Montee Ball came back to play his senior season with the Wisconsin Badgers in hopes of either returning to the Rose Bowl or challenging for the national title. The Badgers were out of the national title race after their second game of the season, but a win Saturday night will send them back to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl on January 1. For it to happen, the Badgers’ running back will have to come up big for his team in this weekend’s Big Ten conference title game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Last year in this same situation, Ball had a great game and guided the Badgers to the Big Ten title as a result.
Of course, this big performance came in spurts. Against the Michigan State Spartans, Ball dominated the opening quarter of the game, rushing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. This gave the Badgers a 21-7 lead, which should’ve been a good cushion early in a game. Of course, anyone who remembers the Badgers’ defense last year knows how foolish that line of thinking was. The Badgers’ defense showed this by giving up 22 points in the second quarter. Ball didn’t do much of anything in the second or third quarters, but then came back to life when his team needed him most.
The Badgers and Spartans had gotten into a shootout by the time the fourth quarter came around and it just seemed that Ball was due to make a big difference after being shut down for a few quarters. Ball did this by bringing the Badgers to within a two-point conversion (which failed) of tying the game early in the quarter with a touchdown catch, and then won it for the Badgers with less than four minutes to play with a TD run.
It wasn’t the yardage that Ball compiled that ended up mattering at the end of the day, it was his scores. He gave the Badgers a boost at the beginning of the game, which it turned out they needed. He then was able to break through a defense that seemed to have him figured out and gave the Badgers the final boost they needed to secure the win and conference title.
This weekend, the motivation is going to be different for Ball and the Badgers. Last year it was about winning the conference title and getting revenge on a team that beat them in the regular season. This year it will be the same, but also it’s going to be the Badgers trying to prove themselves to the rest of the country. The Badgers finished third in the Big Ten Leaders division, and in that division finishing third is tantamount to finishing last. The Ohio St. Buckeyes and Penn St. Nittany Lions being ineligible for post-season play is the only reason the Badgers are even going to be playing this weekend. This game has to have been written off by a good amount of people because of that, and the fact that the Buckeyes completed an undefeated season last weekend and won the Leaders division. That automatically gives the Badgers something to prove: that they are worthy of playing among the best in their conference and deserving of a repeat trip to Pasadena. Sadly, even a win Saturday won’t make a lot of people believe the Badgers are deserving, but that is something that was created primarily by things the Badgers had no control over and didn’t happen at their university or with their football team.
Whatever way you look at the Big Ten title game, the Badgers’ chances of winning will be based on Ball’s performance in particular. The stakes are the highest of the season and the game is against a team Ball did good against earlier in the season. Most importantly, he is still the best player on that offense and has been the go-to guy all season. So why would anything change now?