Pick Six: Fast starters with lots to prove
Northwestern and Kansas State, a pair of Wildcats who came into the season with modest expectations, are still undefeated - and unranked.
Maryland has won four of its first five games for a coach who badly needs a winning season. Colorado and its beleaguered coach are halfway to bowl eligibility.
Some teams have gotten off to good starts without much attention. The catch is they still have much to prove because of the soft competition they've faced.
- COLORADO (3-1). The university's budget issues helped keep coach Dan Hawkins and his $3.1 million buyout in Boulder for the 2010 season. So far, he's making the most of it. The Buffaloes routed rival Colorado State to start the season and knocked of crumbling Georgia on Saturday.
Reason to be skeptical: California 52, CU 7.
Reason to be optimistic: Hard to find. The Buffs don't do anything particularly well. The run defense ranks second in the Big 12, but that's mostly because Hawaii ran for 7 yards. Confidence should be high after beating the Bulldogs, but this still could go very wrong.
- KANSAS STATE (4-0). Coach Bill Snyder is up to his old tricks in Manhattan, building a competitive team around junior college transfers, such as Daniel Thomas, fifth in the nation in rushing (157 ypg), and defensive lineman Prizell Brown, who leads the team with three sacks.
Reason to be skeptical: The Wildcats are the worst passing team in the Big 12, and first-year starter Carson Coffman has yet to break 200 yards through the air against an FBS opponent.
Reason to be optimistic: If you're going to ride a running back, you can't do much better than Thomas, a 230-pounder future NFL draft pick. The Wildcats can make a statement against No. 7 Nebraska at home Thursday night.
- MARYLAND (4-1). After going 2-10 last season, coach Ralph Friedgen and head coach-in-waiting James Franklin are guaranteed nothing beyond 2010. The Terps lost four games by four points or less last season. So far, they've won the close ones, beating Navy by one and Duke by five.
Reason to be skeptical: The Terps rank ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in defense and 11th in offense. They're riding a plus-7 turnover margin, and some of those bounces are bound to even out.
Reason to be optimistic: ACC Atlantic division rivals Wake Forest and Boston College are rebuilding and Coastal Division lightweight Virginia is also on the schedule.
- NORTHWESTERN (5-0). New starting quarterback Dan Persa has the Wildcats' spread humming - he is third in the nation in passer rating (184.6) - and coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to look like a rising star.
Reason to be skeptical: The four FBS teams Northwestern has beaten are a combined 6-14, none with even a .500 record. Three of those victories are by a combined eight points.
Reason to be optimistic: Ohio State and Michigan aren't on the Big Ten schedule, and it will take only one upset the rest of the way for the Wildcats to get to 10 victories.
- SAN DIEGO STATE (3-1). The Aztecs are a long, late touchdown in a 27-24 loss to Missouri away from being unbeaten. Brady Hoke, who led Ball State to a 12-0 regular season in 2008, might finally be the coach to turn around this long-languishing program.
Reason to be skeptical: The Aztecs have one win against an FCS team and another against winless New Mexico State. And this is a program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1998.
Reason to be optimistic: Freshman Ronnie Hillman is seventh in the nation in rushing (133 ypg) and quarterback Ryan Lindley leads the top passing offense in the Mountain West Conference. And how good does that 41-7 victory against Utah State look considering how the Aggies scared Oklahoma and crushed BYU?
- SYRACUSE (3-1). Times have been tough in Upstate New York, where coach Doug Marrone is still digging out from the Greg Robinson blizzard that brought the program to a standstill. So the Orange's best start in seven years provides some relief for a beaten-down fan base.
Reason to be skeptical: The wins have come against Akron, Maine and Colgate. The loss: 41-20 at Washington.
Reason to be optimistic: Have you seen the rest of the Big East?
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