Saquon Barkley took the high road Monday night.
When his Heisman Trophy chances evaporated — as he was robbed of the trip to New York and a once-in-a-lifetime experience — the Penn State running back thanked his fans and teammates for their support on social media. “However, like I stated previously, I do not need a trophy or to be named a finalist to define me as a player,” Barkley wrote on Instagram.
While it would’ve been justified, Barkley wasn’t publicly outraged — because he didn’t need to be. Those who have really watched him play did the talking for him. Those who have seen the hurdles, cuts, shimmies and speed on a weekly basis were vocal enough.
Thousands believe Saquon Barkley should’ve been a Heisman Trophy finalist. And they’re all right.
The 929 Heisman voters — 870 media members, 58 winners of the award and one fan poll vote — messed up. They saw Barkley’s 1,134 rushing yards and eight games with less than 100 on the ground and didn’t bother digging any deeper.
They looked past his 179.5 all-purpose yards per game and 21 total touchdowns, first and second among Power 5 players. They looked past his inherent ability to break a game open, to do the thought-to-be impossible. They looked past how each and every Big Ten defense committed eight or nine guys in the box to stop him. Think about that for a second. Virtually an entire defense set up to stymie one player. That should tell you all you need to know about a guy who doesn’t line up under center.
Now, this isn’t to say that the actual finalists — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Stanford running back Bryce Love — don’t deserve the invite. Mayfield, crotch-grab or no crotch-grab, is going to win. And they’re all phenomenal players and should be recognized as such.
But it’s crazy that Barkley — Penn State’s greatest-ever running back, according to legend Curtis Enis — won’t be sitting alongside them. The finalists are determined by the votes, which are cast after conference championship weekend. If there’s a close gap between Nos. 3 and 4 on the vote-getting list, then a fourth will be invited. If it’s close between Nos. 3, 4 and 5, five will get the RSVP. It goes on and on.
It should be interesting to see how the votes shake out because there should not be a major gap between Barkley and Love. While Love had 11 100-yard rushing games, the Stanford back recorded 33 receiving yards and 47 kickoff return yards on the season. Barkley tallied 30 or more receiving yards on six plays and ran back 97- and 98-yard return scores. Plus, Barkley had a passing touchdown.
There shouldn’t have been a major gap between Barkley and Jackson, either. The latter quarterbacked an 8-4 team against a slate of opponents that finished 71-73. Louisville’s lone victory over a team with a winning record was 7-5 Kentucky. Penn State’s opponents finished with a 79-66 record, so not much better. But the Barkley-led Nittany Lions at least beat five teams with winning records — and lost to Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined seven points.
The award’s mission statement reads as follows: “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. The winners of the trophy epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work.”
It’s just baffling to think that Barkley isn’t a finalist for that award, one that failed to include “best numbers” or “biggest stats” in its mission statement. The Heisman is supposed to be more than that. This is absolutely baffling.
Penn State great Larry Johnson believes Barkley is a guy who should have his No. 26 number retired someday. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said there hasn’t been a “more impactful player that we’ve played during my 19 years here.” Evan Royster — the Nittany Lions’ all-time leading rusher — said to “just create a new level of running back” for Barkley, that he is in a different category when it comes to Penn State rushers.
The Maxwell, Walter Camp and Paul Hornung Awards got it right. Those voters and panels recognized Barkley was one of the best players in college football — offensive line woes and rushing stats in full view.
One could argue that no one in the sport made more of an impact each and every weekend. Barkley was required viewing for fans and opposing coaches alike. One Sporting News columnist believed he should’ve even won the Heisman.
Mayfield, Love and Jackson deserve to be in New York City. But so does Barkley. The voting gap — which will be revealed Saturday night — should have been closer.
Saquon Barkley should have been a Heisman Trophy finalist.