Montee Ball isn't going to win the Heisman Trophy, but the fact he's such a big part of the discussion at this point is a triumph in itself.

The junior tailback for the University of Wisconsin football team was well off the Heisman grid for the better part of this season.

He wasn't the first promotional choice from his own locker room. That distinction, understandably, belonged to senior quarterback Russell Wilson, whose candidacy was trumpeted by UW with national interview sessions, social media exposure and a page in the weekly press release in early October.

Two months later, while Wilson remains a worthy Heisman candidate in my estimation, many other voters, understandably, have suddenly come to embrace Ball because of his almost peerless ability to score touchdowns.

That sentiment has grown to the point that if Ball has another high-grade performance Saturday night when the Badgers face Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, he could land an invitation to the Heisman presentation Dec. 10 in New York City.

Ball has 34 TDs, the second-most in NCAA FBS history for a single season, and has scored two or more touchdowns in all 12 games, an NCAA record.

En route to being named offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, Ball ranks second in the nation with 1,622 rushing yards and third with 1,870 all-purpose yards.

Because the Heisman race has no cut-and-dried favorite, many voters, including me, will be waiting until Monday's ballot deadline to weigh in with our top three because we're waiting to see how several conference title games play out. Therein lies a huge advantage for Ball.

Two top contenders — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama running back Trent Richardson — aren't playing because their teams are idle until bowl assignments are made.

Also on the sidelines is Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley, whose season is over because the Trojans are on NCAA probation.

That leaves voters to give closer scrutiny to Ball, Houston quarterback Case Keenum in the Conference USA title game vs. Southern Mississippi and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin in a Big 12 regular-season finale with Texas.

Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore also is worthy, but it's hard to see his Heisman candidacy getting a boost in a Mountain West game against 10-loss New Mexico.

Ball, meanwhile, is on a tear. He has averaged 195 yards rushing in his last four games and scored 13 TDs. If those trends continue Saturday night against the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, Ball has a good chance of getting a Heisman invitation.

It helps that Ball's resume includes some very flattering references to Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders and his Heisman Trophy season in 1988. But let's not get carried away.

Sanders scored his NCAA-record 39 touchdowns in 11 games. Throw in his bowl performance and he had 44. In addition, Sanders had 2,628 rushing yards in those 11 games, 2,850 if you count the bowl.

In other words, Ball isn't Barry, but who is?

If I had to give a top-three Heisman slot to Ball or Wilson, I would choose the latter. I believe Wilson has played a more crucial role for UW and been more consistently outstanding this season.

But both are worthy of Heisman consideration. If that means Ball is invited and not Wilson, so be it.

Either way, a good person and a great player will be recognized.

Contact Andy Baggot at abaggot@madison.com or 608-252-6175.

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