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Penn State's Saquon Barkley states his case as the nation's best player

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Saquon Barkley proving to be an unstoppable force (0:57)

The Penn State running back has found himself in the Heisman conversation thanks to his electric play. (0:57)

Perhaps the least controversial statement in college football, four weeks into this season, escaped the lips of Penn State Nittany Lions offensive tackle Ryan Bates in the wake of Saquon Barkley's monster effort Saturday night as the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions beat Iowa 21-19.

"He can do everything," Bates said.

Barkley, the junior running back, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound mix of power, speed and quickness who already owns the freshman and sophomore rushing records at PSU, is good enough now to be known nationally simply by his first name.

"He can make people miss. He can run people over. He jumps over people," Bates said. "He can catch the ball. He can run the ball. He can block."

Of course, he can. What's stunning, though, as Barkley ascends to the top of ESPN's Heisman Trophy watch list in the waning days of September, is that he found a way last week to display all of his talents at once.

Well, not on one play. That would be too much to expect for even Barkley. But during the course of Penn State's Big Ten opener in Iowa City, Barkley showcased his complete arsenal, registering likely his best performance at PSU as he broke Curt Warner's 36-year-old school record for all-purpose yards with 358 on 40 offensive touches and three kickoff returns.

"I cannot imagine that there's a better player in all of college football," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "I've been doing this for 23 years. The guy is special."

Barkley's teammates and coaches watched him rush for a league-leading 1,496 yards and score 22 touchdowns last year. They saw him gain 1,076 yards as a true freshman in 2015.

He still left them in awe Saturday.

"There was a play where he was surrounded by four guys on the sideline," Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. "He almost didn't even make a move and squirted out of it. I think, at that point, I kind of caught myself going, 'Oh, my God, what was that?'

"There are times where you see it, react to it and real quick, you've gotta move on to the next play."

McSorley refers to a third-quarter Barkley run of 44 yards immediately after Penn State's Grant Haley recovered a fumble by Iowa running back Akrum Wadley. Barkley ran left toward the PSU sideline, through multiple attempts to bring him down, then came to a stop and danced past linebacker Josey Jewell, who typically tackles everything in sight.

"We work on that," Barkley said. "We kinda call it a dead leg."

Others work on it, too. That doesn't make them any more similar to Barkley, who took a third-down screen pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter, hurdled cornerback Josh Jackson and absorbed a hit from safety Amani Hooker while still in the air before landing on his feet to gain 10 yards.

"Most of that's just instinct," Barkley said. "That was third-and-6. Gotta make a play. Gotta find a way. It was a critical moment in the game. We needed a first down. We needed to start establishing drives. Your body just takes over. You let go."

Speaking of critical moments, how about the reception that Barkley took 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, at Iowa's 28-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game and Penn State trailing by four points, and raced to the 10? The Nittany Lions' win probability percentage, according to ESPN, jumped 28.8 points to 51 percent on that play alone.

"Every time he touched the football," Franklin said, "it was special."

Four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the 7, Barkley found himself as the lone man between McSorley and a blitzing Jewell. Barkley made his block as the QB delivered the winning throw to Juwan Johnson in the end zone.

Barkley said he was most proud of the Nittany Lions' two-minute drive at the end.

"People who appreciate football," he said, "that was a clinic."

Maybe so, but he put on a clinic all night -- and against a defense as solid as Penn State will face this year ahead of an Oct. 21 showdown with Michigan at Beaver Stadium.

Barkley finished with 211 rushing yards on 28 carries and a career-best 12 catches for 94 yards.

"I can't take credit for the performance I had," Barkley said. "It's an 11-man sport. It's a team sport. Especially as a running back, you can't do it by yourself."

His humility could get annoying if Barkley wasn't so genuine. He could take more credit. And whatever Barkley gets, he deserves more.

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions know better than to grow accustomed to his creativity and array of skills. They know what the nation has begun to recognize -- don't look away from Saquon for even a moment.

"He's going to end up bringing up some other new way [to make a play] that no one's ever seen before," McSorley said. "It's going to make us all go, 'Whoa.' So you've just kind of gotta let him do what he does."

Yes, most everyone who saw him up close at Iowa, it seems, understood they were in the presence of something rare.

Something that may end with Barkley standing on a New York stage in December.