Big Ten

With breakout game, Saquon Barkley brings hope to Penn State offense

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With breakout game, Saquon Barkley brings hope to Penn State offense

Penn State got a much-needed win Saturday, bouncing back from that embarrassing season-opening loss to Temple with a 13-point win over Buffalo.

But while Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions' passing attack continues to struggle — the projected first-round pick didn't help his draft stock with a 128-yard day against Buffalo — there's suddenly new hope for a Penn State offense that's yet to take off since James Franklin took over.

Freshman running back Saquon Barkley carried the ball just 12 times but amassed 115 yards and scored a touchdown, also popping eyes with a hurdle of a Buffalo defender on a big run.

Penn State's rushing attack was unable to do much last season, ranking dead last in the Big Ten with an average of just 101.9 rushing yards per game. And 2015 hasn't gotten off to a great start, either. The Lions rank 13th in the conference after averaging 138.5 rushing yards in the first two games this season.

Akeel Lynch, the Lions starting running back, went for 78 yards on 10 carries against Temple and 46 yards on 19 carries against Buffalo.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten Power Rankings: Spartans score season's most impressive win]

Enter Barkley, who was a four-star running back out of high school, ranked the No. 11 back in the Class of 2015. He matched that hype with production Saturday, coming on strong in the second half with back-to-back rushes for 33 and 17 yards to drive the Lions deep into Buffalo territory on a drive that ended in a touchdown. He rushed for 18 yards on a drive that ended in his first career touchdown. And he added 33 more yards on the Lions' last drive of the game.

Oh, and that hurdle.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rutgers' receiver Leonte Carroo suspended for second time this season]

"Saquon Barkley, who I thought gave us a spark, came in as a freshman and did some exciting things," head coach James Franklin said after the game. "Had 115 yards, most for a true freshman since Silas Redd (in 2011). Before Saquon got here he used to hurdle people all the time in high school, and he said 'I’m not going to do that in college.' I said that doesn’t make sense because in high school it’s illegal to hurdle people and it’s legal in college.

"I’m glad that he brought that back out of his bag of tricks."

Barkley's performance earned him Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors Monday.

And he wasn't the only freshman making big plays in the Penn State running game, either, as wide receiver Brandon Polk took three handoffs and went a combined 45 yards, including a long 22-yard touchdown run and another for 20 yards.

[MORE BIG TEN: It's only Week 2, but Spartans look to be on playoff track]

Barkley will obviously need to show he can do this on a consistent basis, and there's no expectation that he'll instantaneously replace Lynch at the top of the depth chart. Ideally, Lynch will be able to gain some traction and Penn State could use both backs on a regular basis. That of course also hinges on the Lions' offensive line, which hasn't showed much improvement early on this year after a miserable 2014.

But for an offense stuck in the mud — Penn State still accumulated just 328 total yards against a MAC team that finished 5-6 last season — any sign of explosiveness is a welcome one.

"I think we're going to continue to develop Saquon and his ability to make people miss and break tackles. You guys watch him as a runner, he’s making people miss but he’s also breaking tackles, and you don’t get that kind of combination in a freshman. They’re usually one or the other," Franklin said. "Again, we're going to need to develop him, and he’s going to have a significant role in our team. He showed those things at camp, during in practice and he showed it in the game. His confidence will continue to grow, and the O-line will continue to grow.

"When you have a guy making plays like that, who is able to make something happen, guys block better. It has that type of impact on everybody."

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?