Before we get into this year's Heisman race, let's start with the fact that I get Stanford football has been around since the late 1800's and since the inaugural Heisman Trophy was given out to the best player in college football in 1935, Stanford has had ONE to this point which was awarded to Jim Plunkett in 1970. Stanford football has won two national championships although both were before Plunkett was even born. So as we look to the history of Stanford football, they have had 15 minutes of national fame.
In the last 45 years, that fame has been like a shooting star as Stanford football has only been nationally relevant for a few of those 45 years; at least from a winning point of view. At Stanford, the term Heisman would always be related to Jim Plunkett and when John Elway didn't win in 1982, it wasn't the end of the world as he had a 5-win team and lost out to Georgia great Herschel Walker. Stanford would go on to only have seven seasons of .500 plus football nonetheless a Heisman contender.
Then in 2009, the Heisman Trophy was no longer this mythical trophy that some guy had won 30+ years ago. It was THE trophy in college football and it was there for the taking. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart was not only the best running back in college football but the best player as well... The problem was Toby Gerhart played for Stanford. The most exciting college football player who was the team MVP didn't play for an SEC school but Stanford. Gerhart lost out to Alabama running back Mark Ingram even though he had 213 more rushing yards in a game and a half less than Ingram, 11 more rushing touchdowns, had a crucial passing touchdown on national television against Notre Dame, and to top it off, Stanford would have been nowhere without him versus an Alabama team that would have still gone undefeated without Ingram.
All of that didn't matter because the Heisman Trophy is considered to go to "The best player on the best team" rather than the best player who happens to play on an 8-4 team. That is something that we can all live with but to give Gerhart the Doak Walker for best running back almost felt like a slap in the face. How can you win an award for best running back but lose out to a running back in the Heisman? If Stanford thought this race was bad, the next two Heisman ceremonies would be just as bad.
In 2010, Stanford had quarterback Andrew Luck and Auburn had quarterback Cam Newton. Andrew Luck was already being praised as the future #1 overall draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft and Newton was a junior college transfer savior for Auburn. As Luck was guiding Stanford to their first 11 win season in program history, Newton was running the show for undefeated Auburn. It was a neck and neck race. Luck had the passing yards over Newton but Newton had the rushing yards advantage.
It came down to the Iron Bowl for Newton to prove his worth. As Auburn looked terrible in the first half and down 24 points, it would soon be a double whammy for Cardinal fans as they watched Newton bring back Auburn to a 28-27 victory and 2009 Heisman-stealing running back Mark Ingram dropped the ball figuratively and literally for Alabama causing the comeback. Auburn would go on to the SEC championship and win in a blowout which all but assured Newton the Heisman.
Luck had a great year and a historical one for Stanford but it would again put a Stanford player in the runner-up position. Stanford fans worried that the once-in-a-generation superstar was gone but he decided to come back for the 2011 year. It seemed all but assured that Luck would win the Heisman. There was no way barring injury that Luck could lose the award.
In 2011, Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal looked unstoppable. Luck was proving that he was the best player on the best team. The media couldn't find anyone who could steal away the Heisman from Luck so when Stanford lost to Oregon, the media finally had their chance to crucify Luck's Heisman bid. It didn't matter that Luck had a 71.3 completion percentage, 37 touchdowns, and an 11-1 record. This time, some Heisman voters and pundits claimed that Luck was "too good" or that he wasn't fun to watch.
The person of interest for the "fun voters" was Robert Griffin III of Baylor. He had a better completion rate and more yards than Luck but in a spread offense in a conference known for not playing defense, that wasn't hard to do. Now Griffin was exciting but so was Gerhart. Luck had the team and was the best player with an 11-1 record. The Heisman was in the bag. Only it wasn't and Andrew Luck was screwed over because voters didn't think he was interesting and he played on the west coast. Stanford may not have been relevant for a long time but this time, it was bogus. Stanford was coming off 2 Heisman runner-ups and a BCS game victory. Stanford lost October 2nd 2010 and not again until November 12th 2011. Winning was instilled in this program and yet, Stanford and Luck were thrown out for hot garbage.
So that brings us to this year. Christian McCaffrey has everything and that still might not be enough. He comes from Stanford blood so he knows what it takes to be a "Stanford Man." McCaffrey has been named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America Division I Football team. McCaffrey is the ultimate team-player. He knows what his role is and is not. When it comes to the goal line offense at Stanford and potential touchdown opportunities are there, he sits out to watch fellow running back Remound Wright get the job done. Wright has 13 touchdowns on just 77 carries which is the best ratio in America.
So you say that being a team-player is great but that doesn't make you a Heisman. That is true so let's dive into why he should be the ONLY choice for the Heisman. Christian McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders, yes that BARRY SANDERS record for all-purpose yards in a season. This is the same record that ESPN wrote was untouchable. It was being compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
That alone should guarantee the Heisman, but if that's not enough for you, let's dig deeper. McCaffrey is the only person in college football to lead his team in both receiving and rushing yards. That isn't a conference stat or a regional stat. That is a national stat. So he is more like a slot receiver and not a running back you say? Christian McCaffrey had 1847 yards on 319 attempts. Gerhart was considered a "bruiser" and had 1871 yards on 343 attempts. So for being a "little guy", McCaffrey treated his competition like little boys.
McCaffrey's "competition" on Saturday is Derrick Henry, running back for Alabama. He had only 139 more yards than McCaffrey with 30 more attempts. Now Henry had 23 rushing touchdowns to McCaffrey's 8 but again, Stanford has the best short-yardage running back in the country in Wright so why not try to score points and win the game which is what Heisman voters like right? A winning team matters too. Yes, Alabama is going to have a chance to play for a national championship and Stanford is not but this isn't merely a decent Stanford team. Stanford is 11-2 and finished 6th in the final regular season rankings. They are playing January 1st in the Rose Bowl which is still The Granddaddy of Them All.
That takes us to last Saturday in the conference championship games. Henry helped Alabama to victory with his 189 yards on 44 attempts with a touchdown. Henry only had 64 of those yards at half before an injury-ridden defense and a death-ridden offense finally gave out for Florida. His one touchdown was a Remound Wright special inside the 2. Now don't get me wrong, Henry is a very good running back and probably has a better upside in the NFL but this award isn't about who COULD be better at another level. This is about the best player in college football in 2015.
Meanwhile in Santa Clara, McCaffrey was 1-1 on passes with a touchdown, 207 RUSHING yards on 32 carries with a touchdown, 4 receptions for 105 yards AND A TOUCHDOWN, and a 149 yards in returning kicks and punts. Sorry, he couldn't score a touchdown there. So with 461 yards all-purpose in the game, McCaffrey did what Gerhart and Luck could not do and that was play in a conference championship and not only win but look good doing it. Even though Stanford was playing during a reasonable hour for the east-coasters, Stanford was playing not during one other conference championship but TWO! In a world where you can watch multiple games with a flick of a button, Stanford still gets left out.
On Saturday Christian McCaffrey may just be happy to be there as this will be his first time in the Big Apple. He may tell you he is just glad to be compared next to Henry and Clemson's Deshaun Watson. I will speak for you Christian. If you don't come home with some extra baggage on Saturday, it will be the biggest screw job you will ever face in your life; unless you get screwed again next season like Luck did.
"The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is awarded annually to the most outstanding player in college football in the United States whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." It doesn't say that you had to play for the viewers on the east-coast, it doesn't say you have to play in the SEC, it doesn't even say that you have to be on a national championship team.
Christian McCaffrey did however play for a championship caliber team and was electric and that is a vast understatement. He played with integrity and played for his team. He shattered school records and broke what was considered an untouchable record along the way. Christian, "Wildcaff", or Mr. Heisman, if he does not win Saturday, he can smile for the cameras because we all will scream and yell and cry for him. If his name isn't announced Saturday which we are all preparing for, it will forever be a trophy that is worthless in the new-age. Look on the bright-side, they might make it up to him like they did with Toby and give McCaffrey the Doak Walker as an apology.