Originally Published: December 9, 2011

Montee Ball: The Point Machine

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

I'm going to give you a list of teams, and you tell me what they have in common:

Florida International, Pittsburgh, Florida, Ball State, Ohio State, Utah State, San Jose State, Auburn, UConn, Syracuse, Iowa State, Rice, Virginia, Maryland, Western Kentucky, Illinois, Central Michigan, Duke, Troy, Kansas, Middle Tennessee State, Buffalo, Marshall, Oregon State, Louisville, Colorado State, Indiana, Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Tulane, Tennessee, Idaho, UAB, Colorado, Penn State, Minnesota, Boston College, UNLV, Kent State, Memphis, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Akron, Florida Atlantic and New Mexico.

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Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin RB Montee Ball is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and three TDs per game this season.

Give up? Those 45 teams -- or about 37 percent of the entire FBS -- all have fewer touchdowns this season than one man: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

The Badgers junior is one of five Heisman Trophy finalists primarily because of his preposterous penchant for finding the end zone. He has 38 touchdowns in 13 games this season, just one shy of Barry Sanders' record of 39 set in 1998. Throw in Ball's passing touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana, and he has averaged three touchdowns per game this season.

OK, you say, but Sanders didn't get to count his bowl stats and played in only 11 regular-season games, while Ball has had 13 games and the Rose Bowl is still to come. Agreed. Still, Sanders -- who added four touchdowns in his bowl game -- averaged a score every 8.67 touches. Ball is scoring a touchdown in every 7.24 touches this year. The goal for every offensive skill player is to reach the end zone, and nobody does that better than Ball, who has scored at least three times in eight games this season.

It's not like he is just some battering ram who plunges in after others have done the hard work, either. Ball has rushed for 1,759 yards -- more than any other FBS player this season -- and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. In fact, his numbers compare very favorably with Wisconsin's 1999 Heisman winner, Ron Dayne:

Dayne, 1999: 303 carries, 1,834 yards, 19 touchdowns, 6.1 yards per carry; one catch for 19 yards.

Ball, 2011: 275 carries, 1,759 yards, 32 touchdowns, 6.4 yards per carry; 20 catches for 255 yards and six touchdowns.

Like Dayne, Ball plays for a two-loss Badgers team that is going to the Rose Bowl. If the argument against Ball is that his team is not in the title hunt, then why does Robert Griffin III have so much support for leading a 9-3 Baylor team? Ball's numbers across the board are better than Alabama's Trent Richardson, and he has played just as many tough defenses as Richardson has faced. The only thing that gives an edge to Richardson is SEC bias.

Andrew Luck is great, but his stats are down from last year, while LSU's Tyrann Mathieu could have hurt his team by incurring a one-game suspension earlier this season.

Sanders' record has stood for nearly a quarter-century, and Ball will fly past 40 touchdowns if he has an average game against Oregon in Pasadena. That record could last a long, long time. And if Ball doesn't win Saturday night, future college football fans may look back and wonder how a guy with the most touchdowns ever, one who outscored more than a third of the teams in his sport that year, could have possibly been snubbed for the Heisman Trophy.

Tyrann Mathieu: The Game Changer

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

The catchy nickname is one of the reasons Tyrann Mathieu has become the rage this season in college football.

He'll forever be known as the "Honey Badger." It's just one of those monikers that sticks.

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Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu has consistently made big plays when the Tigers seem to need them most.

Something else that sticks is the way he plays the game, the impact he has on the game and his uncanny ability to make game-changing plays when his team needs them most.

This LSU football team is crawling with talent. Anybody who doesn't think so might want to turn on the television in a couple of years and watch the NFL.

Where Mathieu fits into that equation remains to be seen. His teammate, junior receiver Russell Shepard, said it best last week following the Tigers' SEC championship game win over Georgia.

"He's not the fastest, and he's not the biggest," Shepard said. "But he plays with a lot of passion."

And it's no secret to anyone who's played against him why he just happens to always be around the ball.

"When you play as hard as he does, good things happen to you," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Indeed they do. There's a reason the 5-foot-9, 175-pound dynamo has recovered five fumbles, tied for the most in the country. The same goes for his six forced fumbles, which is tied for third nationally.

He's scored two of his four touchdowns on fumble returns and the other two on punt returns. His 92-yard punt return against Arkansas two weeks ago was jaw-dropping. His 62-yard return last week against Georgia was even better, and then came one that topped them all.

Mathieu didn't score on his 47-yard return, but he left as many as seven Georgia defenders in his wake while cutting, starting and stopping, and weaving his way to the Bulldogs' 17-yard line before the last guy finally got him.

Here's the common denominator on all three returns: They came at points in the game when the Tigers needed a spark.

Mathieu, who's played cornerback, nickelback and safety on defense this season, has his own built-in clock. He can sense when his team needs that big play.

And the way he attacks the ball, you'd swear he also has a built-in homing device.

"It goes deeper than football what Tyrann Mathieu means to this team," LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "He might be a young guy, but we have a lot of young guys who are leaders that make plays, and nobody has made more of them this season than Tyrann.

"He's a leader of leaders."

Also the Tigers' leading tackler, Mathieu hit a lull late in the season when he was suspended for the Auburn game for reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

It's the reason some people may choose not to vote for Mathieu for the Heisman Trophy.

That's a whole different debate.

But if you're looking for the player who has impacted his team in the most areas and has done it on the brightest stages, the next thing the "Honey Badger" takes will be the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.

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