Save for awards and bowls, we’ve reached the end of another college football season. It seems like just yesterday that I was incorrectly predicting a three loss Stanford team that would fall to USC (nope!), UCLA (still nope!), and Oregon (le sigh). Instead, Stanford ended the year with an 11-2 record, PAC-12 Champions, and they are headed to the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years.
It’s been one heck of a ride, Stanford fans. After the loss to Northwestern and the first half of the University of Central Florida game, it looked like a bowl game, let alone a PAC-12 championship, might be out of the question. However, the college football season is a marathon and not a sprint. When all was said and done, Stanford lost two games by a total of 12 points, which ultimately cost them a shot in the College Football Playoff. The Cardinal will have to be content with a Rose Bowl, which isn’t too shabby.
Roses and Bronze for the Stanford Cardinal
I was fortunate enough to attend the PAC-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium last Saturday. I’ve since watched the game three more times just trying to figure out what species Christian McCaffrey belongs to. In my season preview article, I pointed out a few players to pay attention to, and McCaffrey topped the list, but I had no idea that he would be this good. In the championship game, he racked up 207 rushing yards, 105 receiving yards, and 149 return yards. Additionally, he rushed for, caught, and threw for a touchdown (as did Kevin Hogan). You read that correctly: McCaffrey threw a pass to Hogan who jogged into the end zone untouched.
According to the email I just received from Stanford Football, the play has been in the works since last spring and never once failed in practice. Lance Taylor (running backs coach) and Tavita Pritchard (quarterbacks/receivers coach) masterminded the play, and they were looking for the right opportunity to call it. Pritchard was the starting quarterback for the Cardinal in 2007 when they beat USC in the Biggest Upset Ever, so I’m sure he took a special kind of delight in seeing that play work as designed.
Aside from throwing touchdowns to quarterbacks, McCaffrey achieved a much more impressive feat on Saturday: breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards. The record has stood for 27 years, which is older than McCaffrey and his fellow running back teammate, Barry Sanders’ own son, Barry J. Sanders. McCaffrey now owns a little piece of history with 3,496 all-purpose yards with one game to play.
The aftermath of the PAC-12 Championship game has been surreal. On Sunday, Stanford learned it was (officially) headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, in LA, USC was firing four coaches. On Monday, Steve Sarkisian announced his wrongful termination lawsuit against USC. Meanwhile, in Palo Alto, Christian McCaffrey earned a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist.
Jim Plunkett is the only Stanford player to ever win the Heisman trophy, though the Cardinal has had its fair share of finalists in the past few years: Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck, and Andrew Luck again. All three trips to New York yielded second place finishes for the boys in Cardinal.
In addition to McCaffrey, Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson were named finalists, with Henry being the heavy favorite. If McCaffrey doesn’t take home the bronze statue, we can blame two things: late kick-offs and the small number of McCaffrey touchdowns that I’ve referenced multiple times this year. Whatever the voters ultimately decide, Christian McCaffrey is certainly the best overall player in college football this year and he deserves the Heisman Trophy.