The college football weekend is highlighted by several teams that have gotten off to excellent starts, but still have much prove. Sure, they are better than last year, but how much better? Bowl teams? Conference championship contenders? National championship contenders?
Here are five teams that we’ll learn a lot about on Saturday.
1) No. 15 Washington (4-0). The Huskies have a load of talent — RB Bishop Sankey, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Shaq Thompson, just to name a few of the future early round NFL draft picks — but were thought to a bit too inexperienced to matchup against the Pac-12 North’s super powers. Washington visits No. 5 Stanford this week and is home for No. 2 Oregon next week. Beat the Cardinal and the Huskies can tell the world, their time is now.
2) No. 16 Northwestern (4-0). Pat Fitzgerald is simply one of the best coaches in the country. He’s taken the Wildcats to five straight bowls and made them a formidable Big Ten team — but never a serious conference contender. With No. 4 Ohio State coming to Evanston, Ill., to face Fitzgerald’s best team yet, the Wildcats can take that next step forward.
3) No. 25 Maryland (4-0). Remember when some Terrapins fans were looking to run coach Randy Edsall out of Maryland? Well, after two sad seasons, the Terps are on the rise behind dual-threat QB C.J. Brown and a defense that ranks sixth in the nation in yards allowed per game (263.8) and first in sacks (17). A trip to No. 8 Florida State represents a major step-up in competition for a team with few seniors.
4) Auburn (3-1). The Tigers can surpass last season’s win total with a victory at home against No. 24 Mississippi. The Tigers have been leaning on the running game as they break in new starting QB Nick Marshall, and the defense is below average. But a victory against Mississippi will signal that coach Gus Malzahn’s rebuilding job is moving along quickly.
5) Georgia Tech (3-1). The Yellow Jackets under coach Paul Johnson have been fairly reliable. The triple-option attack churns out yards and the defense gives them up. This season, though, led by LBs Brandon Watts and Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech has been stingy. The Yellow Jackets have lost four straight to No. 14 Miami. Snap that streak and they become a threat to reach the ACC championship game, even with that loss last week to Virginia Tech.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP