The Heisman Case For Montee Ball

Montee Ball strikes the pose against UNLV in week one

In a year where there is no clear cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy with only two weeks left in the college football regular season, it baffles me that Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is not a serious contender for the prestigious honor. Ball plays for a ranked team in a major conference and is on pace to finish the season with over 1750 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. Yet, Ball is not on most voters’ radars.

This is partly due to the hype quarterback Russell Wilson has been receiving all season. Don’t get me wrong, Wilson definitely deserves the hype. He’s thrown for 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions and is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for pass efficiency rating (he currently sits at 199.3, the current record held by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan is 186.0). The athletic department has been hyping Wilson for the Heisman since the Badgers defeated Nebraska in early October. The @RussellManiaXVI twitter feed was created just hours after the Badgers 48-17 victory. Wilson has also had some classic Heisman moments spoiled by shoddy defense and special teams. The senior engineered fourth quarter comebacks on the road against Michigan State and Ohio State, only to have his defense blow the games in the final seconds.

However, as great as Wilson has been the season, I believe Montee Ball is having a more special season and is more important to the success of the Badgers offense. Ball got knocked out of the game against Michigan State after he took a helmet to helmet hit in the second quarter. The offense faltered without him, and didn’t get back on track until Ball returned in the second half. The Badgers had a hard time getting anything going against Ohio State until Ball starting running free in the fourth quarter. Also, don’t forget about Ball’s spectacular touchdown grab in the first quarter that saved Wilson. Ball snatched a poor throw from Wilson, it should have been picked off, and ran into the end zone for the game’s first score.

Ball has reached the end zone 30 times this season, and scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season. He is just the fifth player in FBS history to score at least 30 touchdowns in a season. The junior has already broken the Wisconsin and Big Ten records for most rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns in a season, and with possibly three games left, Ball still has an outside chance to break Barry Sanders’ outrageous record of 39 total touchdowns. Ball is averaging a touchdown every 8.0 times he touches the ball

Ball ranks first in the NCAA in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and total scoring. Ball has accounted for 182 points this season, 32 more than Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein, who sits in second. Ball is second in the NCAA in rushing yards, just two yards behind Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey.

Wisconsin two losses hurts Ball’s chances, but it’s important to remember that the Badgers didn’t lose those games because of Ball, and both of those losses came on hail mary passes. Ball has played well in every one of Wisconsin’s toughest tests.

48-17 win vs Nebraska: 30 carries, 151 yards, 4 TDs

37-31 loss at Michigan St: 18 carries, 115 yards, TD; 2 rec, 24 yards, TD

33-29 loss at Ohio St: 17 carries, 84 yards, TD; 3 rec, 30 yards, TD

28-17 win vs Illinois: 38 carries, 224 yards, 2 TDs; 1 rec TD

According to the UW athletic department, in three games against teams ranked among the top 16 in the country in total defense (Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois), he has averaged 141.3 rushing yards, 159.0 all-purpose yards and scored seven touchdowns (four rushing, three receiving).

Alabama running back Trent Richardson is considered by most to be a serious contender for the Heisman. Heisman Pundit believes that if the vote were held right now, Richardson would finish third, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. However, Ball has better numbers than Richardson across the board. Ball has more rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and has a higher yards per carry average.

Richardson had a chance to have a Heisman moment on the biggest stage possible, last month’s “Game of the Century” between Alabama and LSU. The junior didn’t have a poor performance, he ran for 89 yards and had 5 catches for 80 yards, but he didn’t reach the end zone as his team lost 9-6 in overtime.

At this point, there are only a few reasons why someone would vote for Richardson over Ball. Richardson is considered to be the more talented player and have the higher draft stock. Most pundits have Richardson being a top five or top ten pick in next year’s NFL draft if he opts to leave early. Richardson plays for Alabama, a high profile team that plays in the most high profile conference, the SEC. Alabama is also ranked #2 in the nation, and if the season ended today, the Crimson Tide would be playing in the BCS National Championship Game. To me, none of those reasons should matter when it comes to the Heisman, the trophy supposedly given to college football’s most outstanding player.

Now, if people have Baylor’s Griffin over Ball, fine, that’s a different story. Griffin has had an outstanding season. He’s putting up video game numbers (33 TDs, only 5 INTs and over 4000 total yards) and he’s exciting as hell to watch. But if you’re going to punish Ball for playing on a two-loss team, then Griffin should be as well. Baylor has lost three times, and needed overtime to beat Kansas, one of the worst BCS teams.

Ball has possibly two more chances to shine on a big stage before Heisman voters turn in their ballots. The Badgers play Penn State this Saturday in a de facto Big Ten Leaders Division title game, and with a victory, UW will face Michigan State in the first ever Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 3. Perhaps, Ball still has a chance to capture the nation’s attention.

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