STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For months now, everyone has been seeking clues as to what Saquon Barkley’s intentions beyond this season might be, and the detective work continued Saturday.
Is Penn State’s prized junior running back headed to the NFL after this season? Is he even going to play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game?
The latter question was answered in the affirmative after Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in PSU’s 56-44 defeat of Nebraska: He’s a go for whatever bowl the No. 10 Lions, now 9-2, find themselves in.
Still TBA beyond that. While coach James Franklin advised Barkley before the season as to what he should do, Franklin wouldn’t divulge the particulars of that conversation. (You’re shocked, I’m sure.) And Barkley said he still wants to talk to his family before he decides whether or not to declare for next spring’s draft.
So we wait. And we hunt for clues.
Like when Franklin said he was “blessed to have coached” Barkley — past tense — what did that mean?
Uh, nothing, Franklin said though he did launch into a monologue about advising Barkley and advising players in general.
“What I try to do for all of my players is give them advice that I would give my son,” he said. “If I feel like they should come back to school to finish their degree and have the opportunity to go on and get one more season of development, and then go to the NFL, I tell them that. If I think they should leave early, then I tell them that as well.”
It’s quite simple, in his mind.
“If IBM came to our computer engineering department and offered a junior a $12 million contract, they’d be gone,” Franklin said. “So I give these guys information all the time based on the entire picture -- what their future is like, where they’re at academically.”
Which sounded like a hint as to what he might have told Barkley, all those months ago. But again, who knows?
What we do know is that Barkley is a likely top-five pick. And while he has performed unevenly this season through no fault of his own (i.e., the offensive line has been surprisingly poor), he scored on a 65-yard run three plays into Saturday’s game, went over 100 yards for the game (and 1,000 for the season) when he broke off a 30-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and finished the half with 142 yards and three TDs.
The Lions were up 42-10 at that point. Barkley's final totals were 17 carries for 158 yards and three TDs, and six catches for 66 yards. He became just the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 in three straight seasons — Evan Royster was the other — and overtook Lydell Mitchell for most career rushing TDs; Barkley now has 39.
And that's all with two games remaining this season.
Yes, definitely two — at Maryland in next week’s regular-season finale, and then the bowl, wherever that may be.
Again, there were clues as far back as May that Barkley might follow in the footsteps of two other NFL-bound running backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who skipped bowl games last year to prepare for the draft. Fournette was taken fourth overall by Jacksonville and McCaffery was taken eighth overall by Carolina
In a Sports Illustrated profile by Pete Thamel, Barkley was quoted as saying the following: “I would have a hard time doing it (i.e., skipping a bowl), but I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body, and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”
But he said Saturday he definitely plans to play, barring the unforeseen.
“I understand why some other players have not played in a bowl game,” he said. “I’m different from Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. … Our situations are different.”
Barkley admitted that he did get “a little emotional” Saturday, not so much because it was his final home game but because it was the last time he would be playing alongside the seniors in Beaver Stadium — “no matter what happens.”
No clues there, then. His play, however, would appear to offer the biggest clue of all and leaves little reason for doubt.
Why, at this point, should the sporting equivalent of IBM have to wait any longer?