Last year, I remember watching Jabrill Peppers at the Heisman Trophy ceremony and thinking one thing.
He looks like the happiest person in America.
It didn’t matter that Peppers knew he wasn’t going to win the award, or really even come close. All that mattered was that he was there. He got to be a part of the group of five players who were considered the best players in college football. It’ll be something that he tells his grandkids about. Whatever happens with his NFL career, he’ll never forget what it meant just to be in New York and up for college football’s most-coveted award.
Saquon Barkley won’t get that experience.
For reasons unknown, only three current players (Bryce Love, Lamar Jackson and eventual-winner Baker Mayfield) will be in New York on Saturday night. Of course, those three absolutely deserve that honor. Barkley did not have a good enough season to take one of their places.
But why couldn’t he have been there with them? Why wasn’t he and one other player allowed to get that Peppers-like experience? Who cares of Barkley loses in a landslide? Spoiler alert: Everyone there is going to lose in a landslide.
This is Mayfield’s award. Jackson and Love know that. Barkley and another player would’ve known that, too.
In a year in which the decision was obvious, the decision to invite five players — not three — should’ve been even more obvious.
For all the steam that Barkley’s Heisman campaign lost down the stretch, it still didn’t take away the fact that for two months, he was college football’s best player. At one point, he was -275 to win the award. People were giving the honor to him after the opening kickoff against Ohio State.
Was that premature? Of course. But refusing to recognize Barkley’s body of work just because he couldn’t sustain his insane all-purpose pace seemed premature, too.
And if you actually go back and look at the numbers, Barkley was still an extremely good football player behind a banged up offensive line.
The guy finished 2016 with 1,764 yards from scrimmage (including those 36 passing yards), 2,190 all-purpose yards and 22 total touchdowns in 12 games. Keep in mind that he also caught 47 passes for 594 yards. With the exception of Virginia tailback Olamide Zaccheaus (he only had 27 carries on the season), Barkley was easily the best pass-catching back in America.
So yes, while the Lions struggled to run the ball in the latter half of the season, honing in on Barkley’s rushing numbers (1,134 yards on 5.7 yards per carry ain’t awful) isn’t enough of a reason not to at least invite him to New York.
Barkley and an additional player should’ve gotten the call. You could make the case for Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who was third in FBS with 1,847 rushing yards. What about San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny? He was the only player in the country to break the 2,000-yard mark, and he only needed 12 games to do it. Even a guy like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who led the nation in passing, could’ve been worthy of an invite.
This isn’t about whether these players have a legitimate chance to win the award. For whatever reason, only three players earned invites in three of the last four years. The idea of “embarrassing” an invitee for not getting many votes is foolish.
Peppers didn’t care that he got roughly 10 percent of the total points that Jackson got. He just cared that he got to experience all the fun that comes with the Heisman ceremony. The people he got to meet and the weekend he got to have outweighed anything that the voting results said.
The same would’ve been true for Barkley, Penny, Rudolph, Taylor or whoever could’ve joined the three finalists in New York.
Barkley, being the stand-up human being he is, posted on Instagram that he wasn’t going to let his lack of a Heisman invite change anything.
Thank you to all of my fans and teammates for the consideration! However, like I stated previously I do not need a trophy or to be named a finalist to define me as a player. I’ve earned the respect from my teammates and coaches, therefore, at the end of the day that’s the only thing that matters! Congratulations to all the deserving Heisman finalists! Once again thank you! #WeAre
He’s right. Barkley never set out to earn the respect of every Heisman voter, nor will that determine what he does in the NFL. Lord knows there are plenty of incredible NFL running backs who never got a Heisman invite (Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy to name a few).
But it wouldn’t have been difficult for the committee to give two more deserving kids the Heisman experience. For a product that prides itself on “being about the student-athletes first,” narrowing the list of Heisman invitees is the exact opposite of that.
Sooner or later, they’ll realize that there’s nothing wrong with having a couple extra smiling faces in New York.