HereFire up the #SaquonForHeisman train again because Penn State’s Mr. Everything is already getting legitimate hype for college football’s most coveted award.
Sports Illustrated named Barkley a Heisman candidate for the 2017 season alongside USC quarterback Sam Darnold — who was put atop the list — plus Washington quarterback Jake Browning, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, and 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, who quarterbacked Louisville to a 9-4 record.
Barkley’s resume is stellar, and he’s undoubtedly the nation’s premier back entering the 2017 season considering how many talented backs — like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey — entered the NFL Draft. But Barkley’s contention isn’t merely by default; Barkley’s 2016 rushing total put him at No. 14 in the nation with 1,496 yards. He finished with more rushing touchdowns (18) than top rushing leaders D’Onta Foreman (15) and Donnel Pumphrey (17) while recording significantly less carries.
Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson said of Barkley’s candidacy:
The Rose Bowl was a national coming out party for Darnold. For Barkley, it was the capstone of a season in which he cemented his status as one of the top players at a position loaded with elite talent (McCaffrey, Cook, Fournette, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, Georgia’s Nick Chubb). Barkley carried 25 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 7.8 YPC and added 55 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. As was the case in Penn State’s thrilling upset of Ohio State on Oct. 22 in Happy Valley, Barkley did not wilt in the spotlight, repeatedly gashing a Trojans defense that led the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed per attempt during conference play. That tendency to excel in big moments will serve Barkley well as a Heisman candidate, as should the fact that Penn State is likely to open the season as, at worst, the co-favorite in one of the nation’s toughest divisions, the Big Ten East.
Like Mayfield last season, Barkley could struggle to gain momentum in the Heisman race if Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley is viewed as a major driver of the Nittany Lions’ success. Yet Barkley is the stronger candidate at this stage, and he should face less competition nationally for the title of nation’s best running back than he did in 2016.
It’s exciting to consider what Barkley will be able to accomplish in 2017. Penn State’s had a number of electrifying running backs in its illustrious history, but none are as complete and dynamic as Barkley. He torched top competition, and figures to improve upon a magnificent sophomore campaign as he enters what most believe will be his final season in Happy Valley before a jump to the NFL.