The one-time front-runner for the Heisman Trophy is now in line for another major college football award.
Thursday morning, the Hornung Award unveiled the four finalists for the 2017 edition of the honor — Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State running back Nyheim Hines, Iowa State linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning and Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis. The Hornung Award has been handed out annually since 2010 by the Louisville Sports Commission to the nation’s most versatile player.
Barkley, Hines and Pettis — he has set a handful of FBS punt return records this season — all contribute as return specialists, while Lanning not only leads the Cyclones in tackles but is ISU’s third-leading rusher and has attempted three passes this season.
Below are the credentials of each finalist, courtesy of the Hornung Award:
Saquon Barkley, running back/return specialist
Junior, Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-2 conference)
Barkley earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll four times this season. Primarily a running back who also lines up at slot receiver, wildcat quarterback, and returns kicks, Barkley is second in the nation in all-purpose yards with 195.6 per game and has accounted for 15 touchdowns four different ways – rushing (9), receiving (3), kickoff return (2), and passing (1). He set a Penn State record with 358 all-purpose yards on 43 touches in a last-second win at Iowa, returned opening kickoffs for touchdowns against Indiana and Ohio State, and scored three touchdowns against Michigan. Barkley showed breakaway speed with kickoff returns of 98 and 97 yards, an 80-yard touchdown run, and an 85-yard touchdown reception.
Rushing: 152 carries, 864 yards, nine touchdowns
Receiving: 39 receptions, 504 yards, three touchdowns
Kick Return: 13 returns, 393 yards, two touchdowns
Passing: two attempts, two completions, one touchdown, 36 yards
Nyheim Hines, running back/return specialist
Junior, NC State Wolfpack (6-3, 4-1 conference)
Hines earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll three times this season. Hines is a workhorse out of the backfield who also returns punts, kickoffs, and is gunner on punt coverage. He accounted for 217 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and downed a punt on the two-yard line in a home win over Louisville; came back the next week with 249 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, and downed a punt inside the 5-yard line in a road win over Pitt. In an opening week loss to South Carolina, Hines lined up at several positions in the backfield, and accounted for 192 all-purpose yards on 26 touches rushing, receiving, and returning kicks and punts. He has been slowed with an ankle injury since the Notre Dame game on Oct. 28.
Rushing: 126 carries, 688 yards, six touchdowns
Receiving: 18 receptions, 94 yards
Punt Return: eight returns, 148 yards, one touchdown
Kick Return: 17 returns, 377 yards
Joel Lanning, Iowa State, linebacker/quarterback
Senior, Iowa State Cyclones (6-3, 4-2 conference)
Lanning earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll three times this season. The starting middle linebacker who plays spot duty at quarterback and is a regular on special teams, Lanning is the Cyclones’ leading tackler with 10.4 tackles per game, the team’s third-leading rusher with 77 yards, three-of-three on fourth down conversion rushing and two-of-three passing for 25 yards. Lanning played 93 snaps in ISU’s road win over Texas Tech, and was the ironman when the Cyclones stunned Oklahoma in Norman with 78 total snaps: 57 plays on defense with eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery; 13 plays at quarterback with eight rushes for 35 yards and two passes for 25 yards; eight plays on the punt team and field goal defense. His 10.4 tackles per game rank second in the Big 12 and ninth in FBS.
Defense: 94 total tackles, 36 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks (20 yards), 6.5 tackles for loss (29 yards), one interception, one fumble recovery, two quarterback hurries, two PPUs
Rushing: 23 carries, 77 yards
Passing: three attempts, two completions, 25 yards
Dante Pettis, wide receiver/return specialist
Junior, Washington Huskies (8-1, 5-1 conference)
Pettis earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll once this season. Pettis is a dual threat wide-out / return specialist who tied the NCAA record by returning a punt for a touchdown in three consecutive games (Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State) and last week added a fourth punt return touchdown and a scoring reception in the No. 8-ranked Huskies win over Oregon. Against Oregon State, he caught 12 passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns, and has seven scoring receptions on the season. Pettis averages an astounding 21.7 yards per punt return, nearly 12 yards per reception and completed his only pass of the season for 36 yards. He also holds the NCAA career record with nine punt returns for touchdowns.
Receiving: 49 receptions, 571 yards, seven touchdowns
Punt Return: 19 returns, 412 yards, four touchdowns
Passing: one attempt, one completion, 36 yards