CHICAGO -- Already recognized as the Big Ten Conference’s top running back and as the league’s top offensive player, Montee Ball’s status as the best player in the Big Ten was made official on Friday.
Ball was named winner of the 2011 Chicago Tribune Silver Football, which has been bestowed upon the Big Ten’s best player since 1924. To do so, Ball beat out his own teammate, senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished second in the voting of league coaches.
Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins was the other finalist.
Ball was named on the ballots of all 11 eligible coaches -- excluding UW’s Bret Bielema, as coaches cannot vote for their own players -- and received four first-place place votes and seven second-place nods.
Wilson split the coaches’ first-place votes, also receiving four on the heels of a remarkable season that saw him become just the fourth Big Ten quarterback to pass for more than 30 touchdowns. He did not receive any second-place votes, however, providing the margin by which Ball won the award.
Ball, who leads the nation with 1,759 rushing yards and 38 total touchdowns, is the eighth Wisconsin player to win the Silver Football, and the first since Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne in 1999. Ball is also the Badgers’ first Heisman finalist since Dayne took the trophy.
The Wentzville, Mo., native stands just one touchdown shy of matching the all-time Football Bowl Subdivision record of 39 set by Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State in 1988. Ball has scored multiple touchdowns in an NCAA-record 13 straight games and has posted three or more TDs eight times this season.
Ball leads the nation with 32 rushing touchdowns, while his average of 135.3 yards per game ranks No. 4 nationally. He has carried the ball 275 times this season at an average of 6.4 yards per carry.
In addition to his work on the ground, Ball has recorded 20 receptions for 255 yards and six touchdowns. He has also completed both of his pass attempts this season, including a touchdown strike to Wilson.
The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Ball also was the winner of the Big Ten’s inaugural Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award this season.
Both Ball and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler were named to the Walter Camp All-America second team, which was announced as part of The Home Depot College Football Awards show on Thursday.
Ball also was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which is presented to the nation’s top running back and went to Alabama’s Trent Richardson.
In addition to their Walter Camp honors, both Ball and Zeitler previously earned All-America nods from the American Football Coaches Association and CBSSports.com.
The Heisman Trophy will be presented live on ESPN in a ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday.