Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 26, 2016

Wisconsin is an early-season surprise. Can the Badgers win the Big Ten West? Keep an eye on Nebraska. Northwestern?s fortunes haven?t been as kind, while Michigan State and Penn State need to get on track.


Here is what I?m buying and selling as we enter Week 5.

Wisconsin is legit?
BUY. That?s what beating two top-10 teams before the first leaf has fallen off a tree will do. UW last did that in a season in 1962, as Wisconsin has knocked off then-No. 5 LSU and then-No. 8 Michigan State. The Badgers still have depth issues on the offensive line. And star running back Corey Clement has a bum ankle. Will he ever be 100 percent? Still, Wisconsin has a terrific defense (check out the front seven) and has found a quarterback in redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, who looked cool and calm on Saturday making his first start. And he did so in a hostile Spartan Stadium. But, again, it has been about the defense, which has been off-the-charts good, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (11.8 ppg); No. 2 in total defense (277.0 ypg); No. 1 vs. the rush (80.5 ypg); No. 6 vs. the pass (196.5 ypg). Who knows? Maybe the Badgers will win the Big Ten.

The Badgers will have a winning October?
SELL. The grueling October slate looks like this: at Michigan; Ohio State; at Iowa; Nebraska. That is brutal, especially after already playing powers LSU and Michigan State. I think a 2-2 mark would be cause for celebration-and it very well could happen. But 4-0 or 3-1 against that schedule would be beyond remarkable.

Nebraska is the team to beat in the West?
SELL. Yes, the Cornhuskers are looking good as they ride a 4-0 start. The offense is percolating behind one-man-gang Tommy Armstrong at quarterback. There are weapons galore for an improving line to block for. Plus, the defense is holding its own, especially up front. But Nebraska has games at Wisconsin and at Iowa looming. In the end, I think the Hawkeyes or Badgers are the teams to beat in the West. And the Hawkeyes may have the edge, thanks largely to their schedule. Wisconsin and Nebraska both come to Iowa City.

Tommy Armstrong is the early Big Ten Offensive MVP?
BUY. I am well aware of the exploits of Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, who is No. 1 in the Big Ten in pass efficiency, hitting 67 percent of his passes for 650 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception, to go along with 159 yards rushing and three scores. But Armstrong has some lofty numbers, too. He is No. 3 in efficiency with a 56.6 percent completion percentage for 931 yards with eight touchdowns and one pick, to go along with 281 yards rushing and four scores. That?s 303 yards of offense per game (No. 3 in total offense in the league). No QB means as much to his team as Armstrong.

Michigan State should be worried?
BUY. The Spartans have to look in the mirror and figure out who they are. MSU opened with a sleepy home victory vs. FCS Furman. Then, the Spartans blasted Notre Dame, 36-28. And that victory looks tainted given the 1-3 Irish?s loss at home to Duke last week. Now, this: A 30-6 shellacking at home to a Wisconsin club that started a redshirt freshman QB for the first time. The big issues seem to be on offense. QB Tyler O?Connor hit just 18-of-38 passes for 224 yards with no touchdowns and three picks. Is he the answer? And the ground game netted only 75 yards on 27 carries. This week?s game at Indiana looks dangerous. Full-blown panic may set in if the Spartans fall to the Hoosiers.

Penn State is at a potential tipping point coming off a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan?
BUY. Which direction is this season going to go? The 2-2 Nittany Lions welcome unbeaten Minnesota this Saturday in what feels like a must-win game. After that comes a visit from Maryland, which is off to a 3-0 start. A bye week follows the Terps game before Ohio State invades State College. The Nittany Lion defense is a mess, as the linebacking corps is a M.A.S.H. unit. No wonder PSU is last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (32.8 ppg) and last in rushing (213.8 ypg). And that high-powered offense? Well, it ranks last overall in the Big Ten (338.5 ypg) and last in rushing (101.3 ypg).

Northwestern will make a bowl?
SELL. The Wildcats? 10-win season of glory in 2015 already is fading from memory amid a sobering 1-3 start. There have been losses to a MAC team (Western Michigan) and a FCS squad (Illinois State). And NU opened with a Big Ten loss to Nebraska in Evanston. The lone win: vs. Duke. The offense continues to putt around, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring (16.3 ppg) and No. 13 in total offense (347.5 ypg). The run game has shriveled, ranking 11th (177.5 ypg). The defense also hasn?t excelled, ranking last overall in the conference (435.0 ypg). Up next are games at Iowa and at Michigan State. There also are games at Ohio State and at Minnesota along with a home tilt vs. Wisconsin. Getting to six wins, in other words going 5-3 in its final eight games, may be a challenge-a big challenge.

Hope floats at Purdue?
BUY. After a workmanlike 24-14 win vs. Nevada, there is a glimmer of optimism in West Lafayette. Darrell Hazell and his team needed this victory badly. The 2-1 Boilermakers outplayed the Wolf Pack and deserved to win after outgaining Nevada, 466-253, but still needed the opponent to miss a chippy 27-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that would have tied the score. Still, this is the type of victory that could be a springboard to something better. A trip to Maryland is next. The offense can be very good behind QB David Blough, RB Markell Jones and WRs DeAngelo Yancey and Dom Young-but turnovers (the Boilers are last in the Big Ten in turnover margin) must be trimmed. And if an underrated line plays to its potential and like it did vs. Nevada, the defense can be solid.

Indiana should be alarmed by the loss to Wake Forest?
BUY. The 33-28 home loss to Wake Forest was unexpected-and could do some long-term damage. The offense netted just 115 yards rushing, as Devine Redding had only 68 yards on 16 carries. Stud linemen Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel missed the game with injury. And QB Richard Lagow erupted for five interceptions after entering the Wake game with no picks. The Hoosiers? next three games are Michigan State, at Ohio State, Nebraska. IU needs to get things figured out, or returning to the postseason may be an issue.

Maryland could start 6-0?
BUY. The Terrapins already are 3-0, beating FCS Howard, Florida International and Central Florida. Up next: A visit from Purdue. That?s followed by a trip to Penn State and home tilt vs. Minnesota. So, Maryland could be 6-0 when Michigan State comes to College Park on Oct. 22. The fact Maryland has no turnovers is a big key.