC. Drake starts the season with a No. 14 ranking in the first NSCAA poll.
Virginia at Boston College, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.
The powers-that-be scheduled 13 home games and four road games for the defending national champions. This late-season tilt in Chestnut Hill, Mass., – against a preseason NSCAA Top-12 team – will be one of the more stern tests the Cavaliers face prior to the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Maryland at Virginia, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.
Two of the top keepers in the country go head-to-head, as Maryland's Zac MacMath and Virginia's Diego Restrepo look to silence two powerful offenses. The defending-champion Cavaliers rode Restrepo to the title last season, but they also boast first-class attacking threats in Ownby and Will Bates. Maryland welcomes back the strike tandem of Jason Herrick and Casey Townsend, who, when healthy, are among the most potent strikers in the country. All signs point to another epic chapter in an already storied rivalry.
Which matches are you most excited for? Any others not on this list you can't wait to see? Who do you think will stand tallest at the College Cup this year?
Share your thoughts below.