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Penn State Football: Do The Nittany Lions Need To Be Good For Barkley To Have Heisman Shot?

by on May 19, 2016 1:50 PM

It comes as no surprise to anyone that Saquon Barkley is good at football. In fact he's quite good, or as NBC announcer Gary Koch once said of a long Tiger Woods putt at TPC Sawgrass "Better than most!"

So as rolled out a list of five players who could join the Heisman watch list if they have a strong start to their respective seasons, it's not a terrible shock to see Barkley mentioned. (Yes, a watch list for a watch list)

Between his 1,076 yards rushing and his ability to turn on a dime, Barkley was the reason to tolerate Penn State's often painful offensive play. When the ball was is in his hands Beaver Stadium held its breath. It doesn't matter how unwatchable things got at times, Barkley stepped up to the plate and people sat on the edge of their seats.

So it's not a question of if he has "it." There is a fair amount of guessing that goes into projecting how any player's season or career will go, but if anyone has looked the part of Heisman winner, you'd be hard pressed to say why Barkley hasn't shown all the signs of that potential. He may never win it, but it won't be for a lack of talent of for the lack of potential.

The larger question though, how good Penn State has to be for Barkley to even have a shot at winning it. The Heisman rarely goes to a player whose team is just scrapping above .500. There just isn't much prestige in celebrating the best player on a bad team, not when the likes of Alabama and Ohio State are giving undefeated seasons a run for their money with players just as good as Barkley.

But there is some hope if you want to see Penn State bring home a second Heisman within the next two years. At least in theory there are numbers and history to back it up.

Since John Cappelletti received the honor in 1973, 19 other running backs have won the Heisman trophy. 15 of those players have won it on a team that had two or fewer losses, what you would expect.

It's the other four though that make things interesting. In 1998 Ricky Williams won the award on a 9-3 team, in 1985 Bo Jackson won it going 8-4, Marcus Allen took home the trophy in 1981 having gone 9-3 and George Rogers the year before that at the 8-4 mark.

The obvious issue here is that for as good as Barkley might be, and as hypothetically entertaining this exercise is, he is no Bo Jackson and he isn't quite Marcus Allen. That's not a slight, it's just simply the fact of the matter.

When you look at the numbers even closer, it shows that Barkley will have to make a massive jump in production too if he wants to make up for Penn State's potential middle of the road record.

Williams rushed for 2,327 yards, 29 touchdowns and caught 307 yards receiving. For comparison Penn State's entire offense in 2015-16 scored just 35 total offensive touchdowns and rushed for 2,143 yards.

Allen made up for a 9-3 record with 2,342 yards on the ground and 22 touchdowns. Jackson had a "modest" 1,786 yards and 17 scores but was a once in a lifetime talent and once in a generation athlete.

Ultimately none of this comes as a shock. To win the Heisman you have to be really good, in fact better than everyone, and if you're on a team not all that good, you have to be even better. That's not rocket science, it's just the point of the trophy.

But if you like rooting for the underdog, four total Heisman winners since 1973 have won the award on a team with four losses. Tim Brown at Notre Dame joins the list in 1987 and the all popular Tim Tebow in 2007 at Florida. So it's possible.

Then again, Penn State hasn't lost fewer than four games since 2009.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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