Who rose and who fell in NCAA fall sports this season
The GIST: Now that it’s officially winter and fall sports (except football) are in the rearview mirror, we compared preseason rankings to final polls to see which teams exceeded expectations…and which were overhyped.
The biggest glow-ups: Duke field hockey pulled off a miraculous turnaround this year, going from dead-last in the ACC in 2022 to tied for first in 2023. They bootstrapped their way to success in one of the country’s toughest conferences, just like Ole Miss football — who thrived in the talent-packed SEC and booked a New Year’s Six game for their efforts.
- But “Most Improved” goes to Clemson soccer — women’s and men’s. The gals barely made the preseason Top 25 but finished with a No. 3 ranking and a College Cup appearance, while the guys rocketed from unranked at midseason to a national title.
The most dramatic falls: Minnesota volleyball fans are left wondering what went wrong after their Golden Gophers squandered a No. 7 preseason ranking, falling out of the Top 25 in mid-October and never returning to it again. In women’s soccer, preseason No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Virginia struggled so much that these perennial contenders failed to make the national tourney. Yikes.
- The most shocking downfall belongs to preseason-No. 6, now-unranked, USC football who fell short of sky-high expectations by losing five of their last six matchups. Even the Trojans’ 2022 Heisman-winning QB Caleb Williams couldn’t make up for that defense.
Parity’s up: The men’s soccer polls were characteristically chaotic, with half of the preseason Top 25 falling from the poll by the end of the year. However, women’s soccer took even more unexpected turns, with especially drastic turnover in the Top 10. These shifts reflect rising parity in an increasingly unpredictable game — any given team can rise to the top.