Badger Bits: Montee Ball, the best running back in the B1G, the Badgers' MVP

Is Montee Ball the Badgers' offensive MVP?

I don't know if I'm ready to acknowledge that Wisconsin still has to play football games after Keith Nichol tore my world asunder. I'm fairly certain we're playing somebody Saturday. I hope we win. In the mean time, here's some fruitless discussion based on speculative data, where we can all be winners if we feel we've made our point loudly enough.

KennardHusker over at Off Tackle Empire made the argument that Rex Burkhead is the best running back in the B1G. Unsurprisingly the comments section was not pleased, with most making the case that Montee Ball is the runaway first-team conference selection. It's an easy argument to make, considering Ball is first among B1G running backs averaging 6.1 yards per carry and leads the conference in touchdowns by a mile with 19 on the year.

The argument against Ball is obvious: he is simply the product of a great offensive line that a grandmother could run behind. For that argument to hold water, you would think that Ball's numbers would be significantly worse when playing elite defenses. That's not the case. Against the four definitively "good" or "great" defenses that Ball has played in the last two seasons--Iowa, TCU, Nebraska and last week's Michigan State club--he still averaged 5.7 yards per carry and two scores per game. A chip off the season average, sure, but it says something that Ball has never truly been stopped since finding his groove after last year's Minnesota game.

The Michigan State game is as good a statement of Ball's worth as any. After Ball left with a head injury late in the first half, James White was stuffed on a 3rd and 2 leading to a blocked field goal. The next drive the Badgers went three-and-out, leading to the Hindenburg punt. Ball returned for a 22-yard reception and a four-yard carry on a field goal drive, but promptly left the game on the next possession, another punt.

The sample size is extremely small. James White only had six carries carries as the team's lead back, one of which was a two-yard run to end the half. But the sequence following Ball's departure was enough to raise the question: Who would you say is the Badgers' offensive MVP right now? Or, a better way to put it, does Russell Wilson need Ball more, or vice versa?  

The truth is, Wilson wasn't great on obvious third-down passing situations. He missed Jacob Pedersen for a touchdown on a 3rd and 7 in the third. Later he held the ball too long on another 3rd and 7 and ran for a one-yard loss. Overall he was just 1-of-3 passing on with six yards or more to go on third down. Wilson looked mortal when the Spartans keyed in on him, whereas Ball produced in every situation. Which isn't to knock Wilson, but his (deserved) hype has clouded the fact that Ball has been, arguably, at least as important in making Wisconsin's offense go by putting the offense in short third downs and giving the team a consistent run-pass option.


Tom Mulhern check in with some backups. Read up on Jeff Duckworth here and Brian Wozniak here.

BadgerBeat previews the Ohio State game.

Ohio State is down this year, but they don't want to play the underdog role.

The Buckeyes have been improving steadily this season. Just don't ask them to throw the ball.

Marcus Cromartie hopes to make up for his crucial missed tackles last week against Michigan State.

Wisconsin comes in No. 2 in this week's Gonzo-style power rankings from OTE.

Adam Rittenberg on the team regrouping after the loss.

Big plays killed the Badgers on defense against the Spartans. Consider this: MSU gained 229 of its 399 total yard on just eight plays

Penalties were a major issue in East Lansing, and could be again in Columbus if the team isn't careful.

Wrapping up: If you can stand it, Wisconsin is featured prominently in This Week In Schadenfreude

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