Penn State Football

Saquon Barkley, teammates talk Heisman candidacy

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley leaps over Iowa defenders during Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley leaps over Iowa defenders during Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium.

Like most young college football fans, Saquon Barkley grew up playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game, and whether it was creating a player in the game’s “Road to Glory” mode or running a team in dynasty mode, he always wanted to be in Heisman Trophy conversation.

“That’s like who you dream about being,” Barkley said Wednesday, “to be in that talk.”

Thanks to some video-game-like numbers in the past month, Barkley is in the process of making that a reality.

The sophomore running back has been on a tear lately, racking up 786 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns over the past four games, and plenty have taken notice.

Local and national media, such as ESPN and Fox Sports, alike have ramped up Barkley’s candidacy.

Penn State fans, whether it’s supporters chanting Barkley’s name at Beaver Stadium or those on Twitter posting the hashtag #SAQUONFORHEISMAN, have made themselves loud and clear.

Even the Nittany Lions’ official Twitter account launched an unofficial Heisman Trophy campaign on Tuesday. The account posted a picture Barkley standing at a podium with presidential rally-esque supporters behind him. The post read, “Nittany Nation’s ultimate running mate this #ElectionDay! #VoteSaquon #HeismanHouse.”

Barkley’s heard media and fans throw his name into the Heisman ring, but was kind of surprised to see the team’s Twitter post what it did.

“I saw that yesterday, and I’m every so grateful for them doing that,” the running back said. “I’m really not looking too much into it right now. I’m just kind of trying to stay focused on the task ahead and that’s just Indiana this week. ... But I saw that and that was really cool and I’m really appreciative.”

The Heisman love for Barkley extends to his teammates, too.

While Barkley isn’t one to talk himself up, Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball believe he’s a legitimate contender for the prestigious trophy.

“As a team, we do believe that he deserves that,” quarterback Trace McSorley said after Saturday’s 41-14 win over Iowa in which Barkley recorded 211 all-purpose yards. “You ask anyone on the team, they’ll say that he’s one of the best running backs in the country, and he deserves that kind of recognition.”

“You don’t got to ask me that. You know I’m going to say he is,” safety Marcus Allen said with a smile on Tuesday. “I don’t know why people aren’t talking about him. Everybody should know that he’s a Heisman contender.”

Barkley certainly has a swell of support. But is it realistic for the star back to get an invite to the Heisman ceremony in New York City?

“He’s getting talked about more and more, but at the same time the guys that are in there now continue to play well and continue to be in that conversation,” linebacker Brandon Bell said. “So will someone from the original few guys up there drop out? That’d be tough ... but it’s possible.”

It won’t be easy considering the other candidates. There are a few firmly entrenched as players under strong consideration, namely Michigan athlete Jabrill Peppers, Washington quarterback Jake Browning and Clemson signal-caller Deshaun Watson.

But the favorite by far is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. The sophomore has totaled 3,934 yards (2,753 passing, 1,181 rushing) and 45 total touchdowns.

Jackson’s on-pace to break former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan’s FBS single-season record for total touchdowns (63 in 14 games).

And Barkley kind of expected Jackson’s success, too. The running back played with the quarterback in the All-American bowl as high school senior.

“Seeing what he’s doing is no surprise to me,” Barkley said. “What that guy is doing to college football right now is ridiculous ... Lamar Jackson is everywhere right now.”

Overtaking the hype-train that is Jackson’s Heisman candidacy is unlikely. But with three regular season games (at Indiana, at Rutgers, Michigan State) left, Barkley has time to generate some more noise.

And who knows? Maybe it’ll be enough to join Jackson in New York.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9