Barkley named Big Ten Offensive Player of Year

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley runs down the field with the ball against Michigan State during a game in State College on Saturday. Barkley earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year on Wednesday. (AP)

From the moment he started jumping over, spinning around and running past defenders last season against Buffalo, it became apparent that you shouldn’t take your eyes off Saquon Barkley.

There’s a chance he can do something special every time he touches the ball.

Barkley has been heavily hyped ever since that Buffalo game — getting compared to the greatest Penn State running backs of all time — and the standout sophomore has lived up to every bit of the hype.

Barkley on Wednesday was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, joining Kerry Collins (1994), Curtis Enis (1997) and Michael Robinson (2005) as Nittany Lions to win the award.

Barkley said he first learned he had won it when he was in a meeting with coach James Franklin.

“When I found out, I was honored,” he said during the awards show on BTN. “It’s a big award and a big achievement. I’d like to give thanks to my O-line, the coaching staff and everyone on the offensive side of the ball for helping me achieve that award.”

Barkley also was named the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year, becoming the first Lion and first sophomore to claim that award, which was established in 2011. Plus, he was selected first-team all-conference by both the coaches and media.

Barkley has rushed for 1,219 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 101.6 per game. He has topped 200 yards twice this season — 207 at Purdue and 202 vs. Maryland — and has run for 15 touchdowns.

He also has been a weapon in the passing game, catching 21 passes for 327 yards and two scores.

Barkley’s status for Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin has been in question after he suffered a foot injury that knocked him out of last week’s game with Michigan State in the third quarter.

He has said several times this week he expects to play against Wisconsin.

“I’m feeling really good, taking it day by day, getting treatment every day, just trying to get to 100 percent or the best I can get for the game this weekend,” Barkley said on BTN. “I expect to play. The coaches expect me to play.”

Barkley possesses a rare blend of speed, strength and elusiveness, helping make him one of the best running backs in the country.

Whether it was establishing team weightlifting records or dropping everyone’s jaws with a move to escape defenders in the Lion’s Den drill in the preseason, he entered this season with huge expectations.

It was tough for Barkley early on as defenses focused on loading up to stop him and the PSU running game. But as quarterback Trace McSorley established himself as a runner and passer, it forced defenses to play more honest, giving Barkley room to run.

“You look at some of the things he does on the field, either running the ball or catching it, he does things that are special,” offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said earlier this season.

“Saquon is a unique talent, a special football player who has those kind of tools,” Moorhead added. “His ceiling is extremely high. The best thing about that is his work ethic and his character match his playing ability, so when you combine all of those things, tremendous athlete, great football player, great person, great work ethic, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

Barkley can expect a difficult challenge against Wisconsin’s strong defense Saturday. But even if he doesn’t pile up big rushing totals, he should help the offense in a number of other ways.

“We have a great opportunity ahead of us, and we have to take full advantage of it,” Barkley said of the title game.