Sometimes the Heisman Trophy race can be taken by whichever players goes on a hot streak as the season comes to an end. If that is the case this season, then Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey should be the first Cardinal Heisman Trophy winner since Jim Plunkett won the award in 1970.
You will be hard-pressed to find a single player in college football this season who does as much as McCaffrey does in multiple facets of the game. McCaffrey led the nation in all-purpose yardage by a wide margin with 3,496. San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin was second in the nation with 2,410 all-purpose yards. Going back to 2008, only three other players in FBS football have recorded more than 2,800 all-purpose yards in a season. Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin had 2,815 yards in 2008, Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews (3,166 yards) and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (2,917 yards). Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, had 2,740 all-purpose yards to lead the nation last year, and he got that total in 14 games. McCaffrey has put together that monster yardage in 13 games.
McCaffrey will be joined in New York City on Saturday by Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Those two will be playing in the College Football Playoff, which may or may not matter to the voters. Every voter is different when it comes time to cast their ballots, but there is no denying the impact McCaffrey has had on Stanford this season. If not for him, would the Cardinal have won the Pac-12 this season? In Stanford’s last three games, McCaffrey has eclipsed the century mark in kickoff return yardage and ran for big yardage against California and USC. If there is one stat that can be used against McCaffrey when comparing to Henry or Watson, it is the touchdown total. McCaffrey had just 13 touchdowns scored in the 2015 season, and that is not likely to be a total that will separate him from Henry (1,986 rushing yards, 23 rushing touchdowns). Even Watson has 11 rushing touchdowns to go with his 30 passing touchdowns.
Of course, Watson and Henry don’t return kicks either. Watson may be the best quarterback in the nation. Henry may be the best pure power rusher. McCaffrey is the game’s best all-around player though, and that might be worth recognizing with some special hardware.
If McCaffrey does fly back home with the Heisman Trophy, he will be just the second player from Stanford to win the award, joining the previously mentioned Plunket. It would also be the second straight season a player from the Pac-12 won the award, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman Trophy in 2014. The last time a conference had back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners was 2009 and 2010 when Alabama’s Mark Ingram Jr. and Auburn’s Cam Newton went back-to-back. The last time two players from the Pac-12 won the award in consecutive years was 2004 and 2005 with USC’s Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush winning in back-to-back seasons, although Bush’s Heisman has since been vacated. So, technically speaking, the last time the Pac-12 had consecutive Heisman winners was in 1967 with UCLA quarterback Gary Beban and 1968 with USC’s O.J. Simpson.
This year’s Heisman Trophy winner will be announced Saturday evening in New York City.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.