There are keystones on every Big Ten roster. Though there are no one-man shows in football, these are the players who change expectations for a team and could potentially reroute a season if they aren’t able to take the field.
This week, the Big Ten blog is identifying the most indispensable player in each locker room for the upcoming season. Whether it’s their individual talent, their importance in a team’s scheme or the lack of depth behind them, these are the guys who teams can’t afford to lose.
Up next: Penn State
Most indispensable player: RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley's freshman season was simply spectacular. He set the program record for a freshman by rushing for 1,076 yards and became a crucial late-game presence for the Nittany Lions. As colleague Josh Moyer noted last month, Barkley ranked first among Power 5 running backs with a fourth-quarter rushing average of 8.9 yards per carry. In total, he rushed 48 times for 427 yards in the fourth quarter -- representing almost 40 percent of his season rushing yards.
The question now is what Barkley can do for an encore performance. Barkley and Northwestern's Justin Jackson are the only returning 1,000-yard rushers in the Big Ten. Barkley also was one of only two true freshmen in the FBS to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau a year ago. With highly-touted incoming recruit Miles Sanders, it remains to be seen how carries could be split at Penn State. Last year, Akeel Lynch -- who has since transferred to Nevada -- finished second on the team with only 55 carries. Sanders is good enough to warrant more carries, which could take away from Barkley. But that's a good problem to have in Penn State's backfield.
If Penn State's offensive line can show improvement, Barkley's numbers could skyrocket. Remember that the Nittany Lions ranked 111th nationally in tackles-for-loss allowed last season, and Barkley still put up 5.9 yards rushing per carry. He also gained 194 yards against Ohio State and 103 yards against Michigan State, averaging 6.9 yards per carry in those two contests. The sky is the limit for Barkley, and watching how far he can progress at Penn State will be exhilarating for college football fans.