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How Barkley And McSorley Compare To Past Heisman Winners In Week One

While many pundits have scrutinized the idea that two players in the same backfield would diminish each other’s Heisman-worthy production, both Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley backed up their respective preseason hype as favorites for the award in Saturday’s 52-0 beatdown of Akron.

Barkley ran for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 attempts and caught three passes for 54 yards. McSorley efficiently threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-25 completions and ran for another 48 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

Because the award historically favors quarterbacks and running backs (of the 82 times the award has been given, a running back or quarterback has won it 76 times), there is a large sample size of players to compare to Barkley’s and McSorley’s respective marches to New York City. We looked at how each player’s impressive season opening performance matches up with those of some of the best Heisman-winning seasons in college football history.

Running back

Barkley has been in the Heisman discussion much more than McSorley has; he was even named the top pick for the award over the weekend. His Week One display matches up with some of the best running backs and all-around athletes college football has ever seen.

Derrick Henry, 2015
Henry is the last running back to win the award and he opened up 2015 by running for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 attempts against a Wisconsin defense that was much more talented than the unit Akron fielded over the weekend. Henry’s 11.3 yards per carry against the Badgers was his most efficient output of the season. As the season went on, he instead wracked up his yards by handling as many 40 carries a game at times. Henry finished his season with only 5.6 yards per carry and 2,219 total rushing yards. The good news for Barkley, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry 15 lbs. ago as a true freshman.

Reggie Bush, 2005
Much like Barkley, Bush was a multi-threat running back for Pete Caroll’s notorious USC teams of the mid-2000s. In the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii, Bush ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, in addition to gaining 58 yards through the air off of four receptions. They also both have an infinity for going over, rather than around defenders. If Barkley matches Bush’s performance down the stretch, one can only hope he takes better care of that prized trophy…

K.C. Alfred / Union-Tribune 2005 photo

Ricky Williams, 1998
The former Texas standout turned in one of the greatest season openers of all time in the Longhorns’ 66-36 thrashing of New Mexico State in 1998. Williams ran for 215 yards and six (!) touchdowns on 36 attempts in a classic college football shootout. That performance set the tone for Williams’ monumental season that saw him run for six touchdowns again three weeks later and for five touchdowns the following week. Barkley has a similar big play ability to Williams, whose multiple trademark games and plays cemented his place at the top of a lopsided ballot.

Herschel Walker, 1982
Walker’s pedestrian 20-yard, zero touchdown start to the season shows that Barkley doesn’t have to be perfect every week to be immortalized in December, especially when he is only one component of an all-time great offense like Georgia had before falling to Penn State in the national championship game.

Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery


Although Barkley dominates the Heisman conversation for players this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, McSorley has the benefit of recent years on his side. Quarterbacks, namely mobile ones like McSorley, have won 15 of the last 17 Heismans. To McSorley’s advantage, Joe Moorhead showed Saturday that the Nittany Lions will do much more than rely on Barkley this season; they will throw the ball aggressively and call designed runs for McSorley. His biggest issue will be outplaying a loaded group of quarterbacks across the nation like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and the Heisman incumbent Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson, 2016
Few players will ever match Jackson’s legendary start to 2016. The Louisville quarterback lit up Charlotte by throwing for 286 yards and six touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing (McSorley was 18-of-25 Saturday) and running for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson didn’t quite best that over the weekend against Purdue, but against a much better opponent, he still threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns on 30-of-46 attempts and ran for 107 more.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Mariota, 2014
The now-Tennessee Titan began his senior season with almost a carbon copy of McSorley’s performance Saturday, throwing for three touchdowns and 267 yards on 14-of-20 attempts and rushing for 43 yards and a score in Oregon’s 62-13 win over South Dakota. Chasing down incumbent winner Jameis Winston all season, Mariota was in a similar position that McSorley and the rest of the country are in currently with Jackson. As Mariota showed, statement wins with dominant performances and a non-fatal loss are the key to ousting the reigning top player in college football.

Johnny Manziel, 2012
Barely anybody knew the name Johnny Manziel when the redshirt freshman failed to throw for a touchdown in Texas A&M’s season opening 20-17 loss to Florida, so his slow start went relatively unnoticed. Given his ascent last postseason, the Wizard of Camelot won’t have that benefit this year. Any slip up by him or the Nittany Lions will be magnified across the country. Both players do, however, run and throw with the same gritty fearlessness that allowed Manziel to overcome his slow start. If that moxie allowed Manziel to take down Nick Saban two months later in 2012, who knows where it will take McSorley.

Who do you think the more realistic Heisman candidate given his Week One performance and potential to torch defense this season? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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