Wisconsin vs. Oregon State: Montee Ball Needs Big Day to Stay in Heisman Race

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst ISeptember 8, 2012

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 01:  Running back Montee Ball #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs the ball against the Northern Iowa Panthers on September 1, 2012 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images)
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

Wisconsin's Montee Ball was less than impressive in the opener of his campaign to gain back-to-back invitations to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City. He'll need to improve upon his 3.8 yards per carry average tonight against Oregon State if he wants to have any chance going forward at the prestigious honor.

Maybe more important for the Wisconsin football team, they need Ball to be the back that he was in 2011. He did carry them down the stretch in the 26-21 scare over unranked Northern Iowa in the season opener. But no one predicted that the game would be that close.

Some of it was new QB Danny O'Brien, and some of it was Wisconsin's offensive line having an uncharacteristically off day.

Either way, it only gets tougher from here on out for Ball.

Looking ahead, the schedule doesn't give many more breaks past the matchup with the Beavers. Utah State only allowed 2.3 yards per carry in their season opening win against the Utah Utes. UTEP was also good against the run while facing Oklahoma, turning what was supposed to be a blowout into a close Sooner win.

Ironically, the Big 10 schedule might provide more room for Ball to run than his non-conference schedule will. Illinois has been bad against the run. We'll know more about Purdue's running game after their matchup with Notre Dame later in the day.

If you remember, one of the knocks on Ball's candidacy for the Heisman was that he only put up the big numbers when it didn't matter, or against teams that couldn't compete with Wisconsin.

But Ball strives to perform better against teams that voters will be watching his Badgers play. Without those kind of "signature" games, it's going to be hard to sway the opinions of voters treated to names like Matt Barkley and Geno Smith on a week-to-week basis.

Don't forget that Ball was the offseason target of an attack in the middle of the night. It's admittedly made it harder for him to prepare for the season, and that was evident in the season opener.

Luckily for Ball, he gets to keep lacing them up every week and proving that he is the best running back in the country.

That declaration starts against Oregon State, where he'll put his name right back in the hat with a big day against the Beavers in Corvallis.