Wisconsin Badgers Football: John Clay, Most Overlooked Player in Nation?

Carl StineCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2010

Wisconsin running back John Clay is a big boy. At 6'1" he doesn't particularly tower over anyone, but his 255-pound body is a load to bring down. Just ask teammate Kevin Rouse. In Clay's first live tackle scrimmage since his offseason ankle surgery, he took a handoff and burst through the line—right into the arms of the waiting linebacker, Rouse.

But Clay, in his typical fashion, lowered his head and ran Rouse over for an 11-yard gain.

In just his third season as a Badger, Clay has a ton of hype to live up to. He is the returning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and he led the conference in points scored(108) and touchdowns(18) last season. He is the focal point of the Badgers' offense and rushed for over 1,500 yards last season.

So why is he being ignored by the national media? Granted, Clay and coach Bret Bielema would trade all of the national accolades for a shot at a BCS game this season, but why no love for Clay?

In SI.com's Big Ten preview Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is picked as conference MVP ahead of Clay by Stewart Mendel.

The coaches picked Pryor ahead of Clay as the projected 2010 Offensive Player of the Year.

When Heisman contenders are discussed, Clay is not one of the ones who jumps to mind.

Why is that?

Pryor is being rated based solely on his performance in last season's Rose Bowl and all of the hype he has received over the last three years. Clay has earned his hype.

Clay is looking to build on a season in which he rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last six games.

He is going to be running behind one of the most versatile, experienced offensive lines in the country.

He had offseason ankle surgery, which has helped his ability to cut and change directions.

The reason he is being ignored is simple. Clay disappeared last season during the big games.

Against Iowa and OSU, Clay was virtually non-existent, carrying the ball 41 times for 134 yards and an average of only 3.2 yards per carry.

When Clay failed to show up for these two games, all of the pressure was placed squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Scott Tolzien, who is not a game-changer. This effectively killed the Badgers' chances of knocking off either one of the top two teams in the conference.

In last season's game against Northwestern, the Badgers were driving and in position to score and come away with a win late in the game. Clay took the ball, burst through the o-line, and promptly fumbled, coughing up the Badgers' chance at a win.

Clay certainly has the talent to win the Heisman and be recognized as the best player in the nation, but until he can be more consistent in the big games(i.e. the bowl game against Miami), he will be relegated to just another good running back with great potential.

Tolzien put it best, when asked about Clay's Heisman chances:

"I hope he is (a candidate), but I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Heisman this, Heisman that.' John’s got to prove it, and we have to prove it as an offense. We all know that the Heisman winners come with team success and offensive production. I know we have a great line in place and everything like that, but John’s got to go out and prove it again this year because 2009 has no meaning in 2010."