Badgers’ tailback finalist for Heisman

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
— Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball has been named one of the five finalists for the 2011 Heisman Trophy.

The winner is to be announced at 7 p.m. Saturday in New York City.

The other four finalists are Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Alabama tailback Trent Richardson, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

“I’m really excited to meet them,” Ball said Monday night. “Just to see how their character is.”

When a reporter suggested he had the right to tease Richardson and remind him who had better overall numbers, Ball blushed.

“There’ll probably be a little trash-talking going on,” he said, laughing. “In a good way.”

UW has two Heisman winners: Alan Ameche in 1954 and Ron Dayne in 1999.

Ball is fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (135.3) but leads the nation in rushing yards (1,759), rushing touchdowns (32) and total touchdowns (38).

He also is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the top running back in the nation. Ball was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten pick and named the league’s top running back.

Ball enters the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl against Oregon needing one touchdown to tie the NCAA record for touchdowns in a single season. That mark was set in 1988 by Oklahoma State tailback Barry Sanders.

Although these numbers have nothing to do with Ball’s Heisman chances, consider what he has accomplished in the last 18 games. That run begins with UW’s game at Purdue last season.

In those 18 games, Ball has rushed 389 times for 2,536 yards and 46 touchdowns. During that span, he has averaged 6.5 yards per carry, 141.0 rushing yards per game and 2.5 rushing touchdowns per game.

“That’s crazy stats,” Ball said when informed of the numbers he had put up in that stretch.

Sanders set the record in 11 regular-season games and added five touchdowns in a bowl game, though at the time the NCAA did not include postseason accomplishments in a player’s or team’s statistics.

However, Sanders scored a touchdown every 10.1 touches that season. Ball entered the Big Ten title game averaging a touchdown every 7.8 touches.

Ball entered the Big Ten title game averaging a touchdown every 7.8 touches. He scored four touchdowns on 30 touches (27 rushes and three receptions) in UW’s 42-39 victory over Michigan State. Thus, he heads to the Rose Bowl with 38 touchdowns on 295 touches (275 rushes and 20 receptions), or a touchdown every 7.8 touches.

Griffin leads the nation in pass efficiency with a rating of 192.31. He has passed for 3,998 yards, with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. His completion rate is 72.4 percent.

Richardson has helped No. 2 Alabama into the BCS title game against No. 1 LSU. He is fifth nationally in rushing at 131.9 yards per game. He has 20 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns.

Luck has passed for 3,170 yards, with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is fifth nationally in pass efficiency with a rating of 167.5.

Mathieu leads LSU in tackles (70), has six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, two interceptions, seven more passes broken up, is averaging 16.2 yards on punt returns and has returned two punts for touchdowns.

Ball wasn’t given a tip he had made the final cut. He watched the announcement Monday afternoon on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Former Ohio State tailback Eddie George, the 1995 Heisman winner, announced the finalists.

“Once he said I’m going to mention them in alphabetical order,” Ball said Monday night, “I said we’re going to find out real soon.”

Ball’s name was the first of five finalists.

“I jumped up, started yelling stuff and celebrating,” Ball said. “My phone was going off, going crazy.

“I called my mom and dad, teared up a little bit because ever since I was 7 I’ve been looking forward to this.

“It’s happening. It’s so crazy.”

Last updated: 7:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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