Watching Toby Gerhart smash through tacklers, watching Andrew Luck throw 50-yard dimes from his knees, and watching Christian McCaffrey do everything have been three of the best things any college football fan could have done the past seven years. Nobody who did will ever forget what they saw. They’ve produced some of the most indelible images and some of the most productive seasons in the history of college football.
Unfortunately for Stanford fans, not nearly enough people valued what they saw from Christian McCaffrey, who now walks the streets of New York City without a Heisman Trophy to accompany him. The immediate response from many is that not enough people saw McCaffrey work his magic because Stanford played so many late games in 2015. That’s not the case, and here’s why.
Accompanying that argument is the presumption that had the Heisman voters in the East Time Zone been given the opportunity to watch Stanford they would have. It further presumes that had they watched McCaffrey tear up Pac-12 opposition, they’d have assigned it the value that it really had. Neither of those are true.
Tonight’s result was about voters who decided a priori that anything Derrick Henry did was tougher to do than what McCaffrey did. That’s not an exposure issue, that’s a preconceived bias, and putting Stanford on at Primetime in all 13 games wouldn’t have changed that. The Pac-12 Championship kicked off at 7:45 PM EST, but that was of no use to the 16% of voters who cast their votes before championship weekend.
Derrick Henry is the fifth SEC player in the last nine years to win the Heisman. I’m not going to take shots at Henry’s performance, or try to find holes in his candidacy….too much. I’ll simply say that Henry got three de facto bye weeks including a game against an FCS school in November while McCaffrey was playing Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame to close out the season.
The reason McCaffrey didn’t win this year (and Gerhart in 2009) is that Pac-12 yards are not deemed as valuable as SEC yards. Plain and simple. If they were, this wouldn’t have even been a competition. 3,496 yards. That’s 1,200 more than the second most productive all-purpose yardage gainer in college football. Since 2008, the gap had not been bigger than 563 in any one season.
This decision wasn’t merit based, at all.
So those of you who want to burn Larry Scott at the stake, throttle down. The Pac-12’s TV deal is what’s paid for all these programs to upgrade facilities, pay for quality head and assistant coaches, and ultimately put 10 bowl teams into the postseason this year. All of those things helped McCaffrey’s credibility.
But it’s not hopeless. Marcus Mariota won a Heisman out of the Pac-12 just last year. Of course, the Ducks qualified for the playoff and Mariota was so dominant from the preferred position in recent Heisman seasons, and Mariota shined in an early non-conference showdown with Michigan State. Oregon also hyped Mariota has a Heisman candidate starting before the season even started.
So what will it take for Stanford to break on through the other side of the Heisman balloting? It’s tied to the success of the team. The nation has to see Stanford tear up an SEC team, or an ACC team, or a Big-10 team in a high stakes postseason game, or see it happen in an early season non-conference game. That’s the only way the perception changes, and make no mistake, this was a referendum on the perception of Christian McCaffrey’s competition, not on the accomplishment of McCaffrey himself.
At the end of the day, the names that matter are Gerhart, Luck, and McCaffrey. Heisman takes fourth on a list that includes the other three. The ascension of this program has been an absolute joy to watch and cover, and the fact that there is still higher ground to scale both individually and as a program is not fodder for lamentation, but rather anticipation. For Christian McCaffrey and Stanford, the job’s not done, but rather just begun.
Game on January 1st.