Big Ten Heisman watch: Week 14

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
10:30
AM ET
This is the final week of the college football season and the final week for Heisman Trophy candidates to impress voters. Has there ever been a less clear-cut Heisman picture at this point in the season, with so many worthy candidates remaining?

If Michigan's Denard Robinson had played all season like he did in last week's 40-34 win over Ohio State, he'd be going to New York City. No player in the country has had two better games than Shoelace's performances against the Buckeyes and Notre Dame, but he had a few too many clunkers, as well.

Wisconsin's Russell Wilson remains a viable candidate and as deserving as any other quarterback in the nation. If not for those two losses on the Badgers' résumé, I think he'd be right there. But they were hardly his fault. Perhaps a big showing in the Big Ten title game will move him into the top five of the final voting, but he's more likely to be overshadowed by other quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Case Keenum and Robert Griffin III.

The guy I really want to talk about today is Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, whose assault on the touchdown record is astonishing. Ball set an NCAA record against Penn State with his 12th straight multi-touchdown game, and he's now got 34 touchdowns on the season. Only Barry Sanders (39) has ever scored more in an FBS season, and Ball could break Sanders' record if he keeps up his recent three-touchdown pace in the Big Ten title game and a bowl.

I have Ball at No. 3 on my ESPN.com Heisman ballot this week. A lot of people like Alabama's Trent Richardson to win the trophy this year, and most have him ahead of Ball. Richardson is a fabulous player on the No. 2 team in the country. But is he really better than Ball? Let's compare some numbers:

Richardson: 263 carries, 1,583 yards, 20 touchdowns, 6.02 yards per carry; 27 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns.

Ball: 248 carries, 1,622 yards, 29 touchdowns, 6.54 yards per carry; 17 catches for 248 yards and five touchdowns.

Other than some slightly better numbers in receiving (but not touchdown receptions), Ball has the clearly superior numbers. Ah, but you say Richardson plays in the mighty SEC, where yards are harder to come by. But is that really true, or is it just perception?

Excluding Wisconsin, there are six Big Ten teams ranked in the top 36 nationally in total defense: Michigan State (No. 4), Illinois (eighth) Penn State (11th), Michigan (16th), Ohio State (23rd), Nebraska (36th). The Badgers didn't play Michigan, but Ball faced five of those defenses.

Excluding Alabama, there are also six SEC teams ranked in the top 36 nationally in total defense: LSU (No. 2), South Carolina (fourth), Georgia (fifth), Florida (10th), Vanderbilt (19th) and Tennessee (28th). The Tide didn't play South Carolina or Georgia, so Richardson faced only four of those defenses.

Alabama did play one of the Big Ten's top defenses in the nonconference season, beating Penn State in a game that was tougher than any Wisconsin faced out of league play. But that also gives us more of an apples-to-apples comparison between Ball and Richardson against the Nittany Lions' strong 'D.' It goes like this:

Richardson vs. Penn State: 26 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns; four catches for 19 yards.

Ball vs. Penn State: 25 carries for 156 yards and four touchdowns; one catch for 15 yards.

Hmm. So why exactly is Richardson so far ahead of Ball in most straw polls? It wouldn't be a bit of SEC bias, now would it?

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