McCaffrey goes bonkers vs. Bruins in star-making performance
PALO ALTO, Calif. — Welcome to the Heisman race, Christian McCaffrey.
If you went to bed early Thursday night, you missed Stanford’s sophomore running back go certifiably bonkers in a 56-35 blowout of 18th-ranked UCLA. McCaffrey racked up 369 all-purpose yards in less than three quarters — the most all-purpose yards of any FBS player this season.
McCaffrey shredded the Bruins for touchdowns of 70, 28, 9 and 6 yards, busting an early kickoff return for 96 yards and breaking Stanford’s single-game rushing record (243 yards on 25 carries).
It marked McCaffrey’s fourth straight game — all against Pac-12 opponents — notching at least 249 all-purpose yards, a 2005 Reggie Bush-esque résumé. His new 253.0 yards per game average will move him up to No. 1 nationally in that category. To put that in perspective, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the consensus Heisman front-runner, is averaging 212.6.
I’m not suggesting McCaffrey has supplanted Fournette. But if 15th-ranked Stanford (5-1) and its offense keep putting on these clinics (it’s scored at least 41 points in all four conference games), McCaffrey is likely going to start climbing the various Heisman Watch lists.
“I wouldn’t just call him a running back — he’s an incredible football player who does everything well,” Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “… He’s hungry and he’s only going to get better.”
In a bout of fortuitous timing, I published a profile on McCaffrey earlier this week. The son of NFL All-Pro receiver Ed McCaffrey and grandson of 1960 Olympic silver medal sprinter David Sime, the Denver native’s speed and elusiveness jump off the screen. But 10 pounds of added lean muscle this offseason allowed the sub-6-foot, 203-pound tailback to graduate from freshman role player to sophomore starter. On Thursday night he elevated himself to bona fide national stardom with a monstrous performance against a top-20 foe.
“We’ve got a big back in a little body,” Stanford coach David Shaw said afterward. “He’s a heck of a football player.”
The running back position is absolutely stacked this season, with the likes of Fournette, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook already high up most Heisman lists. But McCaffrey’s ability to impact games as a receiver and a return man as well garner comparisons to former USC star Bush, who averaged 222.3 all-purpose yards during his (later vacated) 2005 Heisman season.
Bush helped lead the Trojans to that season’s national title game. McCaffrey may need to lead Stanford to the College Football Playoff to get a spot in New York.
And the rapidly improving Cardinal may just be the Pac-12’s best team.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.