By Shawn Muller-
(CBS) When the University of Illinois hosts the University of Wisconsin this Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Illini will be looking to drive a dagger into the Badgers hopes of repeating as Big Ten champions.
But there is another interesting story line for tomorrow’s game.
Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has received his fair share of Heisman hype this season—and deservedly so—but there is another player on the Badgers that is putting together one of the greatest seasons in college football history, and yet, no one is talking about him at all.
That player is Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
The Big Ten Conference has not had a Heisman Trophy winner since former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won the award back in 2006. If you were to ask college football fans outside Big Ten country who they thought were the best running backs in the nation, I can almost guarantee you that names like Alabama’s Trent Richardson, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, and Oregon’s LaMichael James would be the three names mentioned at the top of the list. While I agree that all three of those young men are great backs, none of them (less Marcus Lattimore due to his season-ending injury) are having a more Heisman-like season than Mr. Ball.
I understand that the award is basically just a popularity contest, and I would be absolutely shocked if Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t walk away with the hardware next month, but if any running back deserves an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City for the trophy presentation, Mr. Ball should already have his bags packed.
His numbers are flat out ridiculous.
Through 10 games, Ball has 185 carries for 1,242 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. When you look at his all-purpose yards, those numbers are even more eye-popping. In total, Ball has touched the ball for a grand total of 199 times for 1,476 yards and 27 touchdowns (a Big Ten record).
Let’s put those numbers into perspective.
When former Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman back in 2009 (I am using Ingram as a comparison since he was the last running back to win the award), his season stat line looked like this: 271 carries for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. In total, Ingram touched the ball 303 times for 1992 yards and 20 touchdowns. Good numbers? Yes, it was a solid season. But if Ingram was deserving of winning the award, then Montee Ball certainly should be mentioned as a semi-finalist in 2011.
Assuming the Badgers beat the Illini and Penn State to finish the regular season, Wisconsin will earn a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. Throw in a bowl appearance, and Ball is looking at the possibility of playing in at least four more games for a total for 14 on the season….just like Mr. Ingram did back in 2009. If Ball can continue on the torrid pace he has been on through Wisconsin’s final four games, he can easily surpass the numbers put up by Ingram.
All Ball needs is 517 yards (129 per game) and 104 touches (26 per game) to surpass the numbers put up by Ingram two seasons ago. Since Ball is averaging 147.6 ypg on a mere 19.9 touches per contest, I would say the odds of him eclipsing the 2,000 total yard mark are pretty good. But when you throw in Ball’s pension for finding the end zone, his 2011 season could end up dwarfing that of Ingram’s of 2009.
He has already broken the Big Ten record for scores at 27, but if he can average 3 scores per contest down the stretch, he will tie Barry Sanders NCAA record of 39. Of course no one will ever replicate what Barry Sanders did during that magical 1988 season (2,628 rushing yards, 3,248 total yards, 39 total touchdowns 37 rushing, in 11 games), but what Ball is doing so far this season is nothing to scoff at, and it is amazing that the nation hasn’t taken notice.
Due to the season guys like Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore and teammate Russell Wilson are having, the odds are that Ball will not be invited to New York City come December. But no one can deny that his performance in 2011 has the potential to go down as one of the greatest seasons in college football history — Heisman Trophy or not.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24. Read more of his blogs here.