Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Big Ten Heisman update: Week 3
By Brian Bennett
Wisconsin went all-in on a Montee Ball Heisman Trophy campaign this summer, breaking out the slogan "This Fall Belongs to Ball" and a website devoted to last year's finalist. Ball's picture was even plastered on buses around Madison.
Just two games into the season, however, it's fair to ask whether the wheels have already come off Ball's bandwagon.
Oregon State hemmed in Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, holding him to 61 yards on 15 carries.
That's probably going too far, because there is so much football left. Clearly, though, Ball has a lot of work to do if he wants to return to New York City this December. After an OK opening week in which he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown but averaged just 3.8 yards per carry against FCS opponent Northern Iowa, the Badgers star had only 61 yards on 15 carries in the Badgers' 10-7 loss at Oregon State. It wasn't all his fault as the Wisconsin offensive line was so bad that position coach Mike Markuson got fired after only two games.
Fair or not, Ball will be judged on last year's crazy stats, when he tied an FBS record with 39 total touchdowns. Right now, he's on pace for just seven touchdowns if the Badgers play the same amount of games, and a Big Ten championship game appearance is anything but guaranteed. Ball still has the talent to explode for huge stats the rest of the season, but his early-season numbers could come back to haunt his Heisman chances.
Speaking of Heisman chances, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had a great opportunity to put himself in the forefront of the conversation after an outstanding Week 1 performance. But Martinez and the Huskers fell at UCLA. Martinez had an electrifying 92-yard touchdown run but threw for only 179 yards and no scores, with an interception. He's out, for now.
Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell stands as the league's top Heisman candidate after two weeks. His heroics in the opener against Boise State remain fresh in people's minds, and he had an efficient, if not overwhelming performance in the easy win over Central Michigan (18 carries, 70 yards, two touchdowns). Bell will get excellent exposure in this week's prime-time game against Notre Dame and will need to impress.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller also is solidly on the radar with another standout stat line in the Buckeyes' win over UCF (155 yards passing, 141 yards rushing, four total TDs). I very nearly placed him in the top five of my ESPN.com Heisman ballot this week. The question is whether Miller can keep up this pace without more offensive help once the schedule gets tougher.
Denard Robinson knows something about doing it without much help as he accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offense against Air Force. The Michigan star became the first FBS player to have three career 200-yard passing and rushing games with that win, but is it enough to erase voters' memories of what happened against Alabama? Probably not for now, especially since Robinson did it against a service academy defense. But if he can continue to play like that, he could climb back in the race.