One of the main storylines this offseason is the progress of both running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley — and just where the two might end up come awards season.
According to Bovada, Barkley and McSorley are among the 15 favorites right now to win the Heisman Trophy. Besides Alabama, Penn State is the only other team that features more than one early front-runner.
That begs the early question of, “Just who’s in better position to attend that Heisman ceremony — Barkley or McSorley?” We asked two of our resident experts, Penn State football writer John McGonigal and sports editor Josh Moyer, who they’re taking as the preseason Penn State favorite.
Here’s what they had to say:
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Josh Moyer: QB Trace McSorley
Who has the brighter NFL future? Barkley. Who was compared to past Penn State All-Americans within three months of stepping foot on campus? Barkley. But this debate isn’t about the next level or who has more natural talent. It’s about the Heisman — and it’s no coincidence that, since 2000, 14 of the 17 winners have been signal-callers. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had arguably the second-best college rushing season of all-time back in 2014 when he rushed for 2,587 yards and had 32 total touchdowns. He didn’t win; didn’t even come close.
Heisman voters love their quarterbacks, and McSorley only started making a name for himself outside of the Big Ten late in the season. In the last game of the regular season, against Michigan State, based on passer efficiency, he turned in Penn State’s best passing performance since at least 2004. Read that sentence again. McSorley had an off-the-charts rating of 265-plus, nearly 40 points better than the runner-up in 2008’s Daryll Clark. Look at the next game, against Wisconsin, a team that still ended the year as the nation’s 10th-best passing defense based on opponent passer efficiency. McSorley posted a rating of 217.6 there, after throwing for 384 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions — another top-5 performance in the last decade for Penn State.
Barkley may be the bigger name at this point, but that doesn’t mean McSorley’s not going to get any love this season. He’s tough, he’s poised — and he’s a dual threat, which history has shown has Heisman voters salivating. (Exhibits A-F: Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton.) Barkley has oodles of talent, but so does McSorley. And the Heisman odds are stacked in the latter’s favor.
John McGonigal: RB Saquon Barkley
Josh, Josh, Josh. Don’t get me wrong: Trace keys Penn State’s offense. But let’s be real: Barkley is the superstar. He’s the catalyst. He’s the showstopper. He’s the Nittany Lion with the best chances of hoisting the Heisman Trophy. Barkley has all the natural talent and opportunity in the world to legitimately contend for college football’s highest honor as the focal point of an offense that seemingly scores at will. Barkley nearly put up 1,500 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns (18 rushing, four receiving) last season, and that was with games in which he rushed for 68 (Temple), 59 (Michigan), 63 (Minnesota) and 58 (Indiana) yards.
Find more consistency, and hitting 1,900 or more rushing yards in 2017 is within reach for Barkley. Outside of just statistics, there’s the “wow” factor, too, that’s necessary just to be in the conversation — can Barkley and Penn State garner enough attention to have everyone talking about the junior tailback? Winning 11 games last year was a surprise for the Nittany Lions, but they’ll enter the 2017 campaign as a top-5 team with all eyes on Barkley.
If Penn State is in the College Football Playoff conversation throughout the season — with Barkley at the forefront — he’ll be dressing to the nines at every awards ceremony in the country. Look: After he ripped off a couple 200-yard games last season, some local Heisman chatter started. Everyone in Happy Valley and Big Ten country knew who Saquon Barkley was in 2016 — and on Jan. 2, 2017, he was introduced to the country. Barkley’s 306 all-purpose yards and memorable 79-yard touchdown run in the Rose Bowl, in front of 16 million viewers nationwide, cemented him as a superstar. It capped a tremendous season and gave not only Penn State fans, but also casual college football watchers something to look forward to. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line can be a force this year, while last season it simply did the job, and Barkley can only get better — a scary thought for defensive coordinators. All the pieces are in place for Barkley to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, and it’ll undoubtedly be fun to watch.