As the 2012 college football season rapidly approaches, the Wisconsin Badgers are preparing to defend their Big Ten title. They return 11 starters from a year ago and have a few key weapons on both sides of the ball.
One of those top players is running back Montee Ball. He put the NFL on hold for another year and decided to return for his senior season. He had a season for the record books in 2011, rushing for over 1,900 yards and scoring 39 total touchdowns. But has he already established himself as an all-time great in Wisconsin history?
The Badgers have a rich history that includes 13 conference titles and have produced two Heisman winners over the years. To crack a list like this would be a remarkable accomplishment for a player that still has a year left of eligibility.
As we get closer to the college football season, here is where Ball currently sits among the top Wisconsin Badgers of all time.
Cory Raymer is one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Badgers. He was an All-Big Ten center in 1993 and 1994, and earned first-team All-American honors in 1994 as well. He helped protect an offense that ranked inside the top 30 in both seasons.
He was a nominee for the Lombardi Award in 1994 when he helped lead the Badgers to their first Rose Bowl victory in school history.
Tom Burke was a unanimous first-team All-American in 1998 when he racked up 22 sacks in one season, which is a Wisconsin record that stands to this day and may never be broken. He played from 1995-1988 and helped the Badgers win their second conference title in 39 years.
That 1998 season is without question one of the best in college football history and is enough to award the former defensive end with a spot on this list.
If what Montee Ball did last season wasn't enough to crack the top 10 Badgers of all time, nothing ever will be. We are talking about somebody who led the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and tied Barry Sanders' record of 39 total touchdowns in one year. He was a first-team All-American and a finalist for nearly every major award, including the Heisman Trophy, where he finished fourth.
Ball now has 3,310 rushing yards in his three-year career and 61 total touchdowns. With another year left to go, don't be surprised if the running back cracks the top five when it is all said and done.
Lee Evans was just as productive in college as he has been in his underrated NFL career. The Wisconsin wide receiver, who played from 1999-2003, holds every major statistical receiving record for the Badgers. He had 27 receiving touchdowns, 175 receptions and 3,468 receiving yards throughout his career.
In 2001, his 1,545 awards led the entire Big Ten and set a new conference record. And to just think, Evans missed the entire 2002 season due to an ACL injury.
Evans was one of the more productive receivers this conference has ever seen, which is why he is an all-time Badger great.
Before Montee Ball and Ron Dayne, there was a fullback who went by the name of Alan Ameche. He played during the early 1950s and quickly became an All-American. In his four seasons, Ameche rushed for 3,212 yards (Which was an NCAA record at the time) and scored 25 touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy his senior season, in 1954.
He is one of only a handful of Badgers to have his number retired and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
Jamar Fletcher was the best cornerback to ever play for the Badgers. He played from 1998-2000 and currently holds the Badgers record with 21 career interceptions. He also set a conference record by returning five of those interceptions back for touchdowns. Fletcher is a Jim Thorpe Award winner, and a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Because of his play-making abilities on defense, Fletcher helped lead Wisconsin to two conference titles and two Rose Bowls during his career.
Tim Krumrie was a defensive lineman from 1979-1982 and started every game throughout his four-year career. He was an All-Big Ten player three seasons in a row and currently holds the Wisconsin record for most career solo tackles with 276.
Krumrie was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Hall of Fame in 1999.
Joe Thomas was one of the top offensive linemen in college football during the 2003-2006 seasons. He was a two-time first-team All-American and the first Wisconsin player in the history of the program to win the Outland Trophy in 2006.
Thomas started the majority of his games throughout his career and was the lead blocker for some of the more successful Badger teams in recent memory. Wisconsin finished with a combined 38-13 record with Thomas on the roster, including a 12-1 season in 2006.
Jim Leonhard stepped onto campus as a walk-on, but ended up playing in every game throughout his four-year career. He played the safety position from 2001-2004 and is tied with Jamar Fletcher for the most interceptions in school history. He is a three-time All-American and led the league in interceptions in both the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
He also set a Big Ten record (which now belongs to Steve Breaston), racking up 1,347 punt-return yards and three touchdowns.
And to think, this guy didn't receive one Division 1-A scholarship?
Was there any doubt as to who was going to be the best Badger of all time?
Ron Dayne was the starting running back for four seasons from 1996-1999. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in every season (only the fourth player ever to do so) and finished his career with 7,125 rushing yards and 71 touchdowns.
He has won nearly every major award, including the Heisman Trophy in 1999, the Walter Camp Award and the Rose Bowl MVP twice. When he graduated, he owned nearly every school record imaginable and was later inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2011.
Dayne did it all during his four years at Wisconsin and remains one of the best players to ever play at the collegiate level.