Like Will Smith circa 1999, we’re heading straight to the wild, wild West.

Just 2 games into the Big Ten schedule, everyone in the West with the exception of Wisconsin is tied for first place. (Which, as it turns out, comes with more serious consequences for the Badgers head coach than most of us realized.)

Well actually, Big Ten Network, things are playing out just as we predicted at Saturday Tradition. Er, sort of.

In our Crystal Ball preseason series, I predicted that 4 teams would finish tied atop the Big Ten West standings at 5-4 in conference play: Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota and Iowa. Nebraska was just off the pace at 4-5.

It appears that we may be heading in that general direction. With one very notable exception.

The Badgers.

Given the state of the division, 0-2 by itself is no reason to panic. But this is no ordinary 0-2. The Badgers didn’t drop a couple of heartbreakers. They lost to Ohio State and Illinois by a combined 55 points. So Wisconsin hit the panic button with a sledgehammer and fired Paul Chryst on Sunday.

To program outsiders, it’s a shocking dismissal. Chryst has won 72% of his games in 8 seasons. He’s never had a losing season. He’s never been accused of boorishness by players, fans or media.

But cracks have been forming at Wisconsin’s foundation. The Badgers were favored in every game in 2020, but went 4-3. This season is Wisconsin’s second-straight 2-3 start after being picked to win the West.

More tellingly, the loss to Illinois was the second straight time Wisconsin has committed 10 penalties in a game this season. That’s never happened twice in a season at Wisconsin. And it’s a sure sign of a team that’s tuned its coach out.

The hope is the Badgers will be more receptive to the young, energetic message of interim coach Jim Leonhard.

But with Graham Mertz at quarterback, will the messenger matter?

Wisconsin hasn’t lost consecutive games by this margin since 2008, when Penn State (49-7) and Iowa (38-16) put the closing statements on a 4-game losing streak.

The ’08 Badgers were an anomaly — Bret Bielema’s only team to win fewer than 8 games. Somehow they got to 7-5 after closing the season with a 1-point win over FCS Cal Poly and a 3-point win over Minnesota.

That season remains the closest Wisconsin has come to missing a bowl game since 2001. Wisconsin’s streak of 19 straight bowl games is the third-longest in the country behind Georgia (24) and Oklahoma (22).

The primary reason for this year’s struggles is much the same it was in 2008 — shoddy quarterback play.

Those Badgers were led by the disastrous duo of Dustin Sherer (54.5% completions, 126.2 YPG, 7.3 YPA, 6 TDs, 5 INTs) and Allan Evridge (53.8% completions, 158.2 YPG, 7.2 YPA, 5 TDs, 5 INTs).

Mertz is their spiritual successor.

After showing signs of major progress in Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule, Mertz has reverted to prior form against Big Ten competition. He’s averaging 150 yards per game (14th in B1G), 5.8 yards per attempt (10th) and 53.8% completions (12th) with a 103.5 passer rating (12th).

That’s a sample size of only 2 games, which a statistician would tell you is unfair. But it’s a continuation of trends we saw last year, when Mertz averaged 147.6 yards per game with 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in Big Ten play.

His numbers should improve a bit if Wisconsin isn’t constantly playing from behind. But with a defense this young, it appears the Badgers might be down more often than not.

And then there’s the matter of who, exactly, Mertz will be throwing to the rest of the season.

Tight end Clay Cundiff and wide receiver Keontez Lewis — Wisconsin’s No. 3 and 4 targets, respectively — are clearly out for the remainder of the season after recent cart-offs. Backup tight end turned starter Hayden Rucci also left with an injury against Illinois.

An already thin passing game could be down to skin and bones. For a quarterback as limited as Mertz already is, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Wisconsin’s aspirations should be on preserving the bowl streak rather than reaching the Big Ten championship game.

We may well be heading toward a multi-team tie for the Big Ten West title. But it’s unlikely the Badgers will be among those teams, even with a new voice in the room.

Around the B1G horn

Couldn’t watch every game? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

No. 3 Ohio State 49, Rutgers 10

Legend has it Lee Corso took a team picture in front of the scoreboard when Indiana took a 7-6 lead against Ohio State in 1976, which was IU’s first lead over the Buckeyes in 11 years. (That part may be exaggerated, but a scoreboard photo was definitely used in Indiana’s recruiting brochure the following year.)

Ohio State went on to win the game 47-7.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano didn’t take a scoreboard pic when the Scarlet Knights took their first-ever lead over the Buckeyes, but he did attempt an onside kick. And unlike Scott Frost’s ill-fated onside attempt against Northwestern, it was worth the gambit.

But that’s not the special teams play everybody was talking about afterward.

Instead, the focus was on the Ohio State fake punt that nearly precipitated a brawl.

However, the furor here is largely misplaced. This wasn’t a case of Ryan Day attempting to rub salt in Rutgers’ wounds.

Ohio State punter Jesse Mirco is one of the most rarely used players in college football. He’s been on the field 16 times this season. But he probably practices a lot. And at practice, a rugby-style punter is trained to tuck the ball and run for the first down when the punt defense doesn’t have anyone on the edge.

In this case, Rutgers did not. So Mirco ran for it.

Given that the score was 49-10, this was not the most sporting decision. But Mirco is Australian. Maybe they aren’t hung up on that kind of thing down there.

Either way, he got what was coming his way with a jarring hit from Rutgers return man Aron Cruickshank. It was an extremely late hit, but you know what they say about stupid games and stupid prizes.

If Mirco didn’t know decorum was supposed to prevent him from taking off in that situation, now he does. Vividly. No reason for anyone to dwell on it beyond that.

No. 4 Michigan 27, Iowa 14

Michigan snapped a 4-game losing streak at Kinnick Stadium. And Jim Harbaugh won in Iowa City for the first time ever — he was 0-2 as a player and 0-1 as a coach before Saturday.

Blake Corum had 133 yards on 29 carries, which puts him at an average of 29.5 carries per game in Big Ten play. No Big Ten running back has averaged at least 29 carries a game since Le’Veon Bell at Michigan State in 2011. At the moment, both Corum and Illinois’ Chase Brown are above that threshold.

No. 11 Penn State 17, Northwestern 7

This is what you expect a game played in a steady downpour to look like — miserable and turnover-filled.

The difference was in what the teams did with those opportunities. The Nittany Lions parlayed 3 Northwestern turnovers into 14 of their 17 points. The Wildcats played out of their minds defensively, forcing 5 takeaways. But Ryan Hilinski and the offense weren’t up to the task. Northwestern couldn’t even get a field goal from its 5 bonus possessions.

There was only one good thing about this game: it was played on natural grass. The mud and grass stains on Northwestern’s white uniforms and Penn State’s white pants really popped. Show this game to anyone thinking of installing artificial turf.

Purdue 20, No. 21 Minnesota 10

Like the platypus, the Golden Gopher is a mammal capable of laying eggs. Performances like this are how you go 55 years without a Big Ten title.

Mohamed Ibrahim is clearly the heart and soul of this team, because Minnesota’s offense looked completely lost without him on the field.

Nevertheless, the Gophers still should have won this game. Minnesota scored on just 1 of its 3 red zone trips thanks to a missed field goal and a Tanner Morgan interception.

Illinois 34, Wisconsin 10

100% of Wisconsin coaches who have lost to Bret Bielema have been fired the next day. Bielema is also the first Big Ten coach to beat his former Big Ten employer since Northwestern’s John Pont beat Indiana in 1975.

Also noteworthy: Chase Brown became the first running back in Illinois history to open a season with 5 straight 100-yard performances. Not even Red Grange did that. Brown’s streak will be put to the test against Iowa this week.

Maryland 27, Michigan State 13

Michigan State fans are fixated on firing defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton at the moment, ignoring the fact safety Xavier Henderson and defensive tackle Jacob Slade — both injured — are 2 of the 4 all-B1G caliber players on that side of the ball.

I’d be more concerned with the offense.

This game figured to be a shootout, and Michigan State gained 75 yards in the second half. Maryland was 8 seconds shy of holding the ball for 22 minutes after halftime, because the Spartans could not move the chains.

Nebraska 35, Indiana 21

Beware — game officials may flag you for reading about this game.

The Cornhuskers and Hoosiers committed a combined 23 penalties for 203 yards. Things got chippy at times, and Nebraska offensive tackle Turner Corcoran was ejected. But if this was a basketball game, we’d say it was a tight whistle. It’s a wonder no one was flagged for sneezing.

In a “do not adjust your set” moment, Nebraska’s maligned special teams scored a touchdown on a blocked punt. It hadn’t happened since a Big 12 game against Baylor in 2009. It was also Nebraska’s first special teams touchdown of any sort since a punt return against South Alabama in 2019.

Week 5 MVPs

1. RB Miyan Williams (Ohio State)

Rutgers isn’t great at many things, but defending the run is on the list. No team gained more than 129 rushing yards against the Scarlet Knights before they played Ohio State.

Then they ran into Miyan Williams.

Williams, Ohio State’s theoretical No. 2 back, tied a school record with 5 touchdowns. He had 198 yards on 21 carries.

2. WR Trey Palmer (Nebraska)

Palmer had 8 catches for 157 yards, including the 71-yard touchdown that put the Cornhuskers ahead early in the fourth quarter.

3. LB Semisi Fakasiieki (Purdue)

Fakasiieki was the tone-setter for a Boilermaker defense that held Minnesota to a season-low 47 rushing yards. He had 8 tackles, including 2 for loss. Purdue finished with 7 TFL as a team.

But Fakasiieki’s first tackle of the game was his most impressive. He somehow tracked down Minnesota receiver Daniel Jackson after a 66-yard gain, setting up a first-and-goal for the Gophers. Minnesota closed the possession by missing a 28-yard field goal.

It was a career-best performance for a player who has been with the program since 2016.

4. DE Mike Morris (Michigan)

Morris led the way for Michigan’s defense with a pair of sacks. Filling Aidan Hutchinson’s shoes is an impossible task, but Morris is doing about as well as can be expected.

5. RB Blake Corum (Michigan)

Corum is here for the same reason as Williams — gaining yards on the ground against Iowa is tough work.

The Hawkeyes had not allowed more than 129 yards on the ground this season, but Corum picked up 133 himself.

Play of the week

Devin Mockobee, a walk-on redshirt freshman running back from Boonville, Indiana (population: 6,512), closed out Purdue’s upset win over Minnesota with a man-sized 66-yard run followed by a short touchdown.

Bloopers of the week

Nebraska inserted backup quarterback Chubba Purdy for a drive that began on its own 9-yard line, and comedy immediately ensued.

Facing a fourth-and-1 at his own 29 in the first quarter, Minnesota coach PJ Fleck inserted backup quarterback Cole Kramer and comedy immediately ensued.

Any AD considering Fleck for a bigger pasture than Minnesota needs to ask the question, “So PJ, take me through your thought process on this one.”