He has 1,759 rushing yards, an astounding 38 touchdowns and averages 6.4 yards per carry. He has carried the Badgers at times this season, and has firmly established himself as the top all-around back in the nation.
Montee Ball clearly earned his spot in the Heisman Trophy presentation and has a strong case for returning to Madison with the trophy in hand, but Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III deserves the award more than anyone else. Although it’s great to see a Badger back in New York – the first since Ron Dayne in 1999 – Griffin has done more for his team than any other player in the nation and should emerge victorious. Ball has been outstanding for Wisconsin all year, but the fact that he played alongside one of the best quarterbacks in college football, Russell Wilson, severely hurts his case.
The miracle North Carolina State transfer was a leading Heisman contender before the Badgers’ back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, and having a teammate playing at that high of a level only weakens Ball’s Heisman resume.
UW’s top backfield threat leads the nation in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and it would be a crime if he were refused an invite to New York. Perhaps most impressive is that Ball stands just two touchdowns away from breaking Barry Sanders’ record-setting 39-touchdown 1988 season. His numbers are much better than those of Trent Richardson, who boasts 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on a six-yard per carry average, making Ball the best running back in the competition.
It’s a remarkable position for a player who was never even considered a legitimate Heisman candidate until the last few weeks, when college football analysts finally began to take note of Ball’s impressive numbers this year. While fans in Madison were irked by the lack of national attention the Wentzville, Mo., native received for his five consecutive games with more than 130 yards on the ground, Ball’s rise to Heisman candidacy has definitely been an unexpected one.
Seeing limited playing time last season until an early November matchup with Purdue after the rise of then-freshman running back James White, no one could have imagined Ball to be in such a position last fall. After taking a majority of the carries and flattening opposing defenses in 2011, perhaps no player on the Wisconsin roster could be more deserving of being in this spot. The bruising back failed to accept a backseat role despite the rise of the speedy freshman White, and now he finds himself in an incredible position.
On top of those gaudy statistics, Ball is a perfect two-for-two throwing the ball, passing for one touchdown and 57 yards. With a 504.4 passer rating, he has been even more efficient through the air than on the ground.
That said, Griffin’s numbers are equally, if not more, impressive, and there is simply no way Baylor could have become a nine-win squad without his help. The junior signal caller is the Bears’ offense, powering the team with 3,998 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Finishing the year with a staggering 192.3 passer rating as Baylor heads to the Valero Alamo Bowl to take on Washington, Griffin has truly been the most outstanding college football player in 2011.
Without their rocket-armed quarterback, the Bears are likely a four- or five-win team stuck in a rebuilding year, with little hope of qualifying for a bowl game. Wisconsin likely wouldn’t be in the Rose Bowl without Ball, but Wilson has been an equally important component of success for this year’s squad, also bound for “The Granddaddy of Them All.” If the Badgers relied on Jon Budamyr or another current backup to step in following the departure of former standout quarterback Scott Tolzien, they would be in an entirely different situation right now, one far away from the historic setting in Pasadena.
Wisconsin’s junior running back should finish second behind Griffin – and there’s a solid chance he will – but Griffin deserves the nod this year. Ball’s statistics have earned him that spot, and Badger fans should realize just how special it is to have a Heisman candidate come out of Madison.
With only two Heisman Trophy winners in program history – Dayne and fullback Alan Ameche in 1954 – sending a finalist to the presentation for the top award in college football can only help Wisconsin’s pursuit of becoming one of the premier programs in the country.
As the recruiting continues to improve and the Badgers develop into a perennial contender in the Big Ten, Ball having the honor of being selected as one of five players hoping to hear his name called Saturday night is great publicity for the Wisconsin brand. Wisconsin already has a reputation for being dedicated to running the ball, something that has allowed them to develop a backfield overflowing with talent, and seeing Ball on the national stage will only continue this tradition.
It’s no coincidence that UW’s only two players to walk away with the Heisman Memorial Trophy were both ball carriers, and Ball has now etched his name along the best backs to ever grace the field of Camp Randall Stadium.
So as you tune in to the Heisman Trophy this weekend and watch Ball proudly represent the University of Wisconsin, realize that this is a rare chance to see a Badger on the biggest individual stage in college football. Just don’t expect him to win.
Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Think Ball deserves to be crowned a winner in New York, or is there another candidate that deserves the award more than Robert Griffin III? Let him know by tweeting @imccue or emailing him at email@example.com.