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Years since a Phillies catcher batted leadoff before Andrew Knapp did so Sunday

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 1

Saquon Barkley is a rare athlete. It’s not simply his rare combination of power and speed. He is also special because of his attitude.

While some college stars sit out bowl games to avoid an injury that could affect their draft status – an understandable precaution – Barkley dismissed any thought of not playing for Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s been my honor to play with my brothers,” Barkley said. “It’s been an honor to play for this team.”

Barkley was supposed to have a reduced role as the 8th-ranked Nittany Lions battled 12th-ranked Washington, but he saw additional action in the fourth quarter, helping run out the clock after the Huskies rallied from a 21-point deficit to put the pressure on Penn State.

In his final performance for Penn State, Barkley rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries during a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl victory. A 92-yard burst in the second quarter displayed the speed and power that will likely make Barkley a Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft, but Barkley will be remembered for what happened the following day.

On the final day of 2017, Barkley announced his intention to leave Penn State via a touching Instagram post. The post begins with the following paragraph.

Addressed to Dear Penn State Nation, Barkley wrote, “I would like to start off by saying thank you so much for all of the memories that you have helped create over the last three years, whether it be on the football field, in the school or in the community. I am forever grateful to you for making my time here so enjoyable. You have been amazing to me through the ups and downs of my career and you will always have a special place in my heart.”

After revealing that he will be leaving Penn State to enter the NFL Draft, Barkley thanks his family, coaches, teammates, training staff and support system from Whitehall High School and Penn State “who have helped me be in position to have a decision like this.”

And he continues with, “I hope I have left a lasting impression on this university, football program and community at large. It has been an honor and privilege to be able to call Penn State home and represent the Blue & White and all of the great players who came before me and will follow after me. I will continue to work each and every day to represent Penn State the right way as I move on to the next phase of my life.”

Barkley gained 1,271 yards this season on 217 carries. He rushed for 18 touchdowns and scored three more touchdowns in the receiving game. Barkley also returned a kickoff for a touchdown as Penn State won 11 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and took home several Big Ten awards and the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player.

But what might be remembered most by those who know Barkley best is his attitude. Whether in his postgame comments after the Fiesta Bowl or in his gracious letter to “Penn State Nation” as he declared for the NFL Draft, there is no question that Barkley’s words are sincere. He even felt the need to apologize for what some thought was an overly exuberant celebration after his 92-yard touchdown run in the Fiesta Bowl.

Barkley has conducted himself with dignity and class at Penn State. That is the last impression he leaves on Penn State, the football program and the community.

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REALLY BIG TEN: As the college football playoffs begin, the Big Ten’s bowl success presents a pretty good argument that the postseason field should be extended to eight teams. In my December 10 Fish ‘n Chips column, I explained why expanding the playoff field wouldn’t reduce the arguments over who should be included, but it’s clear that the Big Ten should have been represented in this year’s playoffs.

The Big Ten was 7-0 record in this season’s bowl games until Michigan lost to South Carolina on New Year’s Day. The winners included Wisconsin (13-1), Ohio State (12-2) and Penn State (11-2), all of which had a legitimate argument for being included in the national playoffs. Wisconsin’s only loss came to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. Penn State’s two losses were by a combined four points on the road against Ohio State and Michigan State.

In contrast to the Big Ten, the Pac-12 finished the bowl season 1-8. Ouch!

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REID COACHING TREE: With the Eagles and Bills both making the playoffs, add the Eagles’ Doug Pederson and the Bills’ Sean McDermott to the list of former Andy Reid assistants who have taken their teams to the postseason as head coach. Pederson is in his second season as Eagles head coach. McDermott is in his first season as Bills head coach.

Reid, of course, is also in the playoffs after his Chiefs won the AFC West. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera also was an assistant coach under Reid.

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DROUGHTS OVER: Before making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, the Bills hadn’t qualified for the playoffs since the 1999 season. Former Bills head coach Doug Marrone led the Jaguars to their first playoff berth in 10 years in his first full season as head coach.

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FIRING LINE: With Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Frank Reich potential head coaching candidates, the list of head coaching vacancies continues to grow. Schwartz reportedly will interview with the Giants this week. (NFL rules require interviews involving coaches on playoff teams to take place during the bye week.) There are reports that the Bears and Cardinals have requested permission from the Eagles to interview DeFilippo for their head coaching positions.

Other teams with openings include the Raiders (who appear set on luring Jon Gruden back out of retirement), the Lions, the Bengals and the Colts.

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LOOKING WAY AHEAD: We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the Eagles’ postseason chances during the next two weeks. That’s the advantage of the bye week.

For those who can’t wait until next year, let alone for wait two weeks, let’s take a look at the Eagles’ 2018 schedule. We don’t know the dates yet, but we know the Eagles’ opponents.

In addition to home-and-home series with NFC East rivals the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins, the Eagles will host the Falcons, Panthers, Texans, Colts and Vikings. Their non-NFC East road games will be against the Jaguars, Saints, Rams, Buccaneers and Titans.

As the first-place team in the NFC East, the Eagles play division champs from the NFC North (Vikings) and NFC West (Rams). The second-place Cowboys get the second-places teams (Lions and Seahawks) from those divisions. The third-place Redskins get the third-place teams (Packers and Cardinals). The fourth-place Giants get the fourth-place teams (Bucs and 49ers).

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 29 years, wishes Saquon Barkley much success in his NFL career.

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