BY MARK KNUDSON
I just send in my Heisman Trophy ballot for 2016. If you’d have told me back in July that I’d be sending back my ballot in December without Christian McCaffrey’s name somewhere on it, I would have told you that you were nuts.
But that’s exactly what I did.
I don’t know Christian, and I’m not a Stanford fan. Yet I, like many others, was totally blown away by what the Cardinal star out of Denver did on the football field in 2015. The tailback/kick returner rushed for more than 2,000 yards, while adding 645 yards as a pass receiver, and was an unparalleled weapon in the return game (averaging almost 30 yards per run back.) He even threw a pair of TD passes. McCaffrey racked up a record-breaking 3,864 all-purpose yards and accounted for 17 total touchdowns.
It was one of the greatest single seasons in college football history.
Last season I gladly cast my Heisman vote for McCaffrey. It was borderline criminal that he didn’t win the award. The omnipresent and obnoxious East Coast Bias – coupled with SEC favoritism – won the award for Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who may not have been the “most outstanding player” on his own team. What McCaffrey accomplished last season dwarfed what any single player did last year – or this year for that matter. And that was the problem for his candidacy in this, his junior season.
Back in July, I wrote this prophetic paragraph: The problem for McCaffrey in terms of this year’s award is he’s set the bar soooo high after last year that now if he has just a very good season, voters will consider it a letdown. 2015 McCaffrey is 2016 McCaffrey’s biggest competition for this year’s Heisman.
That’s precisely the way it played out. With defenses geared to stop him, kickers keeping the ball away from him, and nagging injuries slowing he and the Cardinal offense (which also featured a new starting QB) “all” McCaffrey was able to produce this season was leading the country – again – with 2,327 all purpose yards with a bowl game still to play. He’s been involved in almost 100 fewer plays from scrimmage due to the aforementioned injuries and still rushed for almost 1,600 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. His yards per carry were actually BETTER this season than last.
McCaffrey should once again be a first team All-America selection and could win the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back. To be perfectly honest, when healthy, Christian McCaffrey is probably still the most outstanding college football player in America.
But I didn’t vote for him, and he’s unlikely to get more than a handful of votes from anywhere. Which leaves us scratching our collective heads, right?
I once heard the great Vin Scully note that, “Last year’s gift is this year’s obligation.” It appears McCaffrey’s obligation was to obliterate the record book again in 2016.
This kind of thing has happened before. Back in an era when seniors normally won the Heisman, junior Billy Sims of Oklahoma won the 1978 award, rushing for 1,896 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns. Sims remained a Sooner for his senior season, running for 1,670 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns – including a spectacular 247 yard performance against Nebraska’s top-ranked rush defense, leading OU to a win in Lincoln. Yet despite a second straight amazing season, Sims didn’t win a second Heisman.
More recently, Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel followed up a Heisman-winning 2012 campaign (3,706 passing yards, 26 TD’s, 68% completions and a 155 passer rating) with an even better 2013: 4,114 yards, 37 TD’s, 70% completion percentage and a 173 passer rating. He didn’t win a second trophy, either.
Once you’ve burst on the scene and set the bar of expectations at such a height, you’re viewed as a disappointment when you don’t exceed them.
The 6-foot, 200-pound McCaffrey, son of a former NFL and Stanford receiver Ed, will opt to follow his father to the professional ranks next season. Christian announced Wednesday he will be leaving the Cardinal and has declared for the draft. He’ll be a lethal weapon as a slot receiver, kick returner and part time ball carrier. Scouts have him projected at the bottom of the first round…right where the New England Patriots will likely be drafting.
So he won’t make another run at the most famous trophy in sports, which is sad in a way, because maybe, in his senior season, justice finally would have been served.