It's too soon to start celebrating, but Westminster and South Carroll have passed some early football tests and head into crunch time with a lot of confidence.
Liberty is also off to a decent start, winning two of four games to double its total of victories (1-9) last season.
Westminster is thinking 4A playoffs after impressive wins over 4A opponents Woodlawn and Meade. The Owls (3-1) are doing a lot of things right for first-year coach Tim Ebersole.
On Friday night, when Westminster meets always-strong Thomas Johnson in Frederick, people will find out just how far Ebersole has taken the Owls football program.
In its first four games, Westminster has been equally adept at running and passing behind standout senior quarterback Steve Mays and a huge offensive line.
Senior running back Eric Jones handles most of the rushing, and he is also a good receiver, giving Mays three top pass catchers. Justin Skolkoff and Tim Herb are other outstanding targets.
All the Westminster backs and receivers have found life a lot easier with 305-pound Jim Stull, Jed Harris (270) and Mat Mathias (240) blocking for them.
The primary question for the Owls against top-notch competition is whether their size can compensate for a lack of outstanding speed.
At South Carroll (3-1), coach Gene Brown soon will find out how much better the Cavaliers are. His team started 4-1 4-1 last year but lost its last five games.
South Carroll is heavily favored Friday night against North Carroll before it runs into the same teams that dealt it five straight setbacks last year.
Linganore, Thomas Johnson, Damascus, Frederick and Westminster all await South Carroll and its marvelous running back, Greg Mihalko.
After Friday night's 26-6 win over Liberty, Mihalko said he and his teammates are facing the stretch drive with a different attitude.
"Last year we wondered if we could beat those good teams. This year we believe we can do it," said Mihalko, who not only can run through tacklers but is probably the best defensive back in the county and one of the best in the area.
Mihalko praised the offensive line for helping him gain 107 yards in the first half against Liberty. He cited Dan McKennie, Dan McKinney, Dan Pickett, Joel Logue, Marc Bowers and Jason Robinson.
The Cavaliers have a lot of passing weapons with quarterback Tom Luster and receivers Tom Lapato, Bryan Herche and Mihalko, but Brown hasn't turned his passing game loose.
Against the Lions Friday night, the game plan was to run from the start because Brown figured his team could be successful that way.
"Not as many things can go wrong when you're not passing the ball wildly like we did last year," said Brown.
However, Brown might have to take his chances through the air against Thomas Johnson, Damascus, Linganore and Westminster.
Brown would like to drop always-strong Damascus from his schedule because the game comes in the middle of a tough stretch of Central Maryland Conference games.
But South Carroll athletic director Fred Baker said he hasn't been able to find a suitable opponent to replace Damascus as the eighth game on the schedule.
"Anyway, I like playing Damascus because they're so near to us and it makes for a good rivalry and a good gate," said Baker.
For Liberty (2-2), it is a lot easier to be optimistic these days than in the past two seasons, when the Lions had to wait for the last game to win their only game of the year (victories over North Carroll both times).
Under second-year coach Ken Johnson, Liberty beat Glenelg in the season opener and beat Archbishop Spalding two weeks later.
Last Friday against South Carroll, Johnson said his team ran into a squad that "is still bigger physically than us, and we couldn't stop them on the ground."
Jones keeps plugging away
Francis Scott Key junior Ali Jones has been through a lot since making a big splash in the county girls cross country championship race two years ago.
Jones won the individual title as a freshman but didn't come close to repeating as a sophomore and is struggling this season.
She finished 30th (22 minutes, 41 seconds) in the Westminster Invitational two weeks ago but was still upbeat.
"I'm trying very hard to get back to the level of my freshman year, but my body isn't responding," Jones said. "I've just kind of blocked everything out that happened last year and hope to get better as this season goes on. I had a lot of injuries and bad luck last season."