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Smeltzer: Singleton, Allen Already are What Barkley, Sanders Weren’t at Penn State

For those who don’t know what the “Mandela Effect” is, let me explain.

The “Mandela Effect,” named in reference to Nelson Mandela, is “a recent refinement of false memory that typically refers to pop culture or current event references.”

In short, it’s when people remember something happening that didn’t necessarily happen.

I think some Penn State fans have this when it comes to Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders.

Both Barkley and Sanders were stars at Penn State and are currently tearing it up in the NFL. Because both played the same position for Penn State at the same time, Penn State fans probably remember them as a dynamic duo.

Well, they weren’t.

When Barkley and Sanders were teammates, Barkley was Penn State’s undisputed RB1, and Sanders was a seldom-used backup.

Sanders played with Barkley for two seasons. Over that time, Sanders ran the ball 56 times for 375 yards.

Through five games this season, Kaytron Allen has 57 carries for 303 yards.

Allen, like Sanders, is Penn State’s No. 2 back.

Like Barkley, Nick Singleton became Penn State’s starter as a true freshman.

Now I want to clarify something. Barkley became of the best players in Penn State history, and expecting anybody, even a five-star like Singleton, to match that is a lot to ask.

Ditto asking Allen to be the next Miles Sanders.

After Barkley left for the NFL, Sanders became Penn State’s main running back, and he knocked it out of the park.

In his lone season as Penn State’s starter, Sanders ran for 1,274 yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns. He played well enough to be selected by the Eagles in Round 2 of the 2019 Draft and is currently playing well in his fourth season with the Birds. Through four weeks, Sanders is third in the NFL in rushing.

Barkley is first.

But as a tandem, Penn State’s fabulous freshmen are already a better duo than Barkley and Sanders were.

To be clear, that isn’t as impressive as it sounds because Barkley and Sanders weren’t really a tandem. Barkley was the starter, Sanders the backup and that was that.

D.J. Dozier and Blair Thomas were a little more of a duo on Penn State’s last national championship team in 1986. Thomas, a promising sophomore, rushed for 504 yards, five touchdowns and averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

But Dozier was still Penn State’s clear-cut No. 1 back.

Think about this: Singleton has been as good, if not better than expected, and he’s still splitting carries with a player in the same class.

In the Bill O’Brien-era, Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak split carries, and each eclipsed 800 yards in 2013, with Zwinak coming 11 shy of 1,000.

Neither of those guys made it to the NFL.

Do you think Singleton and Allen might be playing on Sundays?

I’m not going to break down every potent rushing duo in Penn State history. I won’t talk much about Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, Curtis Enis and Aaron Harris, Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster, etc.

What I’ll say, however, is that, aside from Franco and Lydell, none of the tandems I’ve mentioned came to Penn State at the same time.

The Harris-Mitchell tandem will be Penn State’s gold standard for a while because of what it accomplished in college and the NFL. But it’s a lot different than what Singleton and Allen are giving Penn State as freshmen. 1969 was a long time ago, and freshmen didn’t play on the varsity back then.

It would be unfair to compare players who are still teenagers to college and NFL greats, and that’s not the goal of this column. If Singleton becomes the first Singleton and Allen becomes the first Allen, that should be good enough for anybody.

Besides, what those two are doing for Penn State right now has no comparison. Two true freshmen are giving Penn State what’s becoming one of college football’s best rushing duos.

Penn State fans, can you remember that ever happening?

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