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 adds to its bragging rights over Temple

AP Images

Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Reaves had his second career double-double, Shep Garner hit two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Penn State overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Temple 63-57 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Reaves shot 7 of 10 from the field, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Tony Carr missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts before scoring his first points of the game on a jumper that pulled Penn State within four with 6:20 to play. That sparked a 16-2 run to give the Nittany Lions a 62-54 lead with 16 seconds left.

Reaves and Garner hit back-to-back 3s to make it 54-all before John Harrar's layup with 1:52 remaining gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3. The Owls made just 1 of 9 from the field and committed three turnovers during the span.

Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple (17-16), which led for more than 35 minutes, with 15 points and Josh Brown added 14.

Carr and Garner -- who came in averaging 19.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively -- combined to score 10 on 3-of-19 shooting for the Nittany Lions (22-13).

The Owls made just 5 of 14 free throws while Penn State hit 20 of 30.

It was the 93rd meeting between the schools, which are located less than 200 miles apart, but the first since 2011. The Nittany Lions snapped a seven-game skid in the series, dating to Dec. 9, 2000.

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented

USA Today Images

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented


NEW YORK — Purdue threw a little of everything at Penn State star Tony Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Bigger guys. Smaller ones. Switches and some double teams.

Carr managed only 12 points in a woeful shooting game, and No. 8 Purdue separated from Penn State in the second half of a 78-70 victory Saturday that put the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Third-seeded Purdue (28-5) faces No. 5 Michigan, which will try to repeat as tournament champs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Purdue frustrated Carr and held him to 4-of-18 shooting. The sophomore faced an array of defenders, including the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Nojel Eastern, 5-10 P.J. Thompson, 6-4 Dakota Mathias, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 6-1 Carsen Edwards.

"When you have a good player like that it takes more than one guy because he's able to make shots and make plays over guys," Vincent Edwards said. "They just did a good job of taking up that space and being able to force him into tough shots."

Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions (21-12) with a career-high 33 points and the senior set a school record with 129 career points in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Boilermakers will be making their third appearance in the Big Ten championship since the tournament started in 1998. Their one championship came in 2009.

Against Penn State, Purdue used a 12-2 run the middle of the second half to build a 15-point lead. Carsen Edwards led the way, spinning through the lane for a driving layup and making a 3 from up top that made the score 59-44 with 9:15 left. He finished with 27 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range after scoring 26 on Friday against Rutgers.

"It's a consistency," guard Dakota Mathias said of Edwards. "He's being very efficient, too."

Edwards made back-to-back 3s to make it 74-56 with 3:41 left and Purdue was on its way to play for a title.

Isaac Haas, the 7-2 center, added 17 points and seven rebounds for Purdue.

With Carr struggling, Penn State could not keep up. He picked up a third foul in the second half, a push off call that caused Penn State coach Pat Chambers to draw a technical.

"I think they were very physical," Chambers said. "Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'd up, my first T in a long, long time."

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a chance to work their way into the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid by beating Purdue, but now Penn State seems like a long shot at best. Chambers is still hopefully.

"Well, I'm an optimist," he said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent."

Purdue: The Boilermakers hit a rough patch losing three straight close games in early February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but an argument can be made that they have been the Big Ten's most consistent team this season.

"We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten regular season. We kind of gave that away," said Thompson, one of four senior starters. "But we still had a goal of winning a Big Ten championship on our list before the season started and we put ourselves in position to be able to do that tomorrow."

Purdue does most everything well, except rebound. A night after giving up 17 offensive boards to Rutgers, the Boilermakers allowed 16 rebounds to Penn State.

Shep Shooter
Garner went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, including a four-point play, to carry Penn State in the first half. The Nittany Lions led much of the way, but Edwards made a 3 for Purdue with 2 seconds left in the half to send the Boilermakers to the break ahead 33-31.

Up Next
Penn State: An NIT bid is likely coming the Nittany Lions way, though the big question beyond March is whether Carr returns for another season or heads to the NBA draft.

Purdue: The Boilermakers swept the Wolverines in two games decided by a combined five points.

"Just a really skilled offensive team," Carsen Edwards said. "They have a lot of options. For us it's going to come down to defense and getting stops."