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The Heisman case for Montee Ball

12/7/2011

I'm going to give you a list of teams, and you tell me what they have in common:

Florida International, Pittsburgh, Florida, Ball State, Ohio State, Utah State, San Jose State, Auburn, UConn, Syracuse, Iowa State, Rice, Virginia, Maryland, Western Kentucky, Illinois, Central Michigan, Duke, Troy, Kansas, Middle Tennessee State, Buffalo, Marshall, Oregon State, Louisville, Colorado State, Indiana, Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Tulane, Tennessee, Idaho, UAB, Colorado, Penn State, Minnesota, Boston College, UNLV, Kent State, Memphis, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Akron, Florida Atlantic and New Mexico.

Give up? Those 45 teams -- or about 37 percent of the entire FBS -- all have fewer touchdowns this season than one man: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

The Badgers junior is one of five Heisman Trophy finalists primarily because of his preposterous penchant for finding the end zone. He has 38 touchdowns in 13 games this season, just one shy of Barry Sanders' record of 39 set in 1998. Throw in Ball's passing touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana, and he has averaged three touchdowns per game this season.

OK, you say, but Sanders didn't get to count his bowl stats and played in only 11 regular-season games, while Ball has had 13 games and the Rose Bowl still to come. Agreed. Still, Sanders -- who added four touchdowns in his bowl game -- averaged a score every 8.67 touches. Ball is scoring a touchdown in every 7.24 touches this year. The goal for every offensive skill player is to reach the end zone, and nobody does that better than Ball, who has scored at least three times in eight games this season.

It's not like he is just some battering ram who plunges in after others have done the hard work, either. Ball has rushed for 1,759 yards -- more than any other FBS player this season -- and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. In fact, his numbers compare very favorably with Wisconsin's 1999 Heisman winner, Ron Dayne:

Dayne, 1999: 303 carries, 1,834 yards, 19 touchdowns, 6.1 yards per carry; one catch for 19 yards.

Ball, 2011: 275 carries, 1,759 yards, 32 touchdowns, 6.4 yards per carry; 20 catches for 255 yards and six touchdowns.

Like Dayne, Ball plays for a two-loss Badgers team that is going to the Rose Bowl. If the argument against Ball is that his team is not in the title hunt, then why does Robert Griffin III have so much support for leading a 9-3 Baylor team? Ball's numbers across the board are better than Alabama's Trent Richardson, and he has played just as many tough defenses as Richardson has faced. The only thing that gives an edge to Richardson is SEC bias.

Andrew Luck is great, but his stats are down from last year, while LSU's Tyrann Mathieu could have hurt his team by incurring a one-game suspension earlier this season.

Sanders' record has stood for nearly a quarter-century, and Ball will fly past 40 touchdowns if he has an average game against Oregon in Pasadena. That record could last a long, long time. And if Ball doesn't win Saturday night, future college football fans may look back and wonder how a guy with the most touchdowns ever, one who outscored more than a third of the teams in his sport that year, could have possibly been snubbed for the Heisman Trophy.