The leaves are turning bright colors, there is a crispness in the air on the morning walk and Halloween decorations are going up around the block. The usual sights and smells of early October provide daily reminders that we have settled firmly into football season.
And yet strangely, perhaps even alarmingly, I have preseason basketball and hockey on my mind.
Birthday No. 50 looms a few weeks on the horizon, so I haven't ruled out this development being a warning sign of a pending mid-life crisis. But I'll admit to feeling a genuine curiosity about the Timberwolves and Wild at a time in the calendar that normally is reserved for football tunnel vision.
The Timberwolves and Wild are still in training camp and preseason mode. Final rosters haven't even been set. I find both teams highly intriguing for different reasons, but mostly because this season feels like an inflection point for those organizations.
Can the reconstructed Wild take the next step and win in the playoffs?
Can the Wolves set aside dysfunction and show proof that Karl-Anthony Towns' tenure is moving toward something to celebrate?
Can Kirill Kaprizov and Anthony Edwards continue a trajectory to superstardom?
Can the Wolves play defense?
Can the Wild score on the power play?
Can both teams, for the love of Pete, provide enough entertainment to sustain us through the dregs of winter?
This is a big spot for those organizations. Each faces the duality of a fresh start and get-going edict.
The Wild begins the post-Zach Parise and Ryan Suter era. General Manager Bill Guerin accepted harsh salary cap repercussions in exchange for jettisoning the former cornerstones, essentially banking on rapid development of youngsters in the pipeline.
It's a gamble, but Guerin runs his operation with zero trepidation. He has a plan, he believes in it and he makes decisions with conviction. It helps to have young talent in the system.
Young stars create hope, and Kaprizov's dazzling rookie season left you wanting to see more. The Wild hasn't had a player with his skill and flair in its existence, someone who forces you to pay close attention every time he jumps on the ice because he might do something spectacular.
Cool, now show more.
That's the objective with Kaprizov's encore. Can he display that nifty playmaking over an 82-game season, against better competition than a division-only schedule and then become a force in the playoffs?
Hot-shot prospects Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy will join Kaprizov and scorer Kevin Fiala eventually, perhaps soon. Gone are the days when the Wild's lineup offers the same excitement as waiting in line at the DMV.
Expectations for the team 10 miles down I-94 isn't playoffs-or-bust, but the Wolves cannot afford to waste more seasons with Towns in their uniform. Towns himself seems acutely aware of the clock ticking loudly in the background. That shows encouraging self-awareness on his part, knowing he has deficiencies that must improve, but it also signals his fatigue in the organization constantly being viewed as a laughingstock.
Chris Finch is entering his first full season as coach, giving him a full offseason and training camp to implement his system. What does that look like?
Edwards sounds determined to become a two-way superstar, saying all the right things about becoming a better defender. Like Kaprizov, Edwards offers high entertainment value with his skill and flair. What's his ceiling? The Wolves have long been Towns' team. Suddenly, it feels like 1 and 1A: KAT and Ant.
And, of course, the annual conversation regarding the Wolves' commitment (or lack thereof) to defense remains a popular topic. Early reports of improvement are promising, though Towns knows it's all talk at this point.
"Obviously it sounds great right now," he said. "But how many years have you guys been hearing the same hoopla? It's up to us to go out there and prove it."
Refreshing perspective. Something to keep an eye on in preseason games.
Thinking about basketball and hockey in early October? I suppose the mind drifts when the local NFL team starts 1-3.