Passing the torch is part of the allure of college football, and Saquon Barkley did so in a magnanimous way after playing his last game for Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
Miles Sanders had been his backup for two seasons, living in the vast shadow cast by someone most folks believed was the best running back in college football. But as Barkley headed for the exit and his inevitable first-round pick in the NFL draft, he told reporters that the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Sanders was quite capable of carrying the torch.
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“He’s a special talent,” Barkley said. “Obviously, he hasn’t gotten the opportunity to show his talent as much as he’d like, but we’ve seen it in practice, we’ve seen flashes of it. He’s strong, he’s powerful, he’s fast, he’s a hard worker, he’s humble and he’s going to be a great back in the future. … You guys won’t be talking about Saquon Barkley for long.”
That last part no doubt evoked a laugh. But as last week’s come-from-behind win at Illinois proved, Sanders showed he’s ready to run. His 200 yards rushing, including a season-long 48-yard touchdown romp on which the game tilted, earned him the Big Ten offensive co-player of the week award with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.
“You have to give them credit because Miles Sanders pops in there and he’s an outstanding player,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, whose team will play in Saturday night’s Big Ten East showdown in Beaver Stadium. “We kind of saw glimpses of that last year, so we have a lot of respect for him.”
Glimpses was the key word, because for the last two years especially, Barkley commanded the spotlight. Now it's time for Sanders, who carries the Twitter handle @BoobieMilesXXIV, an homage no doubt to the fictional running back in “Friday Night Lights.”
“He’s been learning and growing and building confidence since the day he stepped on campus,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of Sanders. “Then obviously being in a complementary role the last couple of years (to Barkley), now being the featured back.
“He’s gotten better every single day, he’s very mature. He’s obviously very talented. … He’s a got a lot of different skill sets that people are looking for at the running back position. “We’re blessed to have him, and he’s playing behind a talented offensive line.”