CHICAGO — Given his outstanding individual performance a year ago, University of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball’s name is a hot topic as a Heisman Trophy candidate for his senior season in 2012.
If people are going to talk about him, Ball figures it’s about time they pronounce his name correctly.
During the Big Ten media days last week, Ball revealed that he preferred his first name be pronounced as it appears on his birth certificate: Mon-TAY instead of Mon-TEE.
According to Badgers coach Bret Bielema, Ball’s name actually has an accent mark over the second “e” on his birth certificate. But Ball never made a point to correct coaches or teammates when he arrived at Wisconsin from his hometown of Wentzville, Mo., in 2009.
When Ball was a Heisman Trophy candidate last season, he brought up the mispronunciation of his name for the first time to reporters but didn’t discuss it again. Ball said he brought up the topic once more this season at the behest of his girlfriend.
Why didn’t he tell anyone sooner?
“It was not really that big of a deal,” Ball said. “It is an easy switch, but it’s kind of like the mindset of Wisconsin running backs, being a product of the offense. It’s something that’s really hard to change. A lot of people still call me Montee, but I most definitely don’t correct them.
Last season, Ball produced one of the finest seasons in college football history when he rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns in guiding Wisconsin to a second straight Rose Bowl appearance. He also tied Barry Sanders’ single-season FBS record with 39 total touchdowns scored.
Ball, who has 61 career touchdowns, needs 18 more to break the NCAA career record for touchdowns. And while acknowledging his quest for individual achievement, Ball made sure to place team goals ahead of his own.
“I really want to go undefeated and try to make it to the national championship game if possible,” Ball said.
National championship: a couple of words everyone at Wisconsin can pronounce correctly.
“Like I’ve been telling the team,” Bielema said, “‘Hey we’ve been knocking on the door of the national championship game two years in a row. Let’s get ourselves in position if possible to walk through that thing.'”
Taylor’s take: Badgers linebacker Mike Taylor said he wasn’t concerned about being left off the 51-player preseason watch list for the Dick Butkus Award, given annually to the top college linebacker in the country.
“I think people make a big deal of it,” Taylor said at Big Ten media days. “It’s just an award. That doesn’t really matter if you think about it. You’re still going to play football. It’s just the way it is. I’m not mad about it.”
Last season, Taylor led the Big Ten with 150 total tackles for Wisconsin, including a 22-tackle game against Ohio State. It was the most tackles in a single game by a Badgers player since 1998. Taylor’s 10.7 tackles per game ranked 13th in the country.
Taylor’s teammate, Chris Borland, did make the Butkus Award watch list after registering 143 tackles last season.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be on the list,” Taylor said. “It’s obviously an honor to be on the list. It’s not going to stop me from thinking I’m the best or stop me from thinking I can have a good season. If anything, you could say it’s motivation.”
Taylor can play himself onto the 15-player semifinal list for the award, which will be released in October.
Maxwell talks Wisconsin: Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell hasn’t yet played a down of football against Wisconsin, but he’s seen enough to understand the budding rivalry developing between the two schools.
Last season, the Spartans and the Badgers split a pair of games. Michigan State knocked off Wisconsin 37-31 on a last-second 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Keith Nichol. Wisconsin then returned the favor with a 42-39 victory in the inaugural Big Ten championship game that went down to the final minutes.
“I think rivalries kind of develop when you have two good football teams who play each other year-in and year-out and they always have good, hard fought games,” said Maxwell, who will take over at quarterback this season for Cousins. “If you look back to 2007 when we played Wisconsin, I think every single game that we played against them has been decided by seven to 10 points.
“When you have two good football teams like us and Wisconsin and each game comes down like that, there’s always going to be a little added pressure, a little added hype, and it naturally develops into one of those rivalries.”
Since 2007, both teams have won three games, with none decided by more than 10 points. Michigan State has scored 199 points in those six games, and Wisconsin has scored 196 points.
The two teams meet this season on Oct. 27 at Camp Randall Stadium.