They weren’t even supposed to be playing for the Big Ten title, reaching the conference final only because two other schools are on probation. It didn’t matter to the Wisconsin Badgers, with a third consecutive Rose Bowl game on the line, and Montee Ball, along with Melvin Gordon, delivering the performance of a lifetime.
For the first time in over 30 years, the Big Ten sends the same team three times in a row to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin lost the last two times, but no one expected them to reach the conference championship, saying thanks to NCAA regulations that kept Ohio State and Penn State out of the game. Not a lot of people expected them to beat Nebraska after already losing to the Cornhuskers this season. Not a lot of people will be betting on them to beat Stanford.
But a historic performance came together from unusual circumstances. Montee Ball has already forged his name in the history books of College Football by scoring more touchdowns than anyone else has ever had. So he decided to add a few more, just to make sure it won’t be touched any time soon. He finished with three touchdowns after going for 202 yards on 21 carries, including a 16 yard score in the second quarter that gave the Badgers a 35-10 lead and finished any hope of return for Nebraska. It ended in a 70-31 humiliation.
Ball wasn’t even the best contributor on the night for the Wisconsin; Melvin Gordon, a freshman who hasn’t gained more than 112 yards this season, exploded for 216 yards on nine carries, including a 56 yard touchdown to open the game. James White, a Junior, ran for 109 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Nebraska’s whole defensive plan was crowding the middle with eight in the box and stopping ball. They allowed Wisconsin 539 rushing yards, 290 in the first half, averaging 10.8 per carry. The Badgers just ran around, with wide blocking schemes allowing them to explode around the edges. Montee Ball made history by reaching 82 career touchdowns, 25 career games with multiple touchdowns, setting a new record for rushing touchdowns (76) and surpassing the 5000 yard mark for his career. Oh, and there was a game MVP to give him as well.
Last season he ran for 164 yards against Oregon, not enough to beat the Ducks in a memorable 45-38 Rose Bowl. It’s probably going to be a little bit different this year vs Stanford, and very different from what it was against Nebraska. But even if they do lose in another big BCS bowl, there was plenty to remember from the night in Indianapolis.
For the first time in school history, the Badgers had two 200-yard rushers. They finished with the fourth-highest rushing total in school history (539) and tied a conference championship game scoring record. Texas also scored 70 points in the 2005 Big 12 championship game.
The question is this: Can Wisconsin put on another clinic against the Cardinal? Stanford are similar to them in their playing style and focus, just with a much better defense. It doesn’t make the expectations of Ball and Bret Bielema any lower. It’s time, after two let downs against TCU & Oregon, to bring their best outside of their conference, and win the school its first BCS Bowl under Bielema, and maybe more importantly, their first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season, also facing Stanford on that occasion.