Although Baylor's Robert Griffin III seems to have emerged as the favorite to win the Heisman, the race is as close as it's ever been in recent years. Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson and Wisconsin's Montee Ball will all receive plenty of first-place votes and a legitimate argument could be made for any of the three.
It's difficult to compare the two quarterbacks' numbers to those of the two running backs, so I'm not even going to try. I'm more interested in looking at Ball and Richardson side by side. Everyone knew Richardson would put up huge numbers at Alabama, but Ball's oft-told story is a bit different. He slipped to third on the Badgers' depth chart in 2010 and didn't even get on the field in Wisconsin's upset of Ohio State last October. But Ball came on strong late last season and hasn't looked back. He leads the NCAA in rushing yards and will likely tie or break Barry Sanders' single-season touchdowns record in the Rose Bowl in a few weeks.
Ball finished the regular season with 275 rushes for 1,752 yards and 32 touchdowns. Richardson had 263 rushes for 1583 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ball played in one more game than Richardson, but still averaged more yards per rush (6.4 to 6.0) and yards per game (135.3 to 131.9). Ball also caught 20 passes for 255 yards and six touchdowns, while Richardson finished with 27 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Based on traditional statistics alone, Ball has a clear edge, but Richardson apologists would likely chalk this up to the SEC defenses he ran against all season. But are the defenses Richardson faced significantly better than those Ball faced? Not quite. Nicole Haase was kind enough to sift through both Alabama and Wisconsin's opponents' total defense numbers for us. According to her research, Wisconsin's FBS opponents gave up an average of 361.7 yards per game, while Alabama's FBS opponents gave up 347.8 yards per game. This suggests that although 'Bama did face better defenses on average, the difference is quite a bit more negligible than SEC types might lead you to believe.
Ball also performed better against top 10 defenses, with 5.9 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns against Michigan State (5th in total defense), Illinois (7th), Penn State (10th) and Michigan State again. Richardson faced LSU (2nd), Penn State (9th) and Penn State (10th) and had 4.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns in those games. In the two teams' only game against a common opponent, Penn State, Richardson rushed 26 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns while Ball rushed 25 times for 156 yards and four touchdowns.
Your winner? Montee Ball.
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