My original title for this post was “Saquon Barkley has no chance to win the Heisman.” The reasoning is simple. Running backs just don’t win the Heisman anymore, with the exception of Bama backs in a down year for candidates. The Heisman has always followed certain trends and public opinion, and right now it’s quarterbacks with freakish numbers that get the attention and the award. To flat dismiss his chances completely isn’t accurate, however.
When I first started watching college football, it was mostly a running back’s award. Then it started to go to quarterbacks at small schools that put up freakish stats. There was a push back from the “old school” in the 90s, and there was a mix of winners. That push back gave the award to the only defensive player to win it. Since then, the award has gradually turned into the award for the best quarterback on a contender. Sure, a couple of Bama backs have won it recently, but there is only one Bama, and Barkley doesn’t play for them. Before that, the last running back to win it was Reggie Bush in 2005. His dazzling returns were a big reason why.
The recent trends aren’t the only thing that is standing in his way. Being on a contender always helps a player’s chances. For Penn State to be a contender late in the season, they will certainly need Trace McSorley to play well. If he plays well, that’s another Heisman contender in Barkley’s region.
Barkely is old school. He is bruising and smart and finds the hole. He catches it well out of the backfield, and has a variety of moves. As we head into the start of the season, I think he is the best player in the country. In the 30+ years I have watched college football, one thing is constant. Being the best player in the country is irrelevant for this award.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The schedule is pretty close to perfect for a Heisman run. The Nittany Lions open up with the Akron Zips. They were piss poor on defense last year, so he should have nice stats to open up the season. Then there is a decent Pitt team, followed by a Georgia State team that was 3-9 last season. Hopefully at this point he will be sitting at 500 or so yards, and in the top 5 on the watch lists.
The Big Ten season opens with Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern. He doesn’t have to be perfect in those games, just good enough to stay in the conversation. Ohio State and Michigan are the last two weeks of October. After that it’s Michigan State, which I have no idea how good they will be. That’s either 2 or 3 high profile games in succession. That could put him at the top of the list, and then they close out with Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland.
It’s very possible that he could be sitting there with 1800 yards at that point, and a lot of attention.
That wont be enough.
In 2006, when quarterback Troy Smith, of the then number 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, was giving his acceptance speech after winning his Heisman, he thanked coach Snapp. Of course those of us that follow Ohio State know that Mr. Snapp wasn’t actually a coach. He was the head of the sports information department. In his career, he was as good as anyone at promoting his guy. He joined Ohio State in 1973, and that year John Hicks, an offensive lineman, finished second in Heisman voting. He was there when Archie won 2. He had a few near misses with Art Schlichter and Keith Byars. Eddie George won it in 1995, and Orlando Pace, another offensive lineman was a finalist in 1996.
Troy Smith knew it took a team to win the Heisman, and not just on the field. Penn State’s information department has to sell Barkley if they want him to have a chance to win. Of course they are going to, but they need to do so in a creative way. They will need to be all over social media with mind blowing stats. More importantly, as least I believe, will be how they package him. They need to tug on the heart strings of older voters and promote Barkley as the old school throwback.
Facts are great, narrative is better.
That still wont be enough. For Barkley to have a chance, Penn State must be winning. That means they will be knocking off our favorite teams. If we are bitter and knock him down because of sour grapes, that will hurt his chances. Maybe it wont be Barkley, but we certainly need to take a page out of the SEC playbook, and root for our conference brethren, at least when it comes to awards. Hopefully they’ll return the favor when it’s our turn.
It will take us fans promoting the guy that just beat us. Calling into our local radio shows and telling anyone that will listen. It’s not just about the player, but the style of ball.
There is a lot to root for. Barkley is a fantastic player that fits the mold of a traditional Big Ten football guy. I hope Ohio State wins ever game, and J.T. Barrett is the guy. If it doesn’t work out that way, then I will be rooting for the next best thing outside my favorite team. Right now that looks like Barkley. For him to win the Heisman, it’s going to take a concerted effort from the entire conference, from other coaches, players, and even fans.