Why #WildCaff, you wonder. Like so many before, you’ve probably fallen victim to believing the Heisman Trophy belongs to someone in the South—typically the southeast, occasionally in southern California. But look up, north in the Golden State, and to the top of the all-purpose yardage records, and you’ll find the deserving candidate.
Christian McCaffrey has been the most outstanding player in college football this season, and it’s not close. The numbers are louder than McCaffrey, known for his quiet, polite demeanor, ever could be: 319 carries for 1,847 yards and eight touchdowns, 41 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns and two touchdown passes thrown. The other finalists, Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, have comparable offensive stats. But McCaffrey separates himself on special teams, returning 36 kicks for 1,042 yards. You’ve probably heard about him breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose record and hopefully you know that even though Sanders did it in fewer games, McCaffrey did it with fewer touches. He’s the most dangerous all-purpose player in the country, able to slice and dice defenses with myriad moves.
Last week, before McCaffrey & Co. kicked off the Pac-12 football championship against USC, former Heisman winner and Trojan All-American Reggie Bush accepted his All-Century award from the conference. McCaffrey has been compared this season to Bush, who many believe is the best player in the last few decades of college football. Fox analyst Joel Klatt earlier this week proclaimed McCaffrey the best overall player he’s ever seen, later clarifying it as “most complete.”
Here’s where the comparison to Bush holds up: Statistically, Bush in 2005 carried 200 times for 1,740 yards (8.7 average) and 16 touchdowns, caught 37 receptions for 478 yards and two touchdowns (12.9 average) and returned 28 kicks for 493 yards (17.6 average). That’s remarkably similar to McCaffrey, though the Stanford sophomore averages less on rushes (5.7) and more on returns (28.9). Bush won the ’05 Heisman vote in a landslide over Vince Young. But McCaffrey isn’t the runaway favorite this weekend and I ask you, how does that make sense?
If you want to talk about the vaunted SEC defenses, please excuse me while I take a short nap. Yeah, they look good on paper. The quarterbacks in that league though, not so much. The Pac-12, on the other hand, is a conference of prolific offenses. Stanford has a host of weapons—among them quarterback Kevin Hogan and its other big-play threat, Bryce Love—so defenses can’t zero in on McCaffrey. But when they try, he typically stutter-steps around them.
As always, it’s a game of numbers. McCaffrey’s stand out above the rest. Consider his quote-unquote bad game against Washington State, a 136-yard all-purpose effort. In FBS football, there are only 17 players who average more than McCaffrey’s worst day. Typically, he turns in 268.9 all-purpose yards per game, almost 69 yards better each outing than the next-best guy. He saved his best for last, totaling an astonishing 461 all-purpose yards in last week’s 41-22 win over USC. Outstanding, you might say. It’s an appropriate word for that night, but also for his season. Fittingly, it’s also the word used to describe the Heisman winner.