I hate to say it, but I'm having visions of 2009. Six years ago, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart put up better numbers than Alabama running back Mark Ingram. But when it came down to the Heisman voting, Gerhart lost.
Now, once again, we have a Stanford running back whose numbers are much better than an Alabama running back, and yet the Alabama running back is the prohibitive favorite. In fact, with Alabama running back Derrick Henry winning both the Doak Walker Award (for best running back) and the Maxwell Award (for most outstanding player), we should be nothing short of shocked if Christian McCaffrey actually wins the Heisman tonight.
Which is unfortunate because McCaffrey is unquestionably the more deserving candidate.
I know, I know. SEC and Alabama fans will say "McCaffrey isn't a pure running back! Our guy is!" But here's the thing: McCaffrey's numbers and Derrick Henry's are very similar when it comes to the rush. Henry averages 5.9 yards per carry, while McCaffrey averages 5.8 yards per carry. So, they're basically in a statistical dead heat. Even in terms of total yards, the difference is very slim: Henry's 1,986 to McCaffrey's 1,847. So, in terms of pure rushing stats, the slight edge goes to Henry, but it's very, very close.
But whereas Henry has the slightest of edges in the rushing game, when you examine every other statistical category, McCaffrey thoroughly blows Henry out of the water.
In receiving yards, McCaffrey averages 13.2 yards per catch, while Henry averages only 9.7 yards per catch. In terms of total yards, this advantage becomes more apparent: McCaffrey's received for 540 yards compared to Henry's paltry 97 yards (and, yes, that means that McCaffrey has more than QUINTUPLED the yards of Henry in the receiving game).
Oh, and did we mention that McCaffrey's also thrown the ball for two touchdowns this season? That's something that Henry has never done, and accounts for another 39 yards. In terms of total offensive yards, Christian McCaffrey already has a very solid lead with 2,426 yards compared to Henry's 1,944.
And this speaks nothing of all of the kick returns this season; add in McCaffrey's 1,133 return yards, and now he has nearly doubled Henry with 3,559 yards compared to Henry's 1,944.
But I know, I know. Alabama and SEC fans will say "That's not fair! Henry was never asked to return a ball all season, so you can't compare apples to oranges!" And that's fine; if you truly do believe that it's unfair to include this figure, bear in mind that McCaffrey already exceeded Henry in total offense by a sum of nearly 500 yards.
But I actually think that we should include all of McCaffrey's 3,559 yards because when you're tasked to recognize "the most outstanding player in college football" (as the Heisman voters are), it's very fair to note that there's something "outstanding" in a player who risks the danger of playing almost every phase of the game. The big hits that McCaffrey takes (the biggest of which always come from special teams when a player gets to charge at you from 60 yards away before collision) certainly is outstanding, and every phase of the game that McCaffrey plays is outstanding and all of his 3,559 yards should not go unnoticed.
Literally the only statistical category where Henry has a solid edge over McCaffrey is in touchdowns: he has 23 to McCaffrey's 15. But this is statistically irresponsible. When Stanford has the best short yardage guy in the country (Remound Wright) that means that when the ball got close, McCaffrey wasn't the one to carry it. But I think (hope?) that we've reached a point where people are finally recognizing that the TD stat can be pretty meaningless; if you were primarily responsible for moving the ball all the way down field and down to the 1-yard line (as McCaffrey so often did this season), but you were not responsible for moving the ball the very last yard, is it really fair to say that you don't deserve any credit for that touchdown?
But again, I know, I know. Alabama and SEC fans will say "But we played tougher defenses!" Really? Well, I guess I can see your point when you guys played such worldbeaters as Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern. Meanwhile, Stanford's out of conference schedule consisted of patsy defenses such as Northwestern's and Notre Dame's.
But, fine, let me grant you that the SEC has some strong rush defenses, such as Florida, Georgia, and Missouri--oh, wait, Alabama dodged Missouri this year. Well, never mind that. Even if Alabama faced a couple of tougher rush defenses, this in no way accounts for the nearly 500-yard difference between McCaffrey and Henry in total offense, and it certainly doesn't account for the 1600-yard advantage that McCaffrey enjoys in all-purpose yards.
Fact is that McCaffrey had the better season, not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of historical importance. Yes, Henry broke a conference record, but 25 other players in college football have matched or exceeded Henry's 1,986 rushing yards. But whereas Henry broke a conference record, McCaffrey broke a national record. This was a record set nearly 30 years ago by the great Barry Sanders, a record that many people thought was unbreakable. So, yes, Henry accomplished something that 25 college football players had done before, but McCaffrey accomplished something that nobody had done before.
And when you break a record that many thought was unbreakable--and, in the process, accomplish something that nobody has ever done before--aren't you, at the very least, "the most outstanding player in college football" for the year?
Let me put it to you this way, SEC fan: if the roles were reversed and Henry set the national record while McCaffrey broke a conference record, wouldn't you agree with me that Henry is the more deserving candidate?
And so it should be with the roles as they are. Except for one thing: and this, my dear Alabama fans, should bring you solace. McCaffrey plays on the West Coast, and out of all of the past 45 years, only one non-USC player from the West Coast has won the Heisman Trophy (Marcus Mariota). And if it takes a dynasty like USC's just for a player on the West Coast to get recognized, man do I like Henry's odds of taking home the trophy.
I'm having visions of 2009 all over again, and Henry will follow in Ingram's footsteps as he accepts an award he didn't deserve. And--good for you, Alabama fans--we can't take that away from you. It will be Henry's trophy for all of eternity.
But that doesn't mean that McCaffrey didn't deserve it. Not by a longshot.
If you'd like to hear more from Matt on McCaffrey's truly unprecedented season, click below to listen to the most recent episode of Cardinal CounTree: