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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Big Ten Heisman watch: Week 13

By Brian Bennett

It's been a rough year to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Just about every major figure in the race has had at least one bad week. The only undefeated AQ conference team, LSU, doesn't have a serious candidate. Every time someone rises up, like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, he seems to fall back immediately with a loss by his team.

In other words, the race still looks fairly wide open with only two weeks' worth of games left. And while the Big Ten's top two candidates still aren't likely to win the trophy, they can make a push to at least earn more consideration and perhaps a trip to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

What more does Wisconsin running back Montee Ball need to do to move up the charts? He's currently second in rushing yards with 1,466, just 2 behind Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey (who's had 113 more carries than Ball). His 6.57 yards per carry average isn't as good as that of LaMichael James of Oregon, but he also didn't miss two full games this season.

But Ball's most impressive statistic, of course, is his scoring prowess. He had three more touchdowns in last week's win over Illinois, making him just the fifth player in FBS history to score 30 in a season. If he continues to average three touchdowns per game and Wisconsin makes the Big Ten title game as well as a bowl, he'll tie Barry Sanders for the record with 39 in a season (albeit in more games). Ball is having a truly historic season that deserves recognition. He's No. 4 on my Heisman ballot this week.

Wisconsin's other candidate is quarterback Russell Wilson. He's still on pace to break the NCAA record for pass efficiency. But he had a relatively quiet -- if typically efficient -- day at Illinois, completing 10 of 13 passes for just 90 yards. He did have both a passing and rushing touchdown. Yet Ball was the star in that game.

Therein lies the biggest problem for Ball and Wilson, besides the Badgers' two losses: the presence of each other in the same backfield. Surely, they will siphon votes from one another, perhaps hurting each one's chances at getting to New York.

But both have potentially two more big games to impress voters, with this week's showdown against Penn State and then in the Big Ten championship game if the Badgers beat the Nittany Lions. With the difficult year other candidates have had, who knows how much ground they could make up.