ORONO – Are University of Maine football fans giddy or cautious?

Their team is off to a 7-1 start, the best beginning for the Black Bears since quarterback Mike Buck was leading an 8-0 team in 1989.

The Black Bears finished the regular season with a 9-2 record that year, then lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

How far can this Maine team go?

The Black Bears are alone atop the Colonial Athletic Association with a 5-0 mark, and are ranked No. 7 in the national poll.

But November looks imposing.

In the next three weeks, Maine faces arguably its three toughest opponents — today against Towson, next week against Massachusetts and Nov. 19 at New Hampshire.

At best the Black Bears would win out and finish with 10 regular-season wins, the CAA title and a high seed in the NCAA playoffs.

At worst, Maine loses three straight and likely misses the postseason.

Maine will stumble if it looks too far ahead. Ask Towson about that. The Tigers, a perennial league doormat, jumped out to a 6-1 start and 4-0 in the conference before losing to Delaware 35-30 last week.

“With success came distractions,” said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. “The Delaware game probably helped us got our focus back on what got us there in the first place.”

The Black Bears hope they don’t need a loss to stay focused.

“We need to be able to handle success to continue the path that we’re on,” said Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth, the Maine senior backup quarterback and special teams leader. “So far we’ve done a good job finding a way to win. There have been mistakes and we’ve addressed them.”

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove knows there’s a buzz about a league title and another postseason berth.

“Human nature says you peek ahead but it’s not something I’m concerned about,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve been grounded. We talk about being humble and hungry. That’s what gets you through this league.”

Maine has gone through the league unbeaten with one of the best defenses in the conference. The Black Bears will be challenged by the Tigers, who feature the best rushing game in the CAA (226 yards per game).

Tailback Terrance West (6.2 yards per carry) and Dominique Booker (5.5) lead the Tigers, with quarterback Grant Enders (4.5) also a threat.

“They run the ball very well,” Cosgrove said. “You have to be mindful of the run and not only be mindful, you have to tackle. Their (running backs) create things on their own. They have a cutback mentality.”

Maine has relied more on the pass (250 yards per game) than the rush (130), but the Black Bears still will try to break running back Pushaun Brown (4.9 average) loose. Quarterback Warren Smith has passed for 2,003 yards in eight games.

Maine has been impressive but still has a way to go.

“We identified problems after last season (a 4-7 year), and put together a fix-it list,” Cosgrove said. “One of the things prominent on the list was not getting ahead of ourselves.”

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases