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Saquon Barkley is Going to Have to Keep Catching Passes if he Wants to Win the Heisman

If you only consider his rushing production, the junior doesn’t measure up to other top tailbacks.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re halfway through the college football season, and Saquon Barkley is your frontrunner for the 2017 Heisman Trophy. It makes all the sense in the world when you consider that top quarterback candidates Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen have struggled to lead their teams to marquee victories while Barkley has made highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play for the No. 2 team in the country that is still undefeated in Big Ten play.

Barkley’s bonkers athleticism and presence atop NFL Draft boards makes him a sexy choice for Heisman Trophy, but hidden beneath all the pop and sizzle is a guy who isn’t rushing for as many yards as the hype would make it seem. Barkley has rushed for over 100 yards twice this season and is third in the Big Ten in yards gained on the ground behind Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins. It’s going to be tough for Barkley to make up ground with three of the conference’s top rushing defenses coming up on the schedule.

What sets Barkley apart from the pack is his production in the passing game. With 29 catches for 395 yards, the phenomenal tailback leads Penn State in both categories and is closer to the conference lead in receiving yards than he is in rushing yards. Even when you combine Barkley’s ground and air production, however, he still falls short of what Bryce Love is doing on the other side of the country at Stanford.

For a team with a pedestrian passing attack, Love has amassed 1387 rushing yards on just 135 carries with 11 touchdowns. That’s 293 more rushing yards than anyone else in Division I and 343 more yards than Barkley has managed as both a rusher and a receiver. Love does have one more game under his belt than the Penn State star, but he’s going to be tough to top with his unrivaled consistency. In each of his seven games this season, Love has over 140 rushing yards with at least touchdown and at least one run that goes over 50 yards.

Unless Penn State’s offensive line gets much better very quickly, the path for Barkley’s Heisman campaign is going to be through the air. Although offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has struggled to match the explosiveness that was the calling card of last year’s team, he has done a great job of making Barkley a bigger part of the passing game. Barkley will have to continue making a big impact as a receiver if the Lions are to pull away from Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State convincingly.

If they don’t, Penn State’s undefeated season and Barkley’s Heisman hype could meet an end on the very same day.