Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 9/5/12
MADISON, Wis. As Heisman Trophy promotional efforts go, it's not exactly a 10-story billboard in Times Square. But around the University of Wisconsin campus, the effect is certainly noticeable. That's where you'll find an unmistakable image of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball's body plastered to the side of a city transportation bus. Ball, arms outstretched while wearing his red No. 28 jersey, is holding a football in his left hand and a Badgers helmet in his right hand. The message in white block lettering at the top represents Ball's Heisman slogan: "This Fall Belongs to Ball." If members of Wisconsin's athletic marketing department were seeking an attention grabber, it looks like they've found one. "I haven't seen the bus, but I've seen pictures of the bus," Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema said. "A couple months ago when they said they were going to do it, I asked to see what it was going to look like. It's good. I'm sure there's a lot of people that are taken aback by it when they first see it. It brings a little bit more publicity for Montee." Ball didn't necessarily need extra publicity following his outstanding junior season a year ago, when he became a known commodity on the college football scene. Last year, he led the country with 1,923 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns to become a Heisman Trophy finalist. His 39 total touchdowns tied the single-season FBS record set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Still, any opportunity to create buzz for Wisconsin's marquee player was one Kevin Kluender was going to take. Kluender, Wisconsin's assistant athletic director for marketing, said his team discussed several options to promote Ball this season. He also examined previous Heisman campaigns at other schools. While some programs promoted their candidates nationally, Kluender decided UW would target people around Madison to increase excitement for the upcoming season. In 2001, Oregon famously shelled out 250,000 for a massive, 10-story billboard of quarterback Joey Harrington in New York City's Times Square. Harrington ultimately finished fourth in the Heisman voting. "For us, one of the things we talked about was I think a lot of Heisman promotional efforts haven't introduced the player to the public," Kluender said. "We felt that we came from a position of people knew who Montee was a little bit just based on performance from the past couple of years, particularly last year." There is just one bus that contains Ball's image, and Kluender said it the image is scheduled to run through the end of November, when the regular seasons comes to a close. It began running more than a week ago, in advance of Wisconsin's season opener against Northern Iowa. "It goes all around town throughout the week," Kluender said. "Every day, it has a different route throughout the city. So it's really touching all parts of the Madison area." The bus is just the latest in a long list of ideas meant to garner attention for Ball's Heisman campaign this season. The athletic department has taken to social media to promote Ball nationally. Ball has an official Heisman Trophy Twitter account, a YouTube video and a Facebook page. Each week, fans can submit a question to Ball's Facebook page via Twitter by using the hashtag thisfallbelongstoball. Every Friday, Ball conducts an interview that appears on his Facebook page. If a fan's question is selected that day, the fan wins a collectible wooden gift box, including an autographed photo of Ball. Week 1 winners came from Wisconsin and Arizona. Fans also can submit a photo of themselves standing next to a cardboard cutout of Ball, located outside the stadium on game days. A fan is then selected at random to win an autographed football. Ball's performance on the field also is a point of emphasis for the marketing department. Ball entered his senior season 18 touchdowns shy of setting the all-time mark for touchdowns in a career. When Ball scores a touchdown at home, as he did during Wisconsin's game against Northern Iowa, the school mascot "Bucky Badger" runs a flag to the top of the student section. Each flag will count up until Ball scores his 18th touchdown. "It's our way to kind of give a visual representation of the record," Kluender said. According to Wisconsin football sports information director Brian Lucas, athletic officials wanted to find a way to mirror the Heisman campaign they put together for Badgers running back Ron Dayne in 1999. That season, Dayne was chasing Ricky Williams' all-time rushing record, so the school created a countdown to the mark. Reebok, which sponsored Wisconsin's apparel at the time, agreed to pay for a billboard on the south wall of the Wisconsin Field House, which overlooks Camp Randall Stadium. The billboard featured a white No. 33 with the phrase "Running for the Record." It also contained the total yardage Dayne needed to match Williams' record. Dayne went on to pass Williams and win the Heisman Trophy that season. The biggest difference in promotional efforts between 1999 and 2012, Kluender noted, is clearly the use of social media. At USC this season, for example, fans can download a mobile app called PROJECT TRO7AN that promotes quarterback Matt Barkley, who wears No. 7. "I think it was a different time," Kluender said of Dayne's era. "Now there's more immediacy that you can talk about player achievements. We can have photos or video of Montee's game performance out almost in real time if we want to, whereas that wasn't possible back when Ron Dayne was competing." As for what Ball thinks about all the attention? He doesn't mind one bit. "It's a blessing to have my face on a bus and everything like that," Ball said. "Other than that, I always tell people I better make sure I play well." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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