CHICAGO - After falling four yards shy of becoming the first program in FBS history with three running backs over 1,000 rushing yards, the University of Wisconsin's reputation for developing successful running backs got another ounce of validation Thursday.
Junior running back Montee Ball and sophomore running back James White were among the 12 players earning preseason recognition when the Big Ten Conference announced its inaugural football Players to Watch list.
Ball and White each had a firm hand in Wisconsin's successful running game last season, helping propel the Badgers to their first conference championship in 11 seasons. Ball finished the season with a team-leading 18 touchdowns on 996 yards at 6.1 yards per carry, most of that production coming in the season's second half.
White was exceptional last season en route to earning conference freshman of the year honors, utilizing sudden change of direction and speed to rush for a team-high 1,052 yards and 14 scores. Both players are expected to share the starting role this year.
Big Ten coaches voted to institute a preseason Players to Watch list beginning this season, honoring five student-athletes each from the Legends Division and Leaders Division. The 2011 list was selected by a media panel and features additional honorees due to a tie.
In addition to Ball and White, the Leaders Division honorees are Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, Ohio State center Mike Brewster and defensive tackle John Simon and Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti.
Representing the Legends Division are Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.
The group of Leaders Division standouts includes five All-Conference selections from 2010. Brewster earned All-America accolades and first-team All-Big Ten honors. White was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a second-team All-Conference selection. Belcher, Simon and Ball were each All-Big Ten honorable mention selections.
All five Legends Division players received postseason recognition in 2010, with Robinson, Crick and David earning All-America honors and first-team All-Conference accolades. Robinson was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year while David was tabbed the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Persa was also named first-team All-Big Ten while Cousins was an honorable mention All-Conference choice.
The complete list of Big Ten football preseason Players to Watch appears below:
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern
Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
Damarlo Belcher, WR, Indiana
Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
John Simon, DT, Ohio State
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
James White, RB, Wisconsin
(leaders division includes ties)