Even by Wisconsin standards, Ball's junior season was a revelation. Not that he was an unknown commodity after flirting with a 1,000-yard season in 2010, but even then, he was still seen largely as a cog in the unstoppable Badger machine — after all, two other Badger backs went over 1,000 yards in 2010, one of whom (freshman James White) was back to lead the charge in 2011. Then came a new headliner, N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson, who proceeded to dominate the headlines and Heisman hype for most of the season.
By the end, though, Ball's relentless production was too much deny: With 215 total yards and a touchdown in Monday's Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, he ends the season ranked No. 1 nationally in both yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, officially tying Barry Sanders' single-season record with 39 touchdowns. (Though that mark comes with an asterisk.) He also finished No. 4 in Heisman voting as the star of the Big Ten's best offense, barely a year after considering a move to linebacker to avoid being stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart.
That's the good news for the Badgers, along with the return of the leading receiver (sophomore Jared Abbrederis) and three starting offensive linemen. The bad news: They're losing Wilson and a pair of All-Big Ten pile-drivers up front, seniors Josh Oglesby and Kevin Zeitler. With Ball back in the fold, they'll be back at the top of the preseason polls in the Big Ten. With back-to-back Rose Bowl losses, though, there's still plenty of unfinished business.
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- Sports & Recreation/American Football