Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley has Penn State's sights set on College Football Playoff

Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley has Penn State's sights set on College Football Playoff

As if to prove that all discussions of Penn State begin and end with Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley was on Wednesday discussing the mindset the No. 6 Nittany Lions carry into their season, which begins when Akron visits Saturday at noon.

“We have an understanding kind of as a team what standard we want to work to every day,” McSorley said.

He admitted he has “a little bit of a perfectionist thing,” but added that that is not uncommon on a team that achieved some of its goals while going 11-3 last year (i.e., a Big Ten championship) but not others (it was denied a spot in the College Football Playoff).

So the Lions are aiming high, striving for something more. And, McSorley said, “a lot of that comes from Saquon.”

In two years in Happy Valley, Barkley has established himself as one of the finest running backs in school history, and one of the finest players in the country. Last year he rushed for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also catching 28 passes for 402 yards and four scores.

The capper was a 194-yard rushing performance in a 52-49 Rose Bowl loss to USC. It was highlighted by a 79-yard TD gallop in the third quarter on which Barkley started right, stepped through a tackle, turned the corner, cut back, cut back some more (one Trojan, cornerback Jack Jones, fell on his backside as Barkley did so) and then turned on the jets.

That electric burst jump-started his campaign for this year’s Heisman, but his hard-driving ways appear to be hardwired within the team.

“We want to build off last year,” McSorley said.

The preseason, coach James Franklin said, featured “probably the most consistent training camp that I've been associated with.” He and his assistants have steadily restocked the roster in the years since NCAA sanctions left PSU threadbare following the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. And now the Lions are three-deep everywhere, in players who are either proven or promising.

As a result, McSorley said, “there’s a lot of competition, a lot of guys pushing each other (in practice).”

But again, it all starts with Saquon. While his Trojan tour de force has drawn its share of YouTube attention, so too have his weight-room feats. He goes 5-11 and 230 pounds, but has power-cleaned 405, a program record, and squatted 600. And at the team’s annual Lift for Life workout in mid-July, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times, a number that would have equaled the best mark by a back at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

It has reached the point, strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said, where he and his staff have to tell Barkley to gear back.

Not his style, though. In July ESPN.com’s Bruce Feldman placed him atop his list of “Feldman’s Freaks,” the sport’s foremost athletes. Earlier, CBSSports.com declared Barkley the nation’s most irreplaceable player, and Sports on Earth decreed he was the top back.

Barkley has also been featured in ESPN the Magazine and SI.com; in the latter piece running backs coach Charles Huff mentioned him in the same breath as Bo Jackson, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell mentioned him in the same breath as Ezekiel Elliott and Franklin mentioned him in the same breath as … Frankenstein.

It is widely believed that Barkley, a junior, will declare for the NFL draft after this season — on Media Day in early August, he stiff-armed a question about his intentions as if it were a walk-on cornerback — and not long ago Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller quoted a “high-level” NFL executive as saying that Barkley could be the best running back drafted in the last decade.

But that’s another discussion for another day. Same with the whole Heisman deal.

“To even be mentioned in that category is an honor,” he said back on Media Day. “When that pops up to me, I really don’t get too much of a rush on it because I’m really focused on the season and taking it day by day. And focusing on the team and trying to win every single game possible and just trying to be a better player and a better person and a better leader every single day.”

McSorley has likewise attracted some Heisman attention, after setting school single-season records for passing yardage (3,614), touchdowns (29) and total offense (3,979) in his first year as a starter. He completed TD throws to 10 different receivers, hit 64 attempts of 20 yards or more and has connected for at least one score in each of his last 15 games.

There are eight other starters back on offense. There are, in fact, six offensive linemen in the program with starting experience, and the receiving corps appears to be deep enough to weather the loss of Chris Godwin, who was taken in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tight end Mike Gesicki, like Barkley a preseason All-American, is a particular threat.

There are six returnees on defense, the best of whom are middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen. Allen, a senior who has somehow not yet recorded a career interception, made 110 tackles last year to become the first player at his position to lead the team in that category since 2002. Cabinda made 81 stops despite missing five games with a broken thumb.

There are some holes to fill, to be sure. But again, this is a deep team.

Also a driven one.

“If you think what you’re doing now is enough,” McSorley said, “it’s not.”

Thank Barkley for that approach. Among other things.

Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

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AP Images

Penn State commit arrested for armed robbery of Wawa

This post appeared on College Football Talk on Saturday

Or will that be former Penn State recruit?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Isheem Young was one of three individuals arrested Friday in connection with the armed robbery of a Wawa convenience store in South Philadelphia this past summer. One of the two alleged accomplices is Young’s brother, the manager of the store that was robbed, while the other an unnamed getaway driver.

The Inquirer reports that the 18-year-old Young is facing charges of robbery, conspiracy, firearms violations and related offenses. He is currently being held in lieu of a $150,000 bond.

It’s alleged that Young and his partners in crime made off with $13,600 in cash from the store’s safe. A police report stated that Young entered the store armed with a black revolver and committed the robbery.

Young committed to play his college football at Penn State in mid-July; two weeks later is when he allegedly committed the crime. He was 17 years old when the incident happened.

A four-star 2018 recruit, he’s rated as the No. 12 safety in the country, the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania and the No. 151 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

The new early-signing period for college football, incidentally, kicks off in less than three weeks.

Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin

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USA Today Images

Penn State can't get by Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The last 48 hours weren't easy for the Wisconsin Badgers who had all day Sunday plus a long flight into Happy Valley on Monday to stew over their worst home loss in nearly a decade.

Penn State nearly extended that misery, but a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Tony Carr bounced off the rim with two seconds to play and the Badgers held on for a 64-63 win.

"It's nice to see a bounce back and look like a Wisconsin team should look," Badgers coach Greg Gard said.

Khalil Iverson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Nate Reuvers added 11 points and Ethan Happ grabbed 10 rebounds for the Badgers (4-5, 1-1 Big Ten), who snapped a two-game losing streak.

Mike Watkins scored a career-high 22 points for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) who battled back from a 17-point deficit with 9:40 to play. Carr added 16 points and Shep Garner made 13 for the Nittany Lions who were trying for their first 2-0 start in conference play since 2007.

Penn State played its third game, and first at home, in six days and struggled to shoot the ball for most of the night. The Nittany Lions made just 9 of 26 field goals in the first half, trailed 31-25 at halftime and were just 3-for-21 over the final 1:50 of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second.

"We dug a little deeper because we looked very sluggish in the first half," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.

The Badgers led 51-36 with 9:40 to play, but Garner drained back-to-back jumpers shortly thereafter to spark a 21-9 run that cut Wisconsin's lead to 60-57 with 1:53 left.

A pair of Garner free throws with less than a minute to play made it a one-point game before the teams traded free throws over the final 43 seconds. D'Mitrik Trice closed it out at the line on 4-of-4 shooting for the Badgers.

"I knew we'd have to be really dialed-in and gritty and persevere," Gard said. "I expected the whole game to be like the last four minutes and fortunately we were able to make enough plays and get enough stops to hang on."

Built Ford tough
Carr got his shot after forward Aleem Ford bounced the game's final free throw off the rim on the other end of the floor. He didn't get another chance thanks in part to Ford's hustle to get back on defense.

When Carr's shot rang off the rim, it took a bounce toward a Penn State player in the corner. Ford grabbed hold of the ball to force a jump ball and prevent the Nittany Lions from getting any kind of chance.

Ford's late recovery came in the absence of usual post presences Happ and Davison, who both had fouled out.

"He really hustled for that loose ball," Gard said. "There were a lot of winning plays, so to speak that were made. "We need to make better decisions down the stretch so that it doesn't get to that point."

Trusting Carr
Chambers had no issue with Carr, who was just 5-for-22 from the field, pulling up for the final 3-pointer even though Penn State's crafty point guard might've had room toward the hoop.

The clock was ticking and Chambers trusts his leading scorer who entered the game with 20.6 points per game, 39 assists and 19-for-32 from 3-point range.

"Whatever Tony thought," Chambers said. "I'm not in his vision. I'm on the sideline. I don't know what he saw but he's a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions. So I'm going to trust that decision."

Tough stats to swallow
Wisconsin's bench chipped in 25 points to Penn State's one.

Meanwhile, of Penn State's 29 misses, 11 were layups that didn't fall.

The big picture
Wisconsin: The Badgers are the only team to have played four ranked opponents so far and were tied or within a basket with two minutes left in three of those games. They looked better than their record inside the Bryce Jordan Center, matching Penn State's physical play throughout and frustrating Penn State's shooters all night.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions continue to play solid defense, but those stingy efforts will be for nothing if Penn State's shooters continue to miss like they did early and midway through against the Badgers. Penn State finished 26 for 50 from the floor.

Up next
Wisconsin concludes a three-day trip through the Keystone State at Temple (4-2) on Wednesday.

Penn State hosts George Washington (4-4) on Saturday.