Wisconsin, Ball roll into Penn State for finale

Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris doesn’t believe the rumor

about Montee Ball, the one about the Wisconsin tailback having a

”down year.”

If 1,400 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns are disappointing,

imagine what the Wisconsin star senior can do in a good season.

This is the predicament facing the Nittany Lions (7-4, 5-2 Big

Ten) when Ball and the Badgers (7-4, 4-3) roll into Happy Valley in

the regular season finale Saturday.

”I looked at his stats and was like, `He’s having a down

year?”’ Morris said. ”You can’t take anything away from that. He

might make some big plays on Saturday. We’re going to have our

plays, too.”

One more touchdown would give Ball 79 career scores, breaking a

tie for the major college record set by Travis Prentice of Miami

(Ohio) in 1999. With two straight games of at least 191 yards

rushing, Ball might be the best player on the cold Beaver Stadium

turf.

Temperatures aren’t expected to rise past the mid-30s and should

fall throughout the game, starting at mid-afternoon. Snow flurries

might fall, too.

It’s the type of old-school football weather that pumps up the

adrenaline of Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

”It’s Thanksgiving, and you’re practicing and this is what

football is all about: Wisconsin versus Penn State,” O’Brien said

this week. ”I heard maybe it’s going to snow, which would be

great. Wouldn’t that be great? This is football to me, this is

football.”

But a game that, on the surface, doesn’t mean much in the Big

Ten standings. Wisconsin has already locked up a berth in next

week’s conference title game because the two teams ahead of the

Badgers in the Leaders Division – Ohio State and Penn State – are

ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.

Officially, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes are the Leaders Division

champs.

Wisconsin is the beneficiary of this wacky year – third place in

the Leaders Division is good enough to get a shot at getting into

the Rose Bowl.

But the Badgers aren’t making any excuses. Coach Bret Bielema

said he doesn’t plan to hold any of his players back in the game,

so long as they’re healthy and depending on the ”ebb and flow” of

the contest.

Wisconsin would like to bounce back from last week’s 21-14

overtime loss to No. 4 Ohio State and regain momentum heading into

the league title game.

”I think we need to win this weekend to propel us into

Indianapolis,” center and team captain Travis Frederick said. ”I

think we need to take advantage of this week, get better and really

get the confidence back in our team.”

At Penn State, every game is treated like a bowl game. It’s the

closest the Nittany Lions will come to a postseason feel because of

NCAA penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation

scandal.

And as if this weekend wasn’t going to be emotional enough for a

senior class that helped keep most of the team together after the

sanctions were announced, the Nittany Lions have new motivation for

Saturday – to win without star linebacker Michael Mauti. The senior

is out after hurting his left knee last week.

Not only will Mauti be missed in trying to stop Ball, he’s also

one of Penn State’s fiery leaders. Mauti told the team this week

not to worry about his health.

”We still have a game to play, he got up and told us that,”

said defensive tackle Jordan Hill, another senior leader. ”We can

focus on him after next week. Spoken like a true leader.”

Penn State senior quarterback Matt McGloin can add another

accomplishment Saturday in his already-impressive season. The

school’s career leader in passing touchdowns and single-season

passing yardage, McGloin needs one more score to tie Daryll Clark

(2009) for the single-season passing touchdowns mark with 24.

Wisconsin has a pretty good group of seniors, too. One more

victory would allow the Badgers’ current crop of seniors to tie the

2007 class for the school record with 40 victories in a four-year

span.

Unlike Penn State, Wisconsin will have two more games after

Saturday – the Big Ten title game and a bowl bid, Pasadena or not.

A heavy dose of handoffs to Ball might be the solution the Badgers

need to forget about last week’s loss to the Buckeyes.

”Our guys have had a lot invested in every game this year. And

the part I’ve kind of said all along is they’re a very resilient

group,” Bielema said. ”So it’s a group I know will bounce

back.”

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP