Saquon Barkley is, many would argue, the most talented running back in college football.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be recognized as such.
In fact, Barkley has a better chance of being recognized as the nation’s top player than best running back — which, naturally, sounds odd. But follow me on this.
The Penn State junior was named one of three finalists for the Maxwell Award, presented to country’s top talent, on Monday night; Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Stanford’s Bryce Love are the other candidates. On the same day, Barkley joined Love and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor as finalists for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to college football’s best running back.
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Unfortunately for Barkley — thanks in large part to a porous offensive line — his stats on the ground don’t stack up with Love and Taylor. With one game to go, the Penn State junior has 1,057 rushing yards (5.8 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. Love has logged 1,723 yards (8.8 per carry) and 16 scores, while Taylor has tallied 1,657 yards (7.0 per attempt) and 12 touchdowns.
The difference between Barkley and the other candidates could widen, too. Wisconsin is guaranteed to play in one more game — the Big Ten Championship — before the winner is announced on Dec. 7. Love and the Cardinal could play for the Pac-12 Championship if Washington State loses to Washington on Friday.
Barkley is a better all-around player with 46 catches, 590 receiving yards and five non-rushing touchdowns. But that might not matter much. Historically, the Doak Walker Award has gone to purely the most productive running back. We’ll get to how the Maxwell differs in a moment. But it’s important to understand how the Walker has worked.
The last five to hoist the award — Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Boston College’s Andre Williams and the Badgers’ Montee Ball — combined for 47 catches in their winning campaigns. However, they averaged 161.81 rushing yards per game. Barkley’s average is 96.1, while Love and Taylor sit at 172.3 and 150.64, respectively.
Let’s look at 100-yard games through 11 contests. Barkley has four. Foreman (11), Gordon (10), Williams (nine), Love (nine), Taylor (eight), Henry (seven) and Ball (seven) all outpace the Nittany Lion there, as well.
Based on numbers alone, the odds of Barkley winning the Doak Walker Award are slim.
But he’s got a solid shot at the Maxwell Award.
First of all, Barkley’s impact goes beyond running the football. Everyone knows that.
His 188.18 all-purpose yards per game rank second in the country behind only San Diego State underrated back Rashaad Penny. Barkley is the lone player in the country who’s racked up 1,000 rushing, 500 receiving and 400 return yards this season.
Another reason why Barkley could win the Maxwell Award? Over the years, it hasn’t gone to the Heisman Trophy winner — and Barkley isn’t going to take home the Heisman. His Vegas odds to do so are 15/1, behind Mayfield (1/25) and Love (8/1).
But look at the last 15 winners of the Maxwell Award. Only five of those players won the Heisman in the same season.
Oddly enough, the Maxwell is a prestigious honor and, essentially, a consolation prize for not winning the Heisman at the same time.
It really would fit Barkley this season, though. Because of the offensive line struggles and opposing defenses’ ability to key in on him, the back hasn’t put up Heisman numbers — or Doak Walker Award statistics, for that matter.
But with a boatload of all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns and counting, Barkley deserves national recognition.
The Maxwell Award would make perfect sense.