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NCAA Preview Week 6: Questions linger as season enters second half

According to most programs’ schedules, we’re more than halfway through the regular season. Crazy, right? It feels like the season just began. In the next month and a half, there’s a lot to be sorted and lingering questions that need resolving. Perhaps we’ll get some of those questions ironed out this weekend. Here’s a look at some of Week 6’s most appealing contests.

NCAA GAME OF THE WEEK:

No.  6 Florida Gators vs Texas A&M Aggies

Deanne Rose has the potential to be a game changer for Florida in the Gators’ SEC clash against Texas A&M. (photo by Matt Stamey/courtesy of Florida)

Time: Thursday, September 21, 7 p.m. ET

How to Watch: SEC Network/WatchESPN

These two teams have accounted for all but one of the SEC tournament titles since Texas A&M joined the conference in 2012. Therefore, if you want a glimpse of what may be in Orange Beach, Ala. later this fall, you may want to tune into tonight’s match. 

The Aggies have scored 12 goals in seven games on the year. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that five of those goals came in a 5-1 thrashing of Kansas. If Texas A&M is going to compete for another title this season, the offense needs to get going. They have the personnel to do it with seniors Mikaela Harvey, Haley Pounds and redshirt sophomore Ally Watts. It’s just a matter of whether they’ll get rolling.

For the Gators, watch to see if Canadian international Deanna Rose can build upon her two-goal performance against Iowa State last time out. While the freshman has brought dynamism to the Gators attack, those efforts haven’t always paid dividends.

No. 4 Duke Blue Devils  vs  Notre Dame

Time: Thursday, September 21, 7 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN

There aren’t many players in as impressive form as Duke’s Imani Dorsey. The senior led the team in scoring a year ago with seven tallies, a total she’s already reached this season. The Blue Devils are also on a roll, having won every contest since an overtime loss to North Carolina in the season opener.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish’s defense allowed only nine goals a season ago but saw their season end prematurely in the NCAA tournament after losing to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the first round. Certainly, Notre Dame wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again, and a win against Duke would definitely boost their resume and possibly catapult them into the top 25 rankings, which they are just outside presently.

Junior defender Rachel Heard was an important cog in last year’s shutdown defense, leading the team in minutes on the season. Heard possesses good recovery speed and is also apt at handling distribution out of the back. Offensively for the Fighting Irish, keep an eye on Jennifer Westendorf, who leads the team in assists with seven. The skillful forward’s service on set pieces can be deadly, and she’s no slouch in the run of play either.

No. 21 Tennessee Volunteers vs No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks

Time: Sunday, September 24, 2 p.m. ET

How to Watch:  SEC Network/ SEC+(WatchESPN)

Tennessee is one of just two teams, the other being Texas, that’s perfect on the season.  Not many would have picked the Volunteers to be in such a position given that Tennessee has only gotten one NCAA tournament bid during Brian Pensky’s five-year tenure. Things are certainly looking different in his sixth. After the team’s less than arduous non-conference schedule, the question remains: Is Tennessee for real? Sunday’s contest against No. 3 South Carolina should be a good litmus test.

The Volunteers will look to junior college transfer Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who’s been one of the surprising breakout stars on the season. The Jamaica native plays more like a lion than her nickname may suggest, and her tenacious play up top has already led to considerable success in her first season in Knoxville. She leads the team in goals with eight and also won SEC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

It may be difficult for Shaw to operate on Sunday, as the Gamecocks’ defense has allowed just one goal in its last five matches led by sophomore goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski. The stretch included games against Clemson, Michigan and Notre Dame and helped South Carolina grab the top spot in college soccer’s RPI rankings.

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