Here’s a Look at Saquin Barkley’s Chances to Win the Heisman TrophyBelieve it or not, Penn State has just one Heisman winner in its storied history: running back John Cappelletti in 1973. I do sports writing for a living and that surprised me. That season, Cappelletti was a consensus All-American, rushing for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns. That remains fourth on the school season rushing list to Larry Johnson (2,087), Lydell Mitchell (1,567) and Ki- Jana Carter (1,539). He put together three straight 200-yard rushing games in the final month of the season, including a high of 220 against North Carolina State. His acceptance speech at the Heisman dinner (with Vice President Gerald Ford next to him on the dais) was considered the most moving ever given at Heisman ceremonies as he honored his brother, Joey, a victim of leukemia.
Last year, Penn State was pretty bad offensively but it certainly wasn’t Barkley’s fault. As a true freshman, he Penn State’s freshman (true or redshirt) season record with 1,076 rushing yards, surpassing D.J. Dozier’s mark of 1,002 set in 1983. Barkley ended the season ranked No. 16 on the Penn State single season rushing charts. He also finished tied for first on the Penn State true freshman season rushing touchdown (Dozier, 7) and 100-yard rushing games list (Dozier, 5).
Barkley tallied 194 rushing yards against the then-No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, becoming just the second back to rush for more than 175 yards at Ohio State since 2000, joining Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (228; 2014). With his performances against Buffalo (115 yds.) and Rutgers (195 yds.), Barkley became the first Penn State player to have back-to-back games with a 100-yard rushing quarter since Larry Johnson in 2002 (Indiana and Michigan State).
Barkley was No. 2 in the nation among true freshmen running backs with his 1,076 yards. He was No. 5 in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (112.45). He forced 60 missed tackles on only 182 carries while averaging 3.82 yards after contact per rush, good for seventh in the FBS.
Barkley only played in 11 games with six starts, missing two games due to injury. He began the season as a backup to Akeel Lynch. Barkley was named Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He was also selected as a freshman first-team honoree by USA Today and Sporting News, while finding a spot on ESPN.com’s True Freshman All-America team. He was second team All-Big Ten (coaches and media), as well as BTN.com Freshman of the Year.
Entering this season, Barkley is ranked No. 32 on a list of the nation’s top 101 players compiled by Pro Football Focus. Barkley was listed No. 6 among running backs behind only household names Christian McCaffrey (No. 1), Leonard Fournette (No. 3), Dalvin Cook (No. 11), Nick Chubb (No. 12) and Royce Freeman (No. 14). He is the best skill player in the Big Ten, according to the PFF rankings.
Penn State opens the 2016 season on Sept. 3 against Kent State. The Lions are 18.5-point favorites on NCAA football lines.