By: Ben Leonard
We all kind of knew it was coming, but there was nothing we could do to stop it.
Christian McCaffrey had his Heisman trophy stolen right from his hands. The culprit (surprise, surprise): the almighty SEC.
Numbers-wise, he arguably had the best season in college football history — breaking the legendary Barry Sanders’ all-purpose yards record — but it just wasn’t enough to prevent him from becoming the fourth Stanford player in the past seven years to finish second in the Heisman voting behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry. And it wasn’t even close — Henry won by nearly 300 points.
Don’t get me wrong — Henry was totally deserving as a running back, but McCaffrey was the more electric, dynamic all-around player. This wasn’t a running back award, but even if it was, McCaffrey would have held his own. He ran for 1,847 yards on 5.8 yards per carry, well within the realm of Henry’s 1,986 on 5.9 per rush attempt.
But the true magic of McCaffrey comes out when you consider the other facets of his game — he was an elite receiving running back (540 yards, 4 TD’s), and was even electric on special teams, amassing 1042 kick return yards, all going towards his 3,496 all-purpose yards. McCaffrey even threw for two touchdowns, for Pete’s sake!
Think Henry was close to that? He was only 1,413 yards behind McCaffrey in that regard, or almost an entire mile. His body has to endure many more hits than Henry’s on a game-to-game basis, something that surely took away from his play from the backfield. But it didn’t seem to faze McCaffrey — after the instant classic Notre Dame game when he got 35 touches, David Shaw said he was ready to play another quarter.
Did Heisman voters even watch the tape? If they did, they would have seen a dynamic, shifty runner with an uncanny knack for slipping through holes. Even former USC star and
Heisman winner Reggie Bush, whose Pac-12 record for total yards was shattered by McCaffrey this season, told Stanford Athletics that “In my mind, he’s the best player. And he’s only a sophomore, which is scary.”
An Alabama back beating out a deserving Stanford back? Never heard that one before.
It seems like a broken record– Toby Gerhart suffered the same fate in 2009, getting robbed by ‘Bama running back Mark Ingram, who wasn’t even the best back on his own team. Are Stanford players ever going to get the recognition they deserve?
Stanford players don’t get the benefit of the doubt like Henry for a number of reasons, most of which boil down to the infamous East Coast bias and an infatuation with the SEC. There’s a reason McCaffrey received the fewest first-place votes in the South region and won just the Far West region — the media is always quick to hype star SEC players, but it took McCaffrey until late October to receive any sort of recognition. Having most of his games start at 7:30 PST didn’t help his cause either — most East Coast voters are comfortably in their beds sleeping by kickoff, the reason the best player in the country was left off 25% of Heisman ballots. Plus, the Far West is underrepresented in the Heisman electorate, with 24% of the U.S. population but only 16% of voters. So the only solution is to move campus to Ohio.
And no one got to see his Heisman moment — a gargantuan game (461 (!) all-purpose yards) against USC in the Pac-12 championship game, that had to split air time with two other conference championships. Predictably, Henry got to play alone in the spotlight in the afternoon slot, in which he tore up Florida’s defense for 187 yards on 43 carries.
The most frustrating thing about this debacle was that the voters weren’t taking their jobs seriously — roughly 140 voters of the 928 (15%!) voted before they even had the chance to see either Henry or McCaffrey play in the conference championship game. The Heisman voting system is broken — how can you take a committee seriously that doesn’t even pretend to examine all of the evidence it is presented with?
McCaffrey did nearly everything he could — break a once thought untouchable record, lead his team to the Rose Bowl, and have the best statistical season ever. I beg you to tell me one thing he could have done to win it.
The Heisman voters have left us with that familiar sinking feeling. It’s about time to rename the Heisman runner-up the Stanford Memorial trophy.
Cover Image: Alabama’s Derrick Henry, left, answers questions for the media as Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey looks on before the start of the Heisman Trophy award presentation show, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)