Wisconsin: Bowling Without Hill
For those who were looking for a reason other than Erik Ainge to watch the first bowl game of the new year, Jan. 1's Outback bowl between Tennessee and Wisconsin, they may have just lost all motivation. It looks like Wisconsin's explosive sophomore running back P.J. Hill will not be suiting up for the bowl game, as his bruised left leg has kept him mostly off the field since the end of October, and he has yet to take part in bowl-prep practices.
"From what I've seen, he isn't going to be able to carry forward any time [soon] right now," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said, noting that Hill has been given the choice as to whether or not he will play. He said that the sophomore has not been able to run at full speed, which is the main hindrance keeping him off the field.
Losing Hill is a big loss for television audiences, Badger fans and the entire Wisconsin team. Even playing in only 10 of Wisconsin's 12 games this season (and seeing very limited time in the final two), Hill led the team in rushing, averaging better than 100 yards per game (108, to be exact) with 14 touchdowns on the year. For those not mathematically inclined, that's better than a score per game.
Plus, Hill is fun to watch. The 2006 national freshman of the year is an explosive runner who can make plays at any time. But not if he can't run. And at this point, with the game about three weeks away, he still can't run. Assuming that their two-year starter will be watching this bowl game from the sideline, the Badgers have begun making other plans for their backfield.
That leaves freshman Zach Brown and sophomore Lance Smith to fight over the starting role. Brown is leading the charge at this point, thanks to his late-season heroics once Hill became extremely limited in his running abilities. Brown started on the road against Ohio State and rushed for 63 yards, which earned him the right to start the final two games of the regular season. He ran for 108 and two TDs against Michigan, scoring the game-sealing points, and torched Minnesota with 250 yards on the ground and two more scores.
"Zach has the upper hand, I think, just the way he's played the last two ball games," Bielema said.
Smith, on the other hand, had far fewer opportunities to prove himself. He served a five-game suspension over the course of the season that allowed Brown to pass him as the secondary running back in the Badgers' backfield, but he did finish the season averaging 6.2 yards per carry, more than both Brown and Hill.
No matter which backup starts in place of the injured Hill, this game has lost some of its luster. If by some miracle Hill does recover in time to start - or if this news was leaked on purpose so that Tennessee would prepare for the game thinking he wouldn't be involved - the television audiences should flock back accordingly.