This is it. Five games against MAC competition, one a weekend from now into a November, and maybe Men's Soccer will make their first MAC Tournament since 2011 when all is said and done. UB has improved for the second consecutive year, but the conference as a whole is up in a big way over last season. The Bulls get their toughest test, against nationally-ranked Akron, out of the way first and at home tonight at 7:00 PM.
#8 Akron (8-2-1, 0-0-0 MAC)
Saturday, 3 October; 7:00 PM
All-time series: Akron leads, 23-1-1
Last Meeting: Akron, 4-0; 8 November 2014
2015 Common Opponents: The MAC
Streams: UB's UStream!
Live Stats: UB's Superior LiveStats!
Zips Player to Watch: Junior M Adam Najem
Najem's numbers seem a little down from last year's 14 goals, as he's just tied for the team lead with six. He does add four assists, though, and is pretty much the top weapon in the conference and a future MLS Superdraft first-round pick. He's got experience on the US U20 National Team, though he hasn't seen any action with the U23s in the now nearly-complete Olympic Qualifying cycle. Still, he's got a pedigree that outclasses everyone else on the field.
Akron is back up to #8 in the country, and deservedly so thanks to road wins over ranked Georgetown and Maryland, and votes-receiving Santa Barbara. But they also started the season ranked 25th and dropped out after a lackluster first weekend only to climb their way back up.
The Zips are very good and will present a tough test for UB. Over the summer I looked at UB's improving squad and thought a berth in the MAC Tournament was a fair expectation. I never considered leapfrogging Akron a reasonable one, but this weekend only begins a five-match MAC gauntlet, as across the board the entire conference has gotten better. Bowling Green and Western Michigan have both spent time in the polls, Northern Illinois already has a MAC win over the Falcons, and West Virginia of course has the power conference pedigree and money in their program.
All of this is to say, even though the Zips are the top of the heap, the MAC opener will provide a crucial bar for the Bulls. Finding a way to earn a point or three would go a long, long way towards a tournament berth, and even a stronger showing than last year's 4-0 loss (in which Cicerone was hobbled by a bum ankle) would inspire confidence for UB chances against the rest of the MAC.
Around the MAC
Only one MAC game is in the books right now, a win for Northern Illinois over Bowling Green. The Falcons spent a moment ranked this season and are led by Hermann Award watchlist member Pat Flynn, and I think are a touch better than the Huskies, so that result is probably a good one for the Bulls, though a tie would have been even better,
In individual stats, Russell Cicerone is tied for the conference lead in points and in second in goals and assists. Marcus Hanson and Scott Doney are each tied for third in the conference in assists with five apiece.