|In 2011, Montee Ball had one of the best non-Heisman-winning seasons in history. (Getty Images)|
We released the 2012 CBSSports.com Preseason Heisman Watch on Monday. Since then, we've followed up with an in-depth look at the Heisman chances of each of the top 10 candidates.
In 2011, Ball had one of the best non-Heisman-winning statistical seasons ever by a running back. At the time the final vote was due, he had rushed for 1,759 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns, just one short of the all-time single-season mark set by Barry Sanders in 1988 (Ball would go on to tie Sanders' record in the Rose Bowl).
For perspective on just how impressive that feat was, consider that his 39 total touchdowns at season's end were as much as the entire Ohio State team, two more than Florida's total and almost twice as much as Kentucky's.
Ball did all this without losing a fumble. In fact, he has not lost a fumble in 617 career touches.
In recognition of all this excellence, Ball earned exactly 22 first-place votes from the 925 Heisman voters, finishing a distant fourth in the tally. Despite a fantastic season, he just couldn't excite voters the way Robert Griffin III could.
Ball eschewed the NFL and returns in 2012 as the leading Heisman vote getter. Even though he is third on this watch, he's one of the clear favorites heading into the season and has to be considered, already, one of the great Badger running backs of all time.
So how can he win the Heisman?
If voters end up comparing this season with last season, he'll have a tough time of it. Odds are, he's not going to score 39 touchdowns again. Looking back on Heisman history, you won't find many cases of a player winning the trophy after playing much better the year prior.
The model for Ball's run is Herschel Walker. In 1981, Walker had his best season, rushing for 1,891 yards and 18 touchdowns. In 1982, Walker rushed for 1,649 yards in the regular season and scored 15 touchdowns. It was somewhat of a dropoff (though not too much) and some other players might've had better seasons, but it didn't matter. Walker was awarded the Heisman based on his epic career.
If Ball has another year like he did in 2011, he should walk away with the Heisman. But most likely he's going to fall a bit short of that standard. However, he can still win the Heisman if, like Walker, his career stats are perceived as overshadowing the single-season efforts of his competitors.
And the career numbers are likely to be staggering. Ball is just 18 touchdowns short of becoming the all-time NCAA touchdown leader and he will have done most of his damage in three seasons. He is 1,690 yards short of 5,000 career rushing yards. If he were to somehow duplicate his 39 touchdowns from 2011, he would end up with an even 100 for his career, a mark that may never be beat.
It helps that his team is pretty good, too. The Badgers are a lock to win their division in the Big Ten and they have to be considered, at this point, the favorites to win the conference title. Losing Russell Wilson may make things tougher for Ball, but it's also a chance for him to carry the team on his shoulders. If Ball has a 1,700-yard season and scores 30 touchdowns and the Badgers make the Rose Bowl again, his Heisman case will be very convincing. Wisconsin is on the ball, so to speak, to make sure the voters know about his accomplishments.
There are some roadblocks that could arise. The somewhat mysterious circumstances surrounding a recent incident where was beat up by five men have yet to fully play out. He will miss some or all of fall camp due to the injuries sustained in the attack, which could affect his preparation for the season, though on the flip side he won't be getting hit, either.
Ball is a strong candidate for this year's Heisman and probably a lock to at least return to New York, barring injury.
All he has to do win is to keep making history.
Read what Landry Jones has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Aaron Murray has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what EJ Manuel has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Geno Smith has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Knile Davis has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what De'Anthony Thomas has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Clemson's Tajh Boyd has to do to win the Heisman here.