I don’t think the SEC will have any teams this year as good as Auburn and South Carolina were last year—but it is still very early and, from top to bottom, this is a very competitive conference with a lot of teams that are solid or better. Auburn lost a number of key players and has taken a step back this year. They’ve still got a dangerous forward in Dodson but the team is young and it shows. The tigers were bold to play both North Carolina and Duke last weekend—but they were dominated in both games and failed to score a goal in either game. But like a lot of SEC teams, auburn is well coached and will surely have its moments, and victories, this season. I thought South Carolina would take a step back as well, as it lost a lot of senior starters, too, but the gamecocks have just picked up where they left off last year—winning tight games with their defense and leaning on star forward M. McCaskill to either score a key goal or set one up. In their last three games, they’ve beaten notre dame, Michigan and Clemson, and only gave up 1 goal total in the three contests, which were won 1-0 (OT), 2-1 and 1-0. A very well-organized defensive team that smartly plays to its strengths. Last year some pundits rated the Big 12 as a better conference than the SEC. I thought that was nonsense. Some people again have the Big12 rated higher this year—again, nonsense. Texas a&m played Kansas yesterday and whipped the Jayhawks 5-1. The Aggies earlier tied Ok. State. Texas a&m has some nice talent and could finish near the top of the SEC this year, IMO, in part because playing the aggies on their home field—with the crowd very close to the field and the corpsmen always beating their drums, etc.---is difficult. Don’t tell that to Butler, however: They went into College Station and beat A&M 2-0, the only Aggie loss this year. Florida has another solid team, as it does almost every year. The gators had both of their games this past weekend canceled because of Hurricane Irma, one of them against Florida St. The gators surprised me by beating Stanford in Gainesville, 3-2, but they earlier got beat by what I think is a middling Washington team, and so it is not clear just how strong the gators will be. Probably pretty strong. There is a lot of talent and they are well coached, and they will be a favorite in nearly all of their SEC games. Potential sleepers in the SEC this year could be Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Mississippi has scored a lot of goals thus far and I believe is unbeaten—though they did play a 1-1 tie with Michigan. The rebels certainly seem solid, at this point. We’ll know a lot more about this team soon as their next game is Thursday against Florida, in Gainesville. Alabama was a middling team last year but surprised everybody this year with their impressive win against Florida State in Tuscaloosa. Bama otherwise has beaten a fairly weak group of non-conference opponents with the exception of South Florida, which gave the tide its only loss. As with Mississippi, we’ll get a better read on Alabama with their next game—against South Carolina, in Columbia. Tennessee will be a team to watch. The Vols are undefeated, having beaten a weak group of non-conference teams and then yesterday pretty much having their way with Va. Tech, winning 3-1. (I think Va. Tech will struggle in the ACC this year.) Tennessee can and will throw a lot of pretty talented and athletic players on the field, and this year they are playing some pretty decent possession soccer. They’ve got an imposing and skilled center forward in Bunny Shaw, a JC transfer and member of the Jamaican women’s national team, and diminutive Katie Cousins, who started for the USA U20 NT, is an impressive defensive midfielder. The Vols are overloaded with good midfielders, some of whom have been forced into other positions. This is a team that needs to get a win either against florida or south carolina this year. As for everybody else, Arkansas, the surprise team in the SEC if not the country last year, doesn’t seem quite as good this year—but they are still hard to play with their direct, banshee style of soccer, which amounts mostly to kicking the ball toward the opponent’s goal and sending five girls after it at top speed. The hogs lost two away non-conference games this past weekend, to Connecticut and Providence, but they played a respectable game against Penn State and so are sure to create problems for opponents. Georgia, the worst team in the SEC last year, is improved but probably still not good enough. Vandy plays a nice possession style of soccer, and has arguably the best athlete in the conference in forward Simone Charly, but the Commodores have already lost three games (to Indiana, Rhode Island and St. Louis), so not sure how competitive they will be. Same for LSU and Miss. State—two teams that were not especially good last year. I haven’t seen either of them play this year, so we’ll have to see how they fare. Lastly, Missouri has been a solid program and should be solid this year. How solid, it is too soon to say. The tigers have some speedy forwards, and played a good first half against Southern Cal before being handled in the second. More recently they lost back-to-back 1-2 road games against TCU and Northwestern before rebounding with a win at home yesterday against San Diego State. Like a lot of teams, Missouri plays a lot better at home than on the road. Whew—too many teams! It promises to be another competitive and crazy SEC season.