Thursday, December 29, 2011

Montee Ball Can Plead Case If Wisconsin Prevails


LOS ANGELES – We’re pretty grateful of tailbacks these days, thrilled and ecstatic to watch Montee Ball cut right across the field, sprint through a seam and break into open field by lowering his pads. Even as he’s hit and bullied by tacklers, whether he has a knee-jerk reaction or can’t avoid the collision of the rush, he gains large chunks of yards.

Although he finished fourth in the voting, as one of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, he is simply the best running back in the B1G, working behind one of college football’s relentless offensive line. One can argue that he is the fastest running back in the nation, even when he’s not credited, even when he’s not eyeballed in this country but leads the league in yards per game and has scored nine more touchdowns than any other player in the conference.

He’s not exactly dignified of greatness, you see. The truth is, the Wisconsin Badgers are not a one-dimensional attack with quarterback Russell Wilson racking up the most effective passing season in college football history, and while Ball is capping a monster season, Oregon’s LaMichael James is one of the most explosive tailbacks in the nation as well.

For such urge, some believe James is better suited than Ball. The point is, James was never denied, come to think about it, as the best running back in the nation – a junior not only smart in the classroom but on the field as well – an exceptional tailback to highlight the showdown of the deepest offensive powerhouse.

If he’d like to earn more respect for his record-breaking season, Ball can prove he’s a touchdown machine, like a robot of some sort, like a fast bumper car driving down a football field. He’s good but he’s hardly like James – and either way – he has been a star in Wisconsin, greater than the name Anne Pickett, the gal who established the state’s first cottage cheese factory.

The season came and he began to see his carries descend, which he wasn’t getting enough touches, demoted to third-string waiting in the wings of John Clay and Zach Brown. That’s when he realized he had definitely been cut loose at tailback, and painfully watched from the sideline in Wisconsin’s 31-18 win over Ohio State early in the season, a contest he did not play but was eager to have a chance to step onto the field.

There would seem to be compulsion surrounding the issue that forever bothered Ball until he finally was given another chance to shine and reclaim the running back duties, and had stopped pointing the fingers at his coaches for doing what was best for the team. Rather oddly, he pondered and almost switched his positions at linebacker, considering that he has the upper body strength and has put in effort of all his hard work.

There’s no doubt he absolutely has the body of a strong-bodied linebacker, plenty of speed and size to run around the offensive line to harass the opposing quarterback. Whatever we believe in regards to his mental and physical capacity, which only renders from his body language, Ball has strength like a heavyweight boxer and has been extremely versatile. This wasn’t what anybody foresaw, Ball having far-reaching conversations with his parents and quickly becoming focused.

As was his way, fortunately, to insert himself back into the lineup, Ball suddenly took advantage of the opportunity and played efficient in the second half of the Iowa game, and replaced the injured Clay. He scored proficiently, in what was his signature game with his game-winning touchdown on an 8-yard run with over a minute left in regulation. And ever since then, a star was born in Madison, WI.– this time on a redemptive journey, again, living the moment of BCS fun.

Probably the most exciting player in the nation, if not the quickest runner on the field come New Years Day, he is nationally projected the best running back in the Granddaddy of them all. The best news coming out of this is that he earned the nod over a slew of running backs at Wisconsin, and he’s the primary tailback gaining a significant amount of carries.


It was arguably disrespectful when, all season, he’s led the nation in rushing with 1,759 yards and has 38 touchdowns, the most in a single season for any major college player except for Barry Sanders, owner of 39 for Oklahoma State when he won the Heisman in 1988. If he really wanted to punish his opponent, the moment would come in the Rose Bowl Game, to redeem Wisconsin after a failed attempt last year by falling short to TCU.

The last time the Big Ten has won the Rose Bowl was when Wisconsin defeated Stanford in the 2000 contest. Guess what? Barry Alvarez was Badgers head coach at the time. So it was no problem to identify Wisconsin as the greatest football program in NCAA football for generations. The view from afar was evidently clear that he was the only coach in Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls, celebrate with a solid class each season and happily inspire his players while holding roses following remarkable victories under his tenure.

It will take a lone win, one at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, for Wisconsin to feel the Alvarez days again. It will take the durability, versatility and quickness of Ball to survive against Oregon’s high-efficient offense. The sun is bright in Southern California, even when Wisconsin has lost three of its last four bowl games. And so it should, with a pair of the most prolific tailbacks in the nation, be a high-scoring event and rather interesting, a fun afternoon of dramatic football.

It’s hard, in spite that Ball is not so fascinating for many as there are more skeptics than there are believers but instead enamored with James’ resilience and toughness, not to imagine otherwise when James led the FBS level in average yards rushing per game as his counterpart Ball led the nation in total yards rushing.

By now, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is thinking of his basic formula for winning games, which is hold onto the football, exhaust opposing defenses and exploit the ground attack through the speedy Ball, one of the Doak Walker Award finalists. It’s irrational not to think, as they seemingly had the best team in the league, that the Badgers can’t pull off the upset over the Ducks in the 98th Rose Bowl.

If this is one game of redemption, for what happened in the Rose Bowl a year ago, then we can suspect that the Badgers will try to have a Ball.