Face it: Badgers RB has the chops

Face it: Badgers RB has the chops
Silver Football winner Montee Ball at Camp Randall Stadium. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Tribune Photo)
Michigan State

fans screamed and waved pompoms. The Spartan Marching Band banged its drums.


It was raucous inside Indianapolis'

Lucas Oil Stadium

when Russell Wilson huddled his teammates to bark out the first-quarter play.


faced third-and-2 from the Michigan State 41 in the

Big Ten

championship game.

Montee Ball didn't need to listen. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst had told him: On the first third-and-short play from the left hashmark, Ball would take a pitch and fire the ball back to Wilson, just as they had done seven weeks earlier at


for an easy touchdown.


"I knew the play call before Russell even said it," Ball said.

The plan worked perfectly, producing a 32-yard gain, except for one thing: Ball took one on the lips, in football parlance, courtesy of 280-pound decapitator William Gholston.

"I got nailed," Ball said. "Oh, my goodness. I've always had respect for quarterbacks, but after that, I have a lot more."

So much so that Ball insisted Wilson be named the game's MVP.


"I told him: You honestly deserved it for what you did in the fourth quarter," he said.

Ball got his wish, as Wilson was named the Grange-Griffin Championship Game MVP.

But Ball reeled in a bigger prize. The junior running back is the winner of the 2011

Chicago Tribune

Silver Football, awarded annually since 1924 to the Big Ten's best player.

"It's a blessing and an honor," Ball said after being informed.

The vote wasn't close. Ball was named on all 11 eligible ballots (coaches cannot vote for their own players). He received four first-place votes and seven seconds, good for 15 points.

Wilson also got four firsts but no seconds, totaling eight points. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins garnered five points with two firsts and one second.


receiver A.J. Jenkins and

Penn State

defensive lineman Devon Still received the other two first-place votes. Last year's winner,


quarterback Denard Robinson, got a single second-place vote despite rushing for 16 touchdowns and throwing for 18.

When it comes to touchdowns, though, no player wants to be compared with Ball. He reached the end zone 38 times, one shy of Barry Sanders' Division I single-season record. (Sanders' five

Holiday Bowl

scores didn't count.)

"Making it to 40 touchdowns," Ball said, "would probably be the greatest feeling in my life."

Especially considering how down he was last season. He rushed twice for 6 yards in a loss to Michigan State. He carried three times against


, then zero during Wisconsin's upset of top-ranked

Ohio State


Ball still celebrated on the field, happy for his teammates. But ...

"We beat the No. 1 team and everyone had a smile in that locker room except one guy," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "I was in a staff meeting after that game and said (to running backs coach John Settle): 'Get with Montee.' "

After the Ohio State game, a disconsolate Ball went home to his parents, who had moved to Wisconsin from suburban St. Louis. He wondered if he would have a better shot at seeing the field if he switched to linebacker, which he played from youth ball through high school.

"My dad said: 'No, no, no. Stick with it. Really look at yourself on film. Critique yourself,' " Ball recalled. "I didn't get a single snap in that game, and it hurt a lot. But I'm very grateful and happy that it happened."

Two weeks later, Ball ran for 127 yards and two scores at


. Then 167 and three against Indiana.

His gaudiest totals this season came against Illinois (224 yards) and Purdue (223). He averaged 4.7 yards per carry against Michigan State, which otherwise gave up 2.7 yards per rush this season.

"He has vision and unbelievable quickness," Wilson said. "And a desire to be great."

Silver Football results

Name               Pos  School          1st    2nd    Pts

Montee Ball        RB   Wisconsin        4      7     15

Russell Wilson     QB   Wisconsin        4      0      8

Kirk Cousins       QB   Michigan State   2      1      5

A.J. Jenkins       WR   Illinois         1      0      2

Devon Still        DL   Penn State       1      0      2

Marcus Coker       RB


0      1      1

Lavonte David      LB


0      1      1

Denard Robinson    QB   Michigan         0      1      1

John Simon         DL   Ohio State       0      1      1