Indiana and Maryland among the disappointments
Is it actually possible that there's really only a little over a month left in the men's college soccer season?
This is the point when we can actually assess how teams are doing -- not that we weren't already, but now we don't have to qualify it with "of course, it's still early."
With that in mind, here's a look at which teams, for better or worse, have stood out so far.
Who's been impressive
Northwestern (currently No. 7 in the NSCAA rankings) -- This isn't a shock, but it is a pleasant surprise to see a team actually fulfilling the expectations that come with a deep tournament run. After advancing to the Elite Eight last year, the question was whether the Wildcats could build on that success and carry their momentum. The answer is yes. The team did see a four-game winning streak snapped by Penn State last week, but that marked Northwestern's first loss of the year. Northwestern is an impressive 7-1-1 and has a legitimate shot at the Big Ten title.
Connecticut (No. 2) -- It was understandable that everyone was apprehensive when it came to the Huskies in 2007. The team was much-hyped last postseason, but very little materialized in terms of results (namely, a first-round home loss to Fairfield in the NCAA Tournament). This year's squad has managed to turn a subpar 2006 season into the motivation needed for a superb one (9-1 so far). Connecticut's nine wins are the most of any team in the top 30.
Creighton (No. 10) -- It was obvious the Bluejays felt pretty confident about the squad they had when they signed only two recruits for this season. The team suffered a loss before the season even started -- Byron Dacy tore his ACL in an exhibition game. Dacy, whom many believed would be a key part of the offense, is out for the season, but that hasn't slowed Creighton. The Bluejays have established themselves as a contender.
Virginia Tech (No. 9) -- The Hokies don't get nearly as much attention as some of their ACC rivals, but so far Virginia Tech has been among the conference's best. A draw against No. 4 Virginia proves this team is a legitimate threat, and a 6-1-2 record backs that up.
Who needs to pick it up
UCLA -- Talk of the Bruins being the heavy favorite for the 2007 national title began about 15 minutes after the '06 trophy was presented to Santa Barbara last December. There was good reason to believe such speculation. UCLA played in the championship game last year and returned a strong core of players, adding just three new recruits to what was already a solid lineup. The Bruins struggled from the start, going 0-2-1, before getting a win over Ohio State. For a moment, it looked like things were on the upswing in Westwood. The Bruins racked up three straight wins and then took a top-10 Santa Clara squad to overtime. However, a 3-0 loss to Cal State Northridge (UCLA's first-ever defeat to the Matadors) muffles any talk of a turnaround.
Santa Barbara (No. 18) -- The Gauchos shocked pretty much everyone last year with their dramatic postseason success story. As the reigning national champion, flying under the radar was out of the question this season. Santa Barbara returned enough depth and talent to be considered a legitimate contender. Add in the intangibles that carried the team to glory in 2006, and no one wanted to count out Santa Barbara. Perhaps the Gauchos shine brightest when it's the postseason and it matters most. But they are far from underdogs now and have yet to prove they can deliver as a favorite.
At a crossroads
Indiana (No. 17) -- The Hoosiers looked strong at the start of the season but dropped three straight games, resulting in a corresponding drop in the rankings. Indiana can still be expected to challenge for the Big Ten title, but for a team that is perennially among the top in the nation, just hanging on to a spot in the top 20 isn't enough.
Maryland -- This might be the inevitable down year for the Terrapins, who find themselves in an unfamiliar position near the bottom of the ACC. After opening the year among the top 10 in the nation, Maryland is 0-3 in conference play and 3-4-1 overall.
Sure, it's only a month into the regular season, so nothing is set in stone. But we've definitely made the transition from "it's still early" to "things better start clicking."
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.