Saquon Barkley was the best player in college football this past season.
The eye test is all we need to realize that. However, he wasn’t invited to the Heisman Trophy Presentation in New York, and it’s not that shocking. Instead, Louisville's Lamar Jackson, Stanford's Bryce Love and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield were selected as the three finalists.
Barkley’s final numbers on the regular season are good, but not great. His 1,134 rushing yards rank 33rd in the country, 21 total touchdowns rank fifth and his yards per carry average is just 5.7, good for 45th in the country.
He did become the second Nittany Lion to eclipse 2,000 all-purpose yards and finished second nationally in that category. However, after averaging over 250 all-purpose yards through the first four games of the season, his production dropped off and he finished at just under 180 yards per game, well behind leader Rashaad Penny, who averaged nearly 225 yards per game.
He didn’t keep up the production from his torrid September, he didn’t post the guady numbers we’ve seen from recent Heisman and, most importantly, he didn’t show up in crunch time in two of Penn State’s biggest games.
At halftime of the Ohio State game, people were just itching to hand Barkley the Trophy.
Saquon Barkley becomes the 1st player in college football history to win the Heisman in October. It's done. Hand it to him. Win or lose here— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) October 28, 2017
At that point, such a take wasn’t so hot. Barkley had scored two touchdowns in the first half against the Buckeyes — including the game’s opening kickoff return — and the still undefeated Nittany Lions held an 11-point lead over their most daunting opponent.
However, Barkley had -3 yards in the second half, and the Nittany Lions blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead.
After that game, if Barkley was to win the Heisman, he needed to put up video-game numbers. While he did score seven touchdowns in the final four games, he mustered only one 100-yard day against Nebraska and just 123 receiving yards.
Barkley proved numerous times throughout the season he could make a play no one else in the country could make, whether it was speeding past defenders or leaping over them. But recently, the Heisman trophy has been given to the player with the best stats.
Last season, Louisville Lamar Jackson threw for 3,500 yards, rushed for another 1,500 and accounted for 51 touchdowns. In 2015, Alabama’s Derrick Henry eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing threshold on a team that won the National Championship.
Most people want a player to defy logic and show them something they’ve never seen before, like Barkley can do. But the two running backs that won the Heisman since Reggie Bush in 2005 (still counting that Reggie Bush won the Heisman), Henry and fellow Crimson Tide ball carrier Mark Ingram, were physical backs who just ran over people behind tremendous offensive lines, which helped them rack up huge numbers.
Barkley obviously hasn’t had the luxury of a healthy and flourishing offensive line like Alabama, but he can certainly show fans something they’ve never seen before. And that’s something only the very best players can do.
People have compared Barkley’s situation to that of Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in 2015. But they shouldn’t. McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards and reached the 2,000-rushing-yard plateau.
He was probably a better player than Henry in 2015, but he was discounted for playing on the West Coast and that led Alabama to the College Football Playoff. McCaffrey was invited to New York and finished second in the voting.
Perhaps it was a different running back in 2015 who compared better to Barkley’s 2017 campaign. Leonard Fournette was also given the Heisman by many early on in 2015, when he racked up 1,352 rushing yards for LSU during the Tigers’ 7-0 start to the season.
And, like Barkley, he lost the award because his off-game came against his team’s greatest foe. Fournette recorded just 31 yards on 19 carries in the Tigers’ first loss to rival Alabama. Still, he finished the season with over 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games, giving him a higher yards per game average than Henry.
Only three players went to New York that year: Henry, McCaffrey and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Fournette was left out.
Fournette ended up being the fourth-overall draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Ezekiel Elliott never made it to New York either, but he also was the fourth-overall draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Not being a Heisman finalist shouldn’t affect how people view Barkley’s college career in any way. The lasting impact of it will be all the times he made your head spin and ask yourself: “How did he do that?”