Saquon Barkley won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year because of preseason hype and a dozen or so "Did you see that!?" plays. He was Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year because he was a preseason All-American and (correctly) dubbed the most talented running back in college football and candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Penn State junior did not win the award because of what he did on the field this season — or at least that's the message the Big Ten coaches and media voters are sending. Barkley is indeed the most talented and dangerous running back in college football. He was not, however the best or most valuable running back in the Big Ten.
For the record, this opinion is no slight to Barkley. He's a freak athlete and one of the best all-around players in Big Ten history who racked up 51 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 total yards in just three seasons, gave defensive coordinators nightmares and single-handedly delivered a few wins — if not more.
Saquon Barkley had an incredible 2017 season. Jonathan Taylor just had a better one and missed out on Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year only because in August he was still a little-known three-star recruit who wasn't expected to be a difference-maker, not a Heisman Trophy front-runner like Barkley.
Barkley had more rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. He was also a dynamic kick returner, hurdled a couple defenders and threw a touchdown pass.
Taylor, meanwhile, had nearly 700 more rushing yards and 130 more total yards and a yards-per-carry average of 7.0, more than a yard better than Barkley (5.7). Barkley had four 100-yard rushing games (seven games of 100 or more total yards); Taylor had nine. Barkley had six games with a yards-per-carry average below five; Taylor had one.
Wisconsin and Penn State played six common opponents (Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern), and while the pair had similar yardage totals in those games (Taylor, 972; Barkley, 961), Taylor had a higher yards-per-carry average (6.5 vs. 6.1) and only one game below 125 rushing yards (Barkley had four such games).
Wisconsin is also 12-0 and playing in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday. Team success reportedly doesn't — and shouldn't — carry significant weight in individual award voting, though the Badgers' perfect regular season must be worth something.
In the end, this matters very little. After all, Jonathan Taylor is the one playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff on Saturday.