Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey Looks To Hurdle Heisman Opponents

The Heisman discussion has deepened, transitioning from a low, intermittent whisper to a strong, steady hum as college football moves into the heady month of November. Statements need to be made, conferences need to be won and statistics need to be more impressive than ever.

Down on the Farm, sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey has been garnering national attention for his athletic prowess and the prodigious statistics he, and Stanford, have produced this season. He has been in and out of the Heisman discussion as well as ESPN’s projections, this week settling in at (his lucky) No. 5 on the list behind Alabama running back Derrick Henry, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman and Ohio State running back Ezekial Elliott.

McCaffrey’s strength as a candidate for the prestigious award lies in his all-purpose yardage — he leads the nation with 241.56 yards per game, nearly 26 yards more than the next player (Tyler Ervin from San Jose State with 216). McCaffrey rushed for 243 yards on 25 carries (9.7 yards/carry) against UCLA, breaking Toby Gerhart’s Stanford single-game record of 223 against Oregon in 2009. He also scored four touchdowns in that game, tying a Stanford single-game record reached only eight times before. His 369 all-purpose yards against the Bruins were the most by any FBS player in 2015. In fact, McCaffrey is the only student-athlete in the country to record two of the top five all-purpose performances on the season.

But his weakness lies in his lack of bling: touchdowns, of which he only has six, and self-promotion, something that Stanford has been criticized for in the past. Then there is Stanford itself and the statement it needs to make against its last three opponents: Oregon, Cal and, most importantly, Notre Dame. Not to mention turning in a solid performance in the Pac-12 championship game, if the Cardinal clinch the North this weekend against the Ducks.

So how does Christian McCaffrey win the Heisman? Shannon Sharpe, former NFL player, current analyst and longtime friend of the McCaffrey family had an idea.

After speaking with McCaffrey’s mother Lisa, it is clear that both she and her husband, former Stanford All-American Ed McCaffrey, agree with Sharpe — Stanford continuing to win will be the key.

“In order for it to happen, from what Ed has said, is that Stanford needs to win, which is nice because it’s a team thing too,” said Lisa McCaffrey in an interview with TSFJ. “And if he does by any small chance win, he better bring his O-line something incredible — something pretty great. That’s all I can say because he’s nothing without them. Even Stanford’s throwing game has to be on in order for him to run so there’s a lot of things that have to go into it.”

But it’s really a chicken-and-egg scenario, because Stanford’s success as a team is directly linked to and dependent on McCaffrey’s performance. The more yards he puts up, the more games Stanford wins, both of which impact his Heisman campaign. In other words, the truth will take care of itself.

“What he is doing is special, and to me the best part about him is that all he cares about is the next play,” said head coach David Shaw in a press conference Tuesday. “He doesn’t care how many touchdowns, how many yards — it doesn’t matter. He’s asking, ‘What’s the next play, and what do I need to do for this football team?’ That’s another driving force behind our team’s success.”

That just leaves the packaging, an area where Stanford has already made headway with the launch of the site this week. The coaches are on board with the new campaign.

“[McCaffrey] has played into the Heisman conversation, which is great,” said Shaw. “And we want to support him. It won’t be a distraction to our football team. It’s a really good sidebar to what we have going as an entire team. And he has deserved it.”

His teammates are on board as well.

“Give him the Heisman … just give him the Heisman,” said wide receiver Michael Rector when asked about his thoughts on the McCaffrey campaign.

His team’s support means the world to McCaffrey, because, as him mom recalls, being a part of a team is all he ever wanted.

“He’s watched his dad play in the NFL, and I don’t think he really cares about the hype. I think he really, really cares about playing well, and he loves being a part of a team. He loves when it all gels,” said Lisa McCaffrey. “When somebody else scores, he couldn’t be happier. He just likes to win and be a part of something bigger than himself. That’s what he loves about football. Obviously he loves to carry the ball and do what he can, but the team is what it’s all about.”

The other speed bump McCaffrey may encounter is similar to what happened against Washington State — teams heaping their defensive coverage on the sophomore standout to stymie Stanford’s run game. Adjustments from Shaw and Co. will be key to combat that and keep the chains moving. One solution: McCaffrey could always throw another touchdown pass, like the 28-yard bomb he tossed to tight end Austin Hooper in Stanford’s 42-10 victory over Colorado last weekend. Nobody in Stanford’s camp was surprised at the utility player’s ability to play QB — except his mother.

“I was shocked because I’ve seen him throw before. He has a really strong arm, but I didn’t think he could hit the broadside of a barn. He’s not the most accurate thrower,” said Lisa McCaffrey. “I was joking with him because his younger brothers are both quarterbacks, and I asked him, ‘Did Dylan teach you how to throw somewhere along the way?’ and he responded giving his brother credit saying, ‘Yeah, Dylan taught me how to throw.’”

Lisa McCaffrey recalls hearing after the Colorado game that Hooper nudged her son in the huddle before the play and told him something like, “Just throw it; I’ll be in the end zone,” which prompted a laugh from Lisa as she admitted “that was something Ed would say.”

With chances to impress the Heisman voters dwindling, McCaffrey’s performances the next few weeks will need to be more than just steady, 100-yard rushing games and trick TD plays — they will need to be show-stopping. But Lisa McCaffrey believes in her son and trusts his ability to keep it all in perspective as the pressure mounts.

“Watching Ed over the years, Christian has come to realize that you are only as good as your last game,” said Lisa McCaffrey. “And there is always a game to look ahead to.”

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