Four Downs on Week 4: Saquon Barkley Leads A RB Revolution

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Star players delivering in the most crucial moments: That’s when college football is at its best, and that best describes Saquon Barkley’s Week 4 performance against Iowa.

The Penn State running back stepping up when the Nittany Lions needed him most headlined yet another Saturday that showcased the spirit of this game we love. But, if Four Downs is keeping it 100, we also love college football because of fun we have as fans.

FIRST DOWN: A COLLEGE FOOTBALL LIFE

Some of the greatest memories an undergrad takes away from her or his college experience is of the tailgates and pregames. To that end — and, with all due respect to Saquon Barkley — Maryland Girl? You the real MVP of Week 4.

My own pregame festivities as an undergrad, before getting on the football beat for the university newspaper, were never quite so legendary. And in the years since, covering the game professionally? I put back a lot of coffee on Saturdays, but I cannot say I ever shotgunned a cup of java.

Nostalgia for my undergrad days really set in on this, my first Saturday of the season not working a game on-site. All three Southern California teams playing on the road had Your Humble Author at home with the multiple-screen setup in full effect; though my own setup pales dramatically in comparison to that of Senpai Steele.

The college football experience does indeed change over the years, but the magic never dissipates. Even if you’re well past the days of cracking open a cheap domestic over your forehead to shotgun it, the spirit of Autumn Saturdays persists into the winter of life with the same intensity.

SECOND DOWN: THE RUNNING BACK REVOLUTION

Saquon Barkley lingered near the top of The Open Man Heisman Top 10 heading into Week 4, albeit mostly on the strength of his 2016 finish and roughing up a handful of overmatched opponents through 2017’s first three weeks.

His showing against Iowa may well be the single most impressive individual performance of the season.

Barkley rushed for 211 yards and caught for 94 in a thrilling, 21-19 win, that staved off yet another upset in Iowa City.

His performance stole the show and will surely garner the headlines coming out of a classic in Kinnick Stadium — as it should — but Saquon Barkley was not the only running back to shine in the Week 4 prime-time showcase.

Iowa’s Akrum Wadley was absolutely electric with 80 yards rushing and a touchdown, and another 75 yards receiving with a score. Had Penn State note scored in the final moments to steal the win, Wadley would be the talk of college football.

While Saquon Barkley and Akrum Wadley were putting on a show in Iowa City, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny rushed for a season-low 128 yards and scored a career-high three touchdowns to pace the Aztecs to their best start since 1981.

Penny has more than capably filled in for NCAA career rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey, and is putting together a Heisman resume not seen in America’s Finest City since Marshall Faulk’s 1992 campaign. Penny’s showing at Air Force is just a week removed from his outdueling Bryce Love’s Stanford Cardinal in Week 3.

Stanford may be 2-2, bouncing back from consecutive losses with 58-34 defeat of UCLA, but Love’s Heisman credentials through four weeks are undeniable. He rushed for 263 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, and his 8.8-yard per carry average against the Bruins was actually a drastic drop from his season average of 12.2 per attempt.

College football is absolutely loaded with star running backs in 2017.

THIRD DOWN: IT’s HOTTER DOWN SOUTH

Air conditioning is one of the most important inventions for shaping the identity of 21st Century America. This 2011 piece from The Atlantic explores the profound impact of the air conditioner on moving a larger share of the population into the nation’s Sun Belt (the region, not the conference).

Seats among SEC coaches serve as reminders of a South pre-air conditioning.

An SEC West matchup between longtime rivals Arkansas and Texas A&M featured a sub-plot that’s increasingly common in the conference: coaches on opposite sidelines seemingly, if not ostensibly, coaching for their very jobs.

Texas A&M’s 50-43, overtime win over Bobo Ohio State spares Kevin Sumlin, a coach some were ready to have Kiffin’d on the LAX tarmac on the Aggies’ way out of Los Angeles after Week 1. At least, Sumlin’s spared for a week. The heat sets in anew with every week of the SEC schedule.

No coach in the conference is under as much pressure now as Bret Bielema, save Butch Jones. The Razorbacks’ inability to hold onto an early lead of two touchdowns and a 43-40 edge in the waning moments of regulation underscore the recurring struggles of the program in a five-season run

Is Arkansas’ struggle to break through to the No. 2 spot in the SEC West #karma?

Jeff Long seemed to score one of the greatest coups among recent coaching hires when he lured Bielema away from Wisconsin, fresh off a third consecutive Rose Bowl run. With early-season losses to Texas A&M and TCU, Arkansas appears headed to a fifth consecutive disappointing finish.

Now, missed expectations are the standard around the SEC — largely because expectations are unrealistic as programs pursue the standard Nick Saban’s set with Alabama’s dominance. An impossible standard’s forced great coaches out of various programs and hurt the quality of the conference as a whole.

But at Arkansas, the expectations Bielema’s tenure have fallen short of, at least on the field, are much more clearly defined. The Razorbacks have yet to return to the heights of the Bobby Petrino era; but, aside from a few verbal gaffes, Arkansas has also avoided scandal comparable to that which ended Petrino’s run in Fayetteville.

Likewise, the stiffest challenge Alabama’s faced in the SEC West in recent years came from Ole Miss; a program facing a bleak future as a result of the scandal that forced out Hugh Freeze.

The heat in the SEC is very real, but addressing it isn’t so as easy as flipping the switch on an air-conditioning unit.

FOURTH DOWN: MORE TROPHIES!

Curmudgeons and assorted other grumps blame society’s ills on participation trophies, because, yes: It’s not widening economic disparity as a result of wage stagnation, racism, sexism, or other injustices that’s at fault; it’s Li’l Jimmy getting a cheap memento for sticking it out on the T-ball team.

Sorry if this offends, but trophies are awesome. College football teams playing for trophies is one of many reasons Saturdays > Sundays. The weirder the trophy or the more obscure its reason for being, the better.

Week 4’s action featured two notable trophy games, with Texas A&M claiming the Southwest Classic Trophy for a sixth consecutive year; a dominant streak in the history of the trophy, which was founded in 2009.

More peculiar, and thus more awesome: Clemson’s 34-7 defeat of Boston College earned the Tigers the 2017 edition of the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy. Never heard of the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy? Well, gather ’round!

Clemson and Boston College met in the 1940 Cotton Bowl, a contest the Tigers won, 6-3. It was the first of 12 meetings in the ensuing two decades, though the series largely went dormant for the next 45 years. Boston College’s move from the Big East to the ACC in the mid-2000s rekindled the…rivalry isn’t the right word; more like a friendly competition.

The O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy, which includes leather helmets to represent that 1940 Cotton Bowl, commemorates the friendly competition. It’s awesome. Trophies in college football are awesome. The widening gap between the top one percent of wage earners and the rest of the country is not awesome.