For the first time this season, someone other than Russell Wilson is grabbing all the headlines this week. No disrespect to Wilson, but I can't think of anyone who has worked harder to deserve it.
Montee Ball was clearly Wisconsin's No. 3 back until about a year ago, which makes his emergence as the Badgers' top offensive threat in 2011 even more remarkable. He seemed tentative in the beginning of the 2010, and fell behind John Clay and James White on the depth chart. He reasserted his role as a valuable member of Wisconsin's offense right around this time of the year last year and in the 13 games the Badgers played since then (the equivalent of a full season), Ball rushed for 1,853 yards and 35(!) touchdowns, averaging a healthy 6.7 yards per carry along the way.
The best part about all of this is the fact that Ball obviously worked his tail off to put himself back into a position to succeed. He focused on running harder and more downhill last season to get back into the rotation and then lost weight in the offseason to help him become a more versatile threat. His work ethic paid off in a big way, as Ball clearly regained his running mojo last November and is now becoming a receiving threat out of the backfield as well. His 13 receptions for 229 yards and three touchdowns in 2011 are all career highs.
The rest of the college football nation is starting to take notice of Ball's emergence as well. Minnesota head coach Jerry kill recently told reporters Ball is "the difference for the University of Wisconsin." Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki identified Ball as someone who is rising up draft boards. He projected Ball as a second-round selection should he choose to leave Wisconsin after this season.
Pretty good for a guy who couldn't even crack Wisconsin's running back rotation just over a year ago.- I shouldn't go any further without crediting Wisconsin's offensive line for a healthy portion of Ball's success.
- ESPN's Robert Smith likes Ball as well.
- Here's Jeff Potrykus' scouting report on Minnesota.
- Despite wildly inconsistent results this season, the Gophers' athletic department seems to have faith in Kill, Minnesota's third head coach in the last five years.
- The Gophers have certainly been better of late, upsetting Iowa Oct. 29 before barely losing at Michigan State last weekend.
- Wisconsin's kickoff unit has been awful lately.
- A top wide receiver/defensive back recruit visited Camp Randall to watch the Badgers dismantle Purdue last weekend.
- Here's a list of bowl projections from around the web. Six of 10 have the Badgers in a BCS bowl.
- Much like Montee Ball, Jordan Taylor's success is the result of a whole lot of hard work.
- Traevon Jackson has an opportunity to play significant minutes as a freshman if his defense is up to Bo Ryan's standards.