1.  North Carolina – The Tar Heels lose a lot of key players from their 2011 National Championship team but a solid core returns led by forward Rob Lovejoy, midfielder Mikey Lopez, defenders Jordan McCrary and Boyd Okwuonu and senior goalkeeper Scott Goodwin supplemented by one of the top recruiting classes in the country.  When you are the defending National Champions and you have been to four consecutive Final Fours you deserve to be ranked number one until someone proves otherwise.  The early schedule is challenging but conducive to giving the Tar Heels the chance to gel as a team. 

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2.  New Mexico - Nine starters return from the 2011 team that was 18-0-4 and was ranked number one for a significant portion of the season.  Senior forward Devon Sandoval (8g, 8a), senior midfielder Blake Smith (10g, 5a), junior center back Kyle Venter, and goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez are among what looks to be one of the deepest, most experienced, and talented teams in the country in 2012.  Hungry plus talented equals wins.  New Mexico opens the 2012 season with matches on the road with UCLA, Tulsa and SMU.  If the chemistry and focus are there then the sky is the limit for the Lobos.


3.  Charlotte – No team played with more heart or worked harder than Charlotte did in the NCAA Tourney last year.  Whether the 49ers can maintain that level of intensity under new head coach Kevin Langan remains to be seen.  However, with eight starters back including the likes of sophomore forward Giuseppe Gentile (10g, 2a), senior forward Donnie Smith (5g, 3a), junior midfielder Tyler Gibson (3g, 6a), senior defender Aaron Weldon and junior goalkeeper Klay Davis the 49ers will be a very dangerous opponent.  The 49ers experienced the thrill of victory last year and should be hungry for more.

4.  Connecticut –The Huskies had 19 wins last year but squandered what looked to be a sure trip to the Final Four when they let a 1-0 led over Charlotte slip away from them with 8 minutes remaining in regulation at home.  With that memory in mind, eight starters return including forwards Stephane Diop (5g, 7a) and Mamadou Doudou Diouf (13g, 2a), midfielder Carlos Alvarez (6g, 8a) and super sophomore netminder Andre Blake.  The 2012 squad has the talent and chemistry of a Final Four team.  Ray Reid has the required drive and toughness but the question is whether the Husky players have it. Their record in big games begs skepticism.  


5.  Maryland - The Terps sprinted out to a 11-0-1 record last year then unexpectedly limped down the home stretch with a 3-4-2 record in their last nine games.  With eight starters back and no early departures to deal with Maryland is well positioned to put together a complete season in 2012.  The Terps are a Final Four  caliber team but they do clearly have some work to do for that to be a reality.  Senior All-American midfielder John Stertzer (14g, 4a), junior forwards Patrick Mullins (6g, 3a) and Sunny Jane (1g, 8a) and senior backs Taylor Kemp and London Woodbury are among key returning players.