When you’re coming off a season that saw you earn a nomination for the Heisman Trophy and play well in the Rose Bowl, there will be expectations if you return the following year. Such was the case with Wisconsin Badgers‘ running back Montee Ball. Ball tied the FBS record for touchdown in a season last year and ended up placing fourth in the Heisman voting. When he announced that he would be returning for his senior year, all of Madison was salivating at the possibilities of what Ball could bring.
Sadly for Ball, the rest of the Badgers, and their fans, the dream hasn’t been a pleasant one through the first month of this season.
A big problem was one that was underestimated during the off-season: the Badgers’ offensive line. The Badgers lost several key components from the line, but replaced them. And that was that, or so everyone thought. None of the analysts, commentators, experts, etc. really put much emphasis during the off-season toward what a problem replacing a lot of the o-line could be for the Badgers. Historically, the Badgers have been able to replenish their offensive line with no problem, so why suspect that this year would be different, right?
It turns out, it would’ve been something that, if looked at, should have prepared people for what they’ve gotten so far out of the Badgers. The Badgers, a team that some were forecasting to make a run at the national championship game, have gone 3-1 through their non-conference games, but it’s been a fairly unimpressive 3-1.
Ball opened the season with a fine if not great performance against the Northern Iowa Pirates, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown. I wrote it off at the time as the Badgers not taking a smaller opponent seriously, but I would be proven dead wrong the following week when the Badgers ventured to Corvallis, Oregon.
It was here that the Badgers met defeat against an Oregon St. Beavers team that everyone assumed was beneath them. The Beavers’ defense sure didn’t play like they were beneath the Badgers, massacring the Badger offense and holding Ball to just 61 yards on the ground. The Badgers offense as a whole barely gained 200 yards in the 10-7 loss.
In a close win that the Badgers didn’t deserve against the Utah St. Aggies, Ball began to look more like himself with 139 yards on the ground, though it came on 37 carries.
And today against the UTEP Miners, Ball started off the game great with 40 yards on his first nine carries and a touchdown. Ball’s ninth carry ended up being his last, however. Ironically, Ball suffered a head injury while running in for a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Miners. He didn’t return to the game.
The bigger problem now is that Ball’s season may be in jeopardy with this recent injury. A lone head injury is one thing, but to have it come less than two months after Ball suffered a beating at the hands of three men on the Wisconsin campus makes it more than just an isolated injury. Granted, no head injury can be just an isolated injury, but if there was no other recent damage to the man, it could be dealt with in a different way.
But now, those within the Badger football program, including Ball himself, may have to ask themselves if it is worth it for the running back to step foot on the field and potentially suffer more damage this season. It simply may not be worth it. Ask Ricky Klepal, a Florida State Seminoles recruit who quit football after suffering his fifth career concussion in a high-school game earlier this month, or better yet, let’s just read it from the man himself:
“There wasn’t really a choice or a decision. My doctor was telling me, unless I want to take a risk of dying, it would be in my best interest (to quit). I love football more than anything, but my mental health is a little more important. ”